Who is Maria?

As a child I had three ambitions: to be a champion dressage rider, to dance the roll of the Sugar Plum Fairy at the Royal Opera House in London and to write and illustrate my own children’s stories. Though I had some talent in each of these very different fields, LIFE, as it does, got in the way.

I was born in Ramsgate, Kent and in 1952 at the age of four, became a £10 Pom, emigrating with my parents and older sisters, Rosemarie and Christine, to Australia. We settled in the island state of Tasmania on the banks of the beautiful River Tamar. There I enjoyed an idyllic childhood – apart from school – A free spirit, I was never one to be confined. Our home quickly filled with stray cats, dogs, wildlife of many kinds, ponies in the garden and Willamena, a wallaby, living in the fireplace.

At eight years old I began ballet lessons and soon boasted a first prize at the Launceston Competitions.
Back in those days, there was no television service in Tasmania and families lucky enough to have a decent working radio were few. Apart from twice weekly showings at the tiny local cinema, entertainment was what you made it; rustic and homespun. My Father, with old time musical halls running in his veins, began an amateur drama group. Assisted by my Mother, an accomplished pianist, he wrote, produced and stage managed some very funny slapstick reviews, and musical shows and his genius for Heath Robinson special effects knew no bounds. Travelling along rough bush tracks to isolated schools and church halls and billed as ‘The Baby of the Show’, I sang and danced my way to stardom!

Great change came when we moved to the bright city lights of Sydney. Rolly my beloved springer spaniel moved with us and before long, our home was filled once again with stray cats, injured birds and a pink and grey galah(parrot) named Cocky.

With Rosemarie studying drama at the National Institute of Dramatic Art, Christine and I enrolled with The First Australian Ballet Company under the stern but kindly direction of elderly Russian maestro, Mischa Burlakov who, in his youth, had danced with the great Anna Pavlova and who shared our affinity with stray cats. With the Company, Christine and I danced in The Rite of Spring, Giselle, Coppélia and Swan Lake. In a concert of excerpts from several ballets, I performed the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Sadly our days Down Under were not to last. My Mother was desperately homesick for England. We returned to Whitstable in Kent, to a winter, where it seemed to me, the sun never shone, the sea froze over and stray cats and dogs appeared in droves.

Now a professional actress, Rosemarie began touring with various repertory companies and my parents took up the challenge of more amateur theatre. There followed a succession of music halls, reviews and pantomimes in which Rosemarie, when she was ‘resting’, Christine and I produced, choreographed and performed.

On leaving school I was employed at our local library. There I read and amassed a huge collection of discarded books and met Peter, a talented musician, cat lover and my future husband. A week after our first date to see Brigadoon at the old Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury, he proposed marriage in the romantic setting of Canterbury Cathedral, on the very flagstones (I think) where Thomas á Becket was murdered!

We were married barely a year when the first member of our family arrived, a part Exmoor pony named Peter Pan. He was quickly followed by the usual stray cats and dogs and later by two rescued Shetland ponies, Wendy and Tinkerbelle.

I had always had a love of drawing and painting and despite my lack of formal training, began taking commissions for animal portraits in oils. These prooved so successful, I left the library service to concentrate on my art.

Together with two work colleagues, Peter set up a charity – The St. Anthony of Padua Foundation – to enhance the independence of people with physical disabilities. I became a trustee and when we opened a printing and office services workshop in Margate, offering training and employment, I was responsible for the artwork of the printing and publicity.

For many years, together with the rest of the family, we worked on the restoration and then endless maintenance of Gothic House, a large, semi-derelict Victorian house by the sea. The property was always buzzing with children and animals and many happy events; dinner parties, children’s parties, charity fund-raising garden parties and musical evenings. We even opened our home to holiday makers, many becoming real friends and returning year after year.

So now, after all this time,and ably assisted by my two beautiful cats, Gracie, an independent puss of the Russian Blue variety,and her friend Bambino Perfect Print, a very lovely spotted Bengal Leopard Cat, I am concentrating on my childhood dream; to write and illustrate my own children’s stories. With storyline and characters inspired by my own experiences and the wonderful real-life animals and people I have been fortunate to know, my first illustrated children’s book is called Introducing the Pusska Moggyinsky Ballet Company

Myself at seven years of age. Billed as ‘The Baby of the Show’, I was part of a musical review with an amateur theatre company touring isolated towns and villages in Tasmania. In the 1950’s there was no TV on the island, cinemas were a bit hit and miss (often breaking down) and there was little live entertainment. So visits from our little company were very popular.