For much of the 20th century the names Leslie Walford and Dora Byrne were synonymous with style and glamour. For nearly 50 years Leslie Walford AM was the decorator of choice for Sydney society. He was well known to the public through his weekly newspaper columns – where he described himself as ‘a chronicler of life’ – and radio and television appearances increased his popularity. Dora Byrne, Leslie’s mother, was a fashion leader, trendsetter and tastemaker. A tireless fundraiser, organiser and volunteer, she was often featured in the press as a ‘leading Sydney hostess’. Presented at court, Dora led a life endowed with grace and style, but also marked by great tragedy.
The illuminating correspondence between mother and son was recently unearthed in an archive of Leslie’s papers held by Sydney Living Museums. Darling mother, darling son: the letters of Leslie Walford and Dora Byrne, 1929–1972 is an edited selection of the correspondence, gracefully linked by editor Edith M Ziegler’s narrative. The letters are lively, intimate and opinionated as Dora and Leslie discuss their lives and loves, the glittering circles in which they moved, and their fascinating insights into the design and fashion of their times.
The correspondence begins in February 1929 with a letter from Dora to two-year-old Leslie to be read ‘when he is twelve’. Later letters reveal Dora’s influence on Leslie’s interest in and knowledge of antiques, something that became a trademark of his decorating practice. They show Leslie’s concern that his mother should approve of his decision to become an interior designer, declaring in a long letter written from Paris that it was a ‘cultured’ business and one of the only ‘shop’ businesses open to a gentleman.
Featuring letters written over a 43-year period, Darling mother, darling son is a record of a fiercely loving relationship, instructive, occasionally exasperated, and, in Dora’s later years, increasingly poignant. The book is illustrated with a rich selection of rare pictorial material from the archive.
Darling mother, darling son is available to pre-order online now.
The book will be available at selected museum shops from May 2017.
However far away from you I am, you are the real centre of my life ...
– Leslie Walford to Dora Byrne, 1953