Celebrating the Life of Susan Talbot - Remarks by Chris Beale, Deputy Chairman, American Australian Association, at the Asia Society, New York, June 2, 2015
Susan Talbot (right) with La Frances Hui, film curator at the Asia Society
We are here tonight to celebrate Susan's life.
And what an interesting and full life she had - from kindergarten teacher in Sydney at 18, to director of her school at age 20, to being the first on-air teacher for a preschool education program on Australia's ABC Television, also at age 20, and becoming the first on-air presenter, as Miss Susan, of Romper Room in Australia on Channel 7 at age 26.
Susan moved to London at age 28 to train the Misses for the UK version of Romper Room. At age 29 she married Paul Talbot and moved to New York.
While raising a family in New York she went back to school, earning a Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education, and did work with teenage mothers.
The Sydney Morning Herald described Susan as a woman devoted to Australian interests. It talks of her second "career" in New York, that of fostering the Australian arts.
It is fitting that we are celebrating her life tonight at the Asia Society. It was here that Susan brought her short film night, entitled Australian Short Film Today, after several years of holding it in gritty locations such as Anthology Film Archives on 8th Street and Second Avenue. It certainly is not gritty here.
On its website, the Asia Society hails Susan as a "Champion of Australian Arts and Culture", which is exactly what she was.
Susan was a consummate lover of the arts and a staunch promoter of Australian arts abroad. In addition to Australian film, she supported the Australian Ballet (in the early days she would offer members of the Australian Ballet beds in her New York brownstone), she supported the Australian National Gallery (she was head of the American Friends of the National Gallery, and she organized trips for members to art galleries in the US and to the National Galley in Canberra to encourage donations), and she led cultural activities for the American Australian Association.
When Susan was awarded her Order of Australia in 2013, her service to the Australian arts was recognized. The citation for the award read “for significant service to international relations, particularly through promotion of the arts.”
As the Asia Society says, "For many years since the 1990s, May has been the month associated with Australian Short Film Today, an eagerly anticipated, sold-out annual program presented at Asia Society New York. This May, we mourn the loss of Susan Talbot, who initiated the program and curated each year’s selection. She was not only a longtime friend of Asia Society but was also a leading figure in the Australian cultural community in New York. She will be remembered for her good humor and infectious love of cinema and Australian culture."
La Frances Hui, the film curator at Asia Society, says, "Her programming demonstrated deep insights into both filmmaking and cultural trends in Australia. Susan had a solid following. The annual program always felt like a big reunion of friends and family.”
And indeed it was.
My wife, Francesca, and I were pleased to be financial sponsors of Australian Short Film Today for many years. We were already devoted fans of the event and had been attending for years when Susan softly asked us if we would become sponsors. We immediately said yes. When Susan asked, that's what you did.
I also said yes, at her behest, to joining the American Friends of the Australian National Gallery and to going on the board of Film Forum, which is run by Karen Cooper on West Houston Street. Film Forum has no particular Australian connection, but I guess Susan had correctly figured out that Francesca and I were independent film fans.
I remember that we held a meeting of the American Friends' board at my office in New York once. It was at 8 am, so I thought we should provide breakfast, but instead of doughnuts we served a cooked breakfast. Joe the chef was our cook at the time, and he turned simple scrambled eggs into haute cuisine with toasted Ciabatta bread, roasted cherry tomatoes, and truffle oil and chives added to the scrambled eggs. It's a small thing, but I remember how happy Susan was that morning, and how she said, "We should have all our meetings here!"
There were many things about Susan:
• There was her quite manner.
• There was that style and taste.
• There was her warmth and loyalty.
• There were those sparkling eyes and that charm.
• There was that wry humour.
• And there was that voice. It was of an earlier time, a voice you don't hear in Australia much anymore, what we would have called "refined", an Anglicized version, perhaps reinforced by her time in London.
And there was that intelligent mind and her sensibility. Her films kept you in touch with what young Australians were thinking. But you never knew what to expect in her programs. Some years the films would be very funny, other years they would include horror flicks and gore, one year there was an entire program of films by first-generation Australian children of immigrants, and another year featured lots of sex. So inside the head of that conservatively dressed, conservatively spoken, seemingly demure woman there was a broad and devilish mind. An artistic mind.
Susan loved her children, loved New York, loved spending time at Cape Cod, and loved visiting Australia. She loved her friends ... and she is beloved by them.