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Updated: Apr 7, 2020


13 June, 1926 – 15 August, 2016

Bettine McCaughan OAM passed away on 15 August, 2016, aged 90, at Heritage Gardens, her assisted care residence for three years. It was a hard decision for Bettine to leave Cameron Close Retirement Village, where she had lived in her own unit since the 1980s. However, ‘retirement’ really wasn’t in Bettine’s vocabulary, as she continued to teach singing up until moving to Heritage Gardens. Teaching singing and all the enriching relationships which ensued, most notably with the Ashton Smiths, who became her adoptive family, were her life. She achieved great success with her teaching, having several winners and finalists in the Sun Aria, (which went on to be the Herald Sun Aria). She herself was a finalist many times. Many of her students went on to have successful Australian and International careers as both Opera singers and singing teachers. She was an exacting teacher, demanding the investment by students commensurate to their potential, and not settling for anything less. She believed strongly in the use of imagery in her teaching and sometimes employed what seemed to many, as unorthodox teaching methods. However, her outstanding results put paid to any doubts about what could be achieved using these techniques.

Bettine moved around quite a lot during her youth, as her Father was a Bank Manager for the State Savings Bank of Victoria, being posted in a number of locations, both suburban and rural. Much of her education occurred at Mentone Girls’ Grammar and she was an accomplished pianist as well as singer. She undertook her first position working clerically for the State Savings Bank, whilst undertaking singing lessons from Cecil Trowbridge and studying at the National Theatre in Melbourne. Bettine went overseas to the UK to further her singing studies and participate in oratorio and operatic performances. On her return, her Melbourne teacher had decided to retire and knew that his students would be best served by having Bettine take over his lucrative practice of over 40 students, thus began Bettine’s prolific teaching career. She became a much in demand adjudicator Australia-wide for most of her life, taught at the Melba Memorial Conservatorium and was the founder of Melbourne Opera, influencing and supporting so many singers.

Together with Joan Arnold and Jan Delpratt, they formed the Australian National Association of Teachers of Singing whose charter was to unite Australian singing teachers and develop awareness of best practice. This formative idea has grown into a membership of over 400 singing teachers, with Chapters in Victoria, New South Wales, Canberra, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, as well as a National Council with representatives from each Chapter. Australia took this involvement to a higher level, hosting the International Congress of Voice Teachers in 2013. Bettine was a Victorian Chapter Committee Member for many years, only retiring as her health deteriorated in 2012. During these years, Bettine was instrumental in running and presenting workshops and masterclasses. Many events were held at the beautifully appointed reception centre at Cameron Close and the residents were often treated to some wonderful performances. Bettine’s great wealth of experience was inspirational to younger and less experienced teachers and she was very generous in sharing this experience with them. She was publically recognised for her work by being awarded the Order of Australia Medal.

Bettine had a very dry wit which she often shared with her friends, students and Committee members and a great memory for detail. She loved being challenged by cryptic crosswords and always enjoyed hearing about her friends’ and students’ lives, whether in person or from letters, being very thoughtful in acknowledging events and achievements. Bettine was always supportive of her students and their students by attending many performances which formed a large part of her social life. When she wasn’t adjudicating an eisteddfod, she would attend as an audience member, making mental note of those who she viewed as having much potential. She also enjoyed going to ‘The Pokies’ with long term colleague and friend, Joan Arnold, who moved into, and directly above Bettine, at Cameron Close. Their banter together was often an amusing occurrence! Bettine leaves behind a wonderful legacy which will continue to live on through her students, her students’ students and of course, ANATS, especially as she has generously bequeathed a scholarship for ANATS Vic to administer.

Vale our Grande Dame of the Opera World.

Wendy Todd ANATS Vic Committee Member and National Councillor Friend & Colleague of Bettine

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