Noël Coward’s koala en­counter

Un­ri­valled mas­ter of charm, el­e­gance and wit, Noël Coward un­der­took a morale-boost­ing tour of Aus­tralia in the early years of World War II.

Australian Geographic - - Contents - CHRISSIE GOLDRICK

AS BRI­TAIN’S MOST in­flu­en­tial en­ter­tainer of the in­ter­war years, Noël Coward was ea­ger to con­trib­ute when war was de­clared in Septem­ber 1939. A man of prodi­gious ta­lent, he was sent to Paris to es­tab­lish an anti-Ger­man pro­pa­ganda op­er­a­tion, but soon be­gan to look else­where for ways to sup­port the war ef­fort. Coward headed to the USA to gauge at­ti­tudes and use his in­flu­ence among the elite to gain sup­port for an US en­try into the con­flict.The na­ture of his mis­sion was con­fi­den­tial, but his ex­ten­sive trav­els and so­cial­is­ing among so­ci­ety and Hollywood friends drew crit­i­cism back home in em­bat­tled Bri­tain.

In late 1940, he ac­cepted an in­vi­ta­tion from Aus­tralia to en­ter­tain the troops, raise funds for the Red Cross and gen­er­ally drum up sup­port for the war. Coward ar­rived in Syd­ney on 15 Novem­ber to huge crowds and be­gan a re­lent­less round of pub­lic ap­pear­ances, con­certs, re­cep­tions and ra­dio broad­casts. He was mobbed wher­ever he went and po­lice were of­ten called to re­strain en­thu­si­as­tic crowds.

He trav­elled by train from Mel­bourne to Ade­laide on 10 De­cem­ber and took time out to visit the Koala Farm in the city’s north park­lands, ful­fill­ing the Ade­laidean cus­tom of vis­it­ing celebri­ties be­ing pho­tographed there with the an­i­mals. In his fi­nal broad­cast for the ABC on 22 De­cem­ber, Coward recog­nised Aus­tralia’s post-war po­ten­tial.

“Here in the Com­mon­wealth you have mil­lions of miles of ter­ri­tory, some of it the loveli­est and rich­est coun­try I have ever seen, and a rel­a­tively small pop­u­la­tion,” he said. “Surely, in the years im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing this ghastly war...there will be thou­sands of war-weary peo­ple at home who, could they but re­alise it, might find peace and work and hap­pi­ness here.

“And, if they could be made to re­alise also, that if they came open-heart­edly and with­out prej­u­dice, they would find this land far less alien and strange than they imag­ined it to be. The same spirit is here – the es­sen­tial and in­domitable Bri­tish point of view, with all its virtues, and all its de­fects.”

Noël Coward vis­it­ing the Koala Farm in Ade­laide as part of his wartime tour of Aus­tralia in No­vem­ber–De­cem­ber 1940.

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