Monash University Publishing | Contacts Page
Monash University Publishing: Advancing knowledge

Race and the Modern Exotic: Three ‘Australian’ Women on Global Display


Annette Kellerman, Rose Quong and Merle Oberon each appear very briefly in my 2001 book To Try Her Fortune in London: Australian Women, Colonialism, and Modernity. And that would have been it, for my work on them, despite their extraordinary stories, were it not for a chance conversation I had a year or so later. I am truly indebted to Dr. Robert K. Batchelor, currently of Georgia Southern University, for suggesting I look harder to see whether Rose Quong’s papers had survived, then himself pointing out to me that they were held at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Had it not been for Bob’s curiosity about connections between Britain and China, and his spurring me on to pursue Quong’s story, this book likely would not have been written. As I immersed myself in the rich collection of Quong’s papers fortuitously preserved in Philadelphia, I came to see both the fascination and the significance of such an individual story, and in turn to be increasingly captured by Kellerman and Oberon’s stories too, and the connections I perceived among them. The potential significance for Australian and global history of connecting these three stories, and explicating their resonances for the early to mid-twentieth century, took hold in my mind.

My debts extend to several others too. My partner Carroll Pursell enhances all that I do, and I am grateful to him for doubling my research productivity in Philadelphia by transcribing some of the Quong papers, and making the research trips pleasurable by helping me explore that city’s considerable culinary resources. Watching some of Kellerman’s silent films and Quong and Oberon’s movies with me was yet another contribution. I am grateful to Juilee Decker for her cheerfully efficient research assistance when we were both at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio; and to Jane Hunt for her creative and knowledgeable research assistance at Macquarie University in Sydney. Carolyn Skinner provided her typically efficient research assistance in locating images and obtaining permissions. I thankfully acknowledge research funding that helped this project from Case Western Reserve University, Macquarie University and the Australian National University.

Barbara Firth permitted my access to the closed boxes of the Annette Kellerman collection at the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, and Peter Wyllie Johnston helpfully gave me information on Kellerman’s education at Simpsons’ School, now Mentone Girls’ Grammar School, in Melbourne. Finally, in the many years of this project’s life, my work on it has been sustained by the helpful interest of audiences for papers I presented at the Centre for British Studies, the University of Adelaide; Macquarie University; the Centre for Public Culture and Ideas at Griffith University; the Australian Historical Association annual conference; the Vernacular Modernities conference at the University of Queensland; the Sydney Feminist History Group; and at the Australian National University.

Race and the Modern Exotic: Three ‘Australian’ Women on Global Display

   by Angela Woollacott