Local star anointed into Past Pupils of Distinction

By Yarrawonga Chronicle

Wahgunyah television star Maggie Fitzgibbon has been inducted into the Kilbreda College Past Pupils of Distinction.

The school in Mentone, Victoria, have an induction every two years of four Past Pupils of Distinction. The dinner was held in August but Maggie was unable to attend.

Teacher at the college, Damian Smith, accepted the award on her behalf and came to Corowa recently to present her with the award.

Maggie Fitzgibbon has enjoyed a remarkable career, which is relatively unknown in her own country. Much of Maggie’s career success as a singer and performer came in the UK, where the list of people she worked with reads like a Who’s Who of the period. The names include Noel Coward, Danny La Rue, Benny Hill, Morecombe and Wise, Ronnie Corbett, Tony Hancock, Max Bygraves and Stephen Sondheim. 

Maggie came from a family of performers and was born on January 30,  1929. Her mother Minnie Mitchell had been active in Vaudeville days and singing around the piano at their Aspendale home was a regular event. Maggie attended Kilbreda in the late 30s and early 40s, while her brother Graeme, who is known to many of us as Smacka, was at St Bede’s. Contessa Filipini took drama and music in those days and Maggie took part along with Anne Pell and Margaret Flynn in any sort of performance that she could. On leaving school, Maggie, who had trained as an operatic soprano under Signor Rebattaro, performed on the Tivoli Circuit from 1946, followed by experience on Sydney radio with Jack Davey.

After finding fame in J. C. Williamson’s production of Kiss Me Kate in 1952, she headed for London, where she became a regular in pantomimes there. She later performed in a cabaret act at the Astor and in the 60s was the female lead in a TV series The Newcomers for more than three years. London Weekend Television even gave her a show of her own called Maggie’s Place, on which her brother Smacka appeared on occasion. Maggie compered and sang and at every opportunity introduced Australian acts such as The Seekers, Kevin Colson and Rod Hull and Emu. Smacka himself had a jazz restaurant in Melbourne called Smacka’s Place where Maggie had performed during trips back home in the 1970s.

Maggie returned to Australia in the 1978 and purchased a property in North East Victoria called Quandong. She became very involved in the local community and found the plight of homeless and jobless young people a particular challenge that she wanted to solve. “I couldn’t go to sleep at night, knowing that kids were without a place to sleep,” she said recently. 

Maggie provided a cottage on her property for them to undergo rehabilitation including one night when they would come in to her homestead and have dinner. Maggie also served on the local council, was first female President of a branch of the Farmer’s Federation and was Secretary of the Save the Children Foundation. She was awarded an OAM for services to the community in 2002. Coincidently, her long-time friend and former Kilbreda classmate Joyce McGrath, was a recipient at the same ceremony.