Emily Howard Coungeau
Photo Courtesy of E Gobolos.
Courtesy E Gobolos.
Formal portrait ca1915 Courtesy E Gobolos
Photo Courtesy of E Gobolos.
Although Emily had humble beginnings, by the end of her life she was acclaimed as a successful businesswoman, prolific and popular poet and lyricist.
Although Emily had humble beginnings, by the end of her life she was acclaimed as a successful businesswoman, prolific and popular poet and lyricist, a supporter of her church, her community, and many women’s associations.
Emily and Naoum came to Brisbane in 1889 to run a café across from the newly built Customs House in Queen Street. Emily was born in England in 1860 and Naoum Coungeau, an Albanian in 1857. They met in Turkey; where he was working as an attaché to a German general, and 24-year-old Emily as Secretary to an English lady living on the island of Lesbos. They decided on a new life in Australia, first going to Melbourne then on to Brisbane.
By 1915 their simple café was an elegant continental style restaurant and the Coungeau’s commercial success allowed them to become significant patrons of the arts and contributors to worthy causes including World War 1 charities. In her early 50s, Emily began writing poems about the middle-east she knew so well and the ANZAC troops in this war arena. Her very popular poems were published not only in Brisbane magazines and newspapers but in other States as well. Her first book of poems, called Stella Australis, was published in 1914 and proved so popular it went to two editions.
In 1912 they had fallen in love with a half-acre block of land in Banya Street, Bongaree, and renowned architects, Hall & Dodds, designed their Queenslander style retirement home. The house was finished in 1916 and they retired to Bribie in 1919 after 30 years working in Brisbane. At that time there were only about 200 people living permanently on Bribie and both Emily and Naoum quickly became an integral part of its small community. Emily, a staunch Anglican, wanted a church so she fund-raised money for the building of St Peter’s Hall in Foster Street, giving in 1928, a handsome silky oak altar and hangings.
While living on Bribie, Emily still wrote and published her poems in the newspapers and these she collected into three books, with Rustling Leaves published in 1920, Palm Fronds in 1927 and Fern Leaves in 1934. Emily was friends with the renowned composer Alfred Hill and her drama “Princess Mona” became the libretto for his new Opera called Auster. Auster was performed as a Cantata at Sydney’s Town Hall in 1922 and in 1935, at His Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne, Auster was billed as ‘the first Australian Opera ever performed by a professional company’.
In 1936 they decided to sell their home and sail to England for a holiday, but the depression brought no offers, so they gave their home to the Anglican Church as a holiday-home for the Clergy.
They never made their trip as Emily fell ill and in July 1936 she passed away in Brisbane, followed five weeks later by Naoum. He couldn’t live without his wife of over 50 years.
Coungeau House was sold by the Anglican church to the Toc H Organisation in 1969 and is available for use, as a holiday home, by disadvantaged families and not-for-profit organisations.
Written by Lynne Hooper from information from public domain and Elisabeth Gobolos.