Renowned singer and benevolent music teacher, Phyllis Browning-Ashton was a resident of Darlington from 1951 until she died in 1983.
Phyllis Browning-Ashton (née Browning-Turner) was born in Boulder, Western Australia in 1913. Her father was an official at the Gwalia Gold Mine near Leonora.
In 1919, Phyllis entered a singing competition in Kalgoorlie – which she won. This was a catalyst for her remarkable career. The judge, Alexander Leckie, was to become her tutor when she later attended Perth Modern School. Phyllis then went on to train as a teacher. However, in 1923 she was awarded a two-year music scholarship to the Royal Academy in London.
People in Boulder raised funds for Phyllis to enable her to attend the Royal Academy. The initial scholarship of two years was extended to three, then four years after which the Royal Academy offered her a sub-professorship. She studied under Henry Beauchamp and was able to pay her own expenses by teaching, competing in eisteddfods, and other competitions. Phyllis kept meticulous records of her expenses, incomings, and outgoings, as we see in her account book.
She performed for the then future King and Queen, and Princess Elizabeth – now Queen Elizabeth II. Phyllis was the only non-Welsh member of the Royal Welsh Ladies’ Choir and sang in the 1928 Royal Command Performance at Windsor Castle.
Whilst studying in London, Phyllis met Harold Ashton (Hal), the brother of a fellow student at the Royal Academy. Phyllis and Hal married in Perth and then travelled to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) where Hal was engaged in many engineering projects. Phyllis continued with her music career with broadcasting, recitals, and the conductorship of the Colombo Singers.
Phyllis returned to Perth in December 1928 due to her father’s illness. Sadly, he did not recover. She remained in Perth and taught music in private schools for five years, generously tithing her salary to assist music students to further their careers.
When Japan entered WWII, the headquarters of the South-East Asia Military Command was moved to Ceylon and Phyllis entertained members of the armed forces with regular concerts until she was forced to evacuate with her son Leslie.
The journey to Australia was deemed too dangerous and they subsequently travelled to South Africa; Hal joined the armed forces and remained in Ceylon. Phyllis worked in the censorship department of the Cape Town Post Office. During her two years in the city, she was invited to sing on the radio and with the Cape Town Orchestra.
She returned to Ceylon after the war and remained there until 1951 when she came back to Western Australia, settling in Darlington. Her husband retired and joined her two years later but unfortunately died in 1955.
Phyllis returned to teaching at Guildford Grammar School, Helena School and Swanleigh Hostel, as well as teaching private students at her home in Darlington. She taught singing, piano and the art of speech.
Music was at the core of Phyllis’ life; she followed her passion and travelled all over the world on music tours.
She remained a resident of Darlington until her death on 31 October 1983.