AKA: Christine Miller
Born: 1913 Blackwood, South Australia
Christine was the only daughter of Maxwell Charles Gray Miller and Lillian Jessica Wilson. She had one brother, David, who was seven years her junior. Maxwell was born into this world as Maximillian Muller, a descendant of the hardworking German immigrants who arrived in the Barossa Valley area of South Australia from the 1840s onwards. He anglicized his name during the first World War when the prejudices of wartime bigotry prevailed. Originally a school teacher, he later became an inspector of inflammable oils and explosives. A lover of classical music, first edition books and a keen photographer, he and Lillian developed in their young family a keen sense of the inquisitive and encouraged a searching mind. Lillian was well-read and delighted her children with poetry readings and instant limericks. Elizabeth Spafford, (now Mrs. Bet Hunt) Christine's life-long friend from a very early age, recalls Mr. Miller having them totally engrossed in examining all manner of things under the microscope, including the eye of a fly. The literary environment of the house at Blackwood was always filled with music and happy times.
Bet and Christine spent a great deal of time in the bush collecting wildflowers at every opportunity. Christine pressed and drew them into sketchbooks which were later to stand her in good stead. According to Bet, she discovered, and had recorded, two hitherto unknown species of orchid. It was evident from an early age that Christine had a great talent for drawing.
The happiness of those early years was shattered when in 1926 Maxwell Miller died, leaving a substantial mortgage on the Blackwood house and a heavy burden with Lillian. Christine was twelve. She had always travelled to school with her father on the train to Adelaide. She attended St. Peter's Collegiate Girls School. David recalls her catching the train again on Saturday mornings and that is probably the time she was attending charcoal drawing classes at the School of Arts in North Terrace, Adelaide. Lillian, a trained nurse, had no option but to seek employment. An assertive, intelligent woman who, throughout her life, committed herself to human rights issues including all manner of penal reform, was a member of the Woman's Non-Party Association, Women's League of Voters. She was a member of the United Natiol1s Committee for Human Rights and also involved in several welfare agencies, including the Red Cross.
Lillian obtained employment at the Walkerville Church of England Boys School as the Matron. They accommodated her and David but she was unable to take Christine, who continued at St. Peters excelling as a top class literary student. The parents. of her dear friend Bet, the Spaffords, took her under-wing for quite some time.
After completing her secondary education, Christine applied for a position as a Laboratory Technician/Assistant at the Waite Agricultural Institute. At her interview she had with her the sketchbook of pressed flowers and drawings which so impressed that she was appointed to the position.
When Christine was just 17, and obviously influenced by her mother, the Adelaide paper, "The News", headlined a story - "Girls Studies Agriculture and Politics: Christine Miller, who this week was appointed acting secretary of the newly-formed junior branch of the Women's Non Party Association, is a cheery, alert lass whose ambition is to take a science course at the university. 'I think', she said frankly, 'it is honestly about time that women made themselves heard in the political world. There is a tremendous amount of women's work to be done, and men are apt to overlook it. I haven't a vote yet - I left school only last year - but I do think that the majority of women who have the franchise vote as they are told by their menfolk and don't form their own opinion."
In an undated article by Christine for "The Business Girls Half Hour" she relates how her livelihood combines with her interest in etching. "People often ask me how I reconcile being an artist with the work in a scientific laboratory. Of course, it is really a perfect combination. In one, every movement, figure and process is carefully watched and checked, and in the other I can let my hair down and can do just as the spirit moves me. In one my hands must be slaves to my brain and in the other I let my feelings take over. "Of course, art was my first love, but when I left school I decided I was not good enough to make a living out of it, so I chose work that would use my hands as well as my head.
"For some years I worked at the Waite Agricultural Research Insititute. During this time I continued my studies in drawing and painting at the South Australian School of Arts evening classes as well as doing some university lectures in botany and chemistry. After a while I decided I wanted to broaden my experience, and the only openings seemed to be in medical laboratories. However, I had little chance of breaking in on this without medical or science degree. So I did the next best thing - my general nursing training - and finished up with a gold medal. This helped me to get a job at the Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science in Adelaide where I became secretary nurse to Dr. Thiersch. That was when I took up etching. I never liked painting at night - everything you do looks jaundiced in the daylight and etchings do not suffer from this complaint. So my weekends and holidays became dedicated to collecting material for the years work. I had three trips to the Flinders Ranges where I got some marvellous stuff (I still have not used it all) and another time went collecting along the Murray. Here, the banks of dead trees lend themselves particularly well to etching. There were only three of us working together in the etching room of the South Australian School of Arts. Everyone else was frightened of the wartime shortages of materials, but we managed to devise substitutes or make our own, and learnt the craft thoroughly in doing so. During this time the three of us held a show in Adelaide that is when the National Gallery purchased my big drypoint of St. Marys' Peak in the Flinders Ranges - and later we had another . combined show in Melbourne. "But I still find two interests in life are better than one and so am still painting and etching and hope perhaps soon to have a show combining watercolours and etchings."
