Florence Maud Broadhurst (28 July 1899 – 15 October 1977) was an Australian designer and businesswoman whose 1977 murder remains a mystery. A striking-looking woman, Broadhurst was renowned for her flamboyant clothes, antique jewellery and coiffed, hennaed hair.
Broadhurst was born in rural Queensland, at Mungy Station, near Mount Perry. She became a singer, winning local eisteddfods, and joined a group known as the Diggers who performed in Toowoomba. In 1922 she joined a comedy sextet known as the “Globe Trotters” and later the “Broadcasters”, who toured South East Asia and China. In 1926 she established the Broadhurst Academy in Shanghai, offering tuition in violin, pianoforte, voice production, banjolele playing, modern ballroom dancing, classical dancing, musical culture and journalism.
After her return to Queensland in 1927, she sustained head injuries in a car accident. She then went to England and married Percy Walter Gladstone Kann, an English stockbroker; they co-directed Pellier Ltd, Robes & Modes. Kann and Broadhurst separated, and Broadhurst became involved with diesel engineer Leonard Lloyd Lewis, living in Banstead from 1939. During World War II she joined the Australian Women’s Voluntary Services, offering hospitality to Australian soldiers.
In 1949, the couple and their son moved to Australia. She travelled widely and produced 114 landscape paintings, which were first shown as “Paintings of Australia” in 1954 at David Jones Art Gallery, Sydney, then later in Brisbane and Canberra. She was a foundation member of the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales and a member of the Society of Interior Designers of Australia, was a teacher of printmaking and sculpture at the National Art School and was also involved in a variety of charitable activities. Her husband left her and their son in 1961.
She travelled to England in 1973 to receive treatment for her failing eyesight and hearing. She returned to Sydney and was murdered in her Paddington studio at 12-24 Roylston Street, in 1977. The murder was never solved, but there has been some speculation that Broadhurst was a victim of serial killer.
In Gillian Armstrong’s Unfolding Florence, friends and employees of Broadhurst stated that they believed the killer may have been known to her and that the motive may have been financial. This was due to the presence of two cups of tea near her body, suggesting a meeting or appointment, and the killer’s apparent knowledge of her factory’s layout.
In 1959 Broadhurst established Australian (Hand Printed) Wallpapers Pty Ltd., which later became Florence Broadhurst Wallpapers Pty Ltd, advertised as “the only studio of its kind in the world”. Her brightly-colored geometric and nature-inspired oversized designs were all hand printed. Technical advances made in her studio included printing onto metallic surfaces, the development of a washable, vinyl-coating finish and a drying rack system that allowed her wallpapers to be produced in large quantities. By 1972, her wallpapers reportedly contained around 800 designs in eighty different colors, while by the mid-1970s she monopolised the quality end of the Australian market and was exporting worldwide.
Broadhurst’s library of wooden silk-printing screens and film positives was sold to Wilson Fabrics and Wallcoverings in 1978, just one year after her death. However, the decline of wallpaper as a popular form of home furnishing in the 1980s saw the collection languish, and it was later re-sold to Signature Prints Pty Ltd. Signature Prints in turn was purchased by a conglomerate led by current CEO David Lennie in 1989. Lennie had previously run a small wallpaper company in Auckland, New Zealand and briefly met Florence Broadhurst before her death.
In the late 1990s, Chee Soon & Fitzgerald, a small but influential Sydney design store, held the wholesale and retail distribution rights for Broadhurst wallpaper. This led to some popularity in Sydney design circles but little media attention. In the early 2000s, Signature Prints made a conscious decision to promote Broadhurst’s designs overseas, specifically in the UK. This effort, coupled with an international resurgence of interest in wallpaper, greatly increased the designer’s profile and led to distribution deals being struck for both the UK and the US in 2003.
Five-hundred and thirty Broadhurst designs are in the company’s collection but only a small proportion are printed by the company as wallpaper and fabric. The company retains strict control over the designs and insists printing take place in its inner-city Sydney factory. Some licences have been granted for other uses, such as high-end fashion pieces by designers Akira Isogawa, Nicky Zimmermann and Karen Walker. In late 2008, Cadrys Handwoven Rugs (based in Sydney, Australia) launched The Florence Broadhurst Rug Collection in Australia & the US featuring 10 designs with many more to follow, featuring Tibetan handspun wool, pure silk and other natural fibres. Their Florence Broadhurst Rug Collection was to be launched in Asia in 2009.