Maggie Tabberer, 79
DISCOVERED AT AGE 14 at a family wedding, Margaret May Tabberer was working as a department-store model in Adelaide in the ’50s when the greatest creative influence of her life, photographer Helmut Newton, intervened.
Tall, broad-shouldered and in possession of a sophisticated look and remarkable almond eyes, Tabberer, then 23 and married to first husband Charles, would move to Melbourne and become a fixture at Newton’s studio after the photographer persuaded Charles that his much-younger wife could make a lot of money modelling.
Newton, a German-born Jew who had been interned in Australia by the British Army in 1940, would go on to become one of the world’s greatest fashion photographers – and Margaret May Tabberer, formerly Trigar, would, along the way, become Newton’s lover and a household name: “Maggie T”.
“I was very gifted because Helmut met me and said, ‘Come to the studio every morning.’ And of course that’s what I did – I didn’t have an agent, I just went there,” said Tabberer. “Whatever he was shooting, I was shooting. It was a very great introduction because he knew so much. He’d worked in Europe and he was a Vogue darling and had all the big accounts of the day.
“I just soaked it all up. Not just how to stand to please him, or how to look – but how to contribute and have a say about what I thought and gradually, gradually, gradually he taught me. I have to give him a lot of credit. He was very patient with me.”
When Newton quit Australia for Europe to reinvent fashion photography at French Vogue in the early ’60s, he invited Tabberer to go with him – but, “I couldn’t go to Paris! I had two little girls, two babies. I couldn’t just go,” says Tabberer. “And I never wonder what could have been if I had – I didn’t do too badly here after all.”
In truth, Tabberer did incredibly well and would pioneer a new professional calling – that of Australian celebrity model.