Her trips to the Flinders Ranges were largely due to Elizabeth Spaffords marriage to George Hunt. The Hunts then ran Wilpena Station and Christine often holidayed there.
The other two artists etching with her were Jacqueline Hick and Thelma Fisher, under the tuition of John Goodchild. The two exhibitions she refers to were the 1944 exhibition at John Martin's Gallery in Adelaide and Georges Gallery in Melbourne, December 1945. In 1942 she was awarded the Ethel Barringer Prize for Etching.
She is far more specific in her comments re the shortage of materials in an article she did for the Australian Women's Digest of May 1947:
"However, Mr. Goodchild, the principal of the school, inspired us to treat our troubles as blessings. Copper was frozen so we learned the rich beauty of zinc; wax ground no longer came from England so we had a lovely time cooking up wax and asphaltum and resin until we had our own balls of it. We burnt our own linseed oil, much to the wonderment of our neighbours
noses. We tried all sorts of lamp blacks and charcoals to find a substitute for the precious Frankfurt black ink. Paper supply was short, and to produce that lovely mellow golden tone which glows through the ink in the prints of the masters, we soaked our papers in concoctions of tea, coffee and iron salts. (Some were dyed by soaking them in ale but the beer shortage cut that out). The result of all these labours was that we learned our craft from the beginning. We learned to try out all sorts of ways and means that we would never had dreamed of using had we been able to buy the ready made article at the shop."
During the early 1940s, she met Emil Aldor, her future husband.
Austrian born Emil with his first wife and baby son had fled Europe in 1939. Lillian was acquainted with Mrs. Aldo and it was through this association that Christine met Emil, though their romance was still some years away. Emilleft South Australia in 1946 to take up a teaching position in Warrandyte, Victoria. In 1947 Dr. Thiersch, Christine's boss, was offered a position in Melbourne, and according to David Miller, would only accept the position is his nurse could accompany him. This was agreed to.
In late 1947 Christine joined with her boss to take up their new positions in Melbourne. It was also the year that she and Emil joined the George Bell School Saturday classes and Christine turned her hand to painting. Emil had long since separated from his wife. She exhibited with the Victorian Artists Society that same year. In 1948 she exhibited with the Contemporary Art Society.
In 1949 Christine attained her Diploma in Medical Laboratory Technology. in 1950 she had a solo exhibition at the Book Club in Melbourne and was part of an exhibition again at the Victorian Artists Society.
In 1952 she returned to her preferred medium of print-making. She joined with a group of other artists including Barbara Brash, Tate Adams, Harry Rosengrave, Mary MacQueen, etc. at the Melbourne Technical College were Harold Freedman and Geoff Bardwell had begun printmaking classes. She exhibited with the Melbourne Contemporary Artists that year as well.
Christine and Emil married in 1955, and in 1957 they had a daughter, Jenni. Christine was forty-four years old.
They moved to Warrandyte in approximately 1962, where they became totally involved in the Warrandyte Arts Association. Christine took classes of both children and adults encouraging a wide variety of media to foster as much self expression as possible. She made a concerted effort to free up their creativity so as to develop an individual style of their own. "Pot boilers were not encouraged".
Emil was active in the drama group producing and writing plays, including a full-length pageant involving up to sixty children. Christine designed sets and costumes. She wrote a weekly column for "The Age" junior section, devising art/craft activities for children. She also did covers for two books "Bony and the Kelly Gang" and "Through My Kitchen Door" which she also illustrated.
In 1956 she received an Olympic Bronze Medal for her entry in the Melbourne Olympics Art Show. She also did critical notes for the Victorian Council of Adult Education.
In 1959 she again exhibited with the Contemporary Art Society and founded the "Melbourne Prints" group and organised their yearly exhibitions from 1959 to 1962. These shows travelled Melbourne, Hobart, Launceston, Brisbane, Sydney and Perth.
Christine is represented in the State Galleries of Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.
Sadly she contracted breast cancer and died in July 1970. Jenni was only thirteen years old.
In early 1973 Langsam Galleries of South Yarra paid tribute to Christine Aldor by having an exhibition of her etchings and lino cuts in recognition of her exceptional abilities.
Her life-long friend, Elizabeth Spafford (Bet Hunt) states: "She was so generous, kindhearted and lovable. Everything she had achieved were by her own efforts - at times I am sure existence for her was not easy."
Sources: Jenni Bell, Daughter, Dauid Miller, Brother. Elizabeth Spafford