John Cargher was a British born Australian music journalist and radio broadcaster, and it is the story behind the broadcaster and his programme which makes this collection and these recordings so interesting.

The private collection of the late John Cargher was donated by Robyn Walton, his widow, in early 2009, through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program. Although Monash University Library did not receive his whole collection, the  Library now holds thousands of mostly opera music recordings, libretti and related material, including journal runs of Opera News, Opera and Gramophone, Concert programmes, and his autobiography Luck was my lady: memoirs of a workaholic.

Monash University Library, ten years later, now makes this collection available digitally. 

John Cargher supplemented his income by buying old 78 rpm records and reselling them for their shellac resin, which was in short supply during the war as it was needed for varnish and glue as well as making new records. During these years, he kept the ones that interested him, and started his collection. The ABC’s ‘Singers of Renown’ was the longest running show ever on Australian radio, lasting for more than 40 years. It is worth noting that all the music heard on his programs was from his own extensive private collection, which was based on the 78s that he brought to Melbourne in 1951. 

The repertoire in the Collection is mainly opera with just a few songs from musicals. There are approximately 68 singers, and 34 conductors representing the work of 53 composers. Verdi, is the most well represented composer, with 45 arias. He is followed by Puccini with 26 arias, and then Donizetti, with 9, and Rossini, with 7.

The added value is that the selection was accompanied by John Cargher’s own typeset finding list and all the listed recordings are in Monash Library collection. His list is arranged A-Z by singer, along with the aria and the label number. The 78 rpm carrier is just the right length for an Italian aria with the 10-inch disc ranging from 2-3 minutes and the 12-inch disc able to accommodate over 4 minutes.

This project was perfect for the Work Integrated Learning internship, an Arts enrichment unit.  A student, Brandon Meyer, spent 12 days over 12 weeks working on the project, with the Library as host partner organisation and supervising the process. Importantly, our student sourced the Library as a host himself. It grew from his own interest working with vinyl during an earlier undergraduate assignment where students borrowed library LPs to take to the School of Music studio. They created their own original compositions using nothing but vinyl samples. Thanks to this prior experience he appreciated the historical, cultural and economic value of recording and wished to use his research skills to investigate record labels and music industry development. Shellac was used for 50 years, from the turn of the century to the mid twentieth century. In 1948 Columbia introduced the vinyl LP, which provided superior sound quality, was more durable and could hold more musical information. As artists realised the opportunities for longer playing times, the “Album Era” of the 1960’s began to emerge.

This project is particularly important for the Library because it represents our first digital audio collection with different processes, equipment and material. And the experience acquired, can surely be used as a springboard for future projects.

An important part of the process was the copyright assessment and to define who owns the copyright. There are multiple parts to take into account so it was important to assess these case by case. A number of the songs from musicals, for example, are still in copyright and so these recordings are only available for research and study.

The Library holds a few unique digitisations that could be of great interest for wider audiences and there are some interesting great singers who are not mentioned these days. Tenors Alessandro Bonci, Enrico Caruso, Richard Tauber and Renato Zanelli, baritones Tito Gobbi and Victor Maurel, basses Boris Christoff and Alexander Kipnis, Sopranos Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Amelita Galli-Curci, and Contralto Sigrid Onegin. Of special note are the Australian baritones John Brownlee and Harold Williams and the tenor Browning Mummery. You can hear Browning Mummery singing the famous aria, “Che gelida manina” from La bohème by Puccini. He sings in English, “Your tiny hand Is frozen”, as many English speaking singers of the time would do. The Monash recording is on the Gramophone Company’’s HMV label, but they also issued this popular recording on their cheaper label, Zonophone, in 1924. 

Listen to the recording.

2021 is the hundredth anniversary of Enrico Caruso’s death, and, in acknowledgement of those singers who entertained our great grandparents in their own homes a century ago we celebrate the sounds they heard on the gramophone. During this era the British record industry was thriving. Annual sales rose from 19 million records in 1918 to 60 million in 1929. By 1930, 60 per cent of households possessed a gramophone. However record sales steadily declined owing to the Depression, and also due both to the impact of radio (by 1939, 80 per cent of homes had radio), and the rise of the cinema. 

Check out the John Cargher Collection

Jacqueline Waylen is a Liaison Librarian and Irene Guidotti is Digitisation Technician at Monash University Library. 


  1. Ray Burford and Dave Laing, “Columbia,” in Grove Music Online. Oxford University Press, 2001. https://doi.org/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.48391
  2. Peter Cartland, “EMI,” in Grove Music Online. Oxford University Press, 2001.  https://doi.org/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.48566