In 1978, just a few years after the ‘Mo’ Awards was formed, Toni noticed a void in the industry, where female entertainers rarely got to work together and therefore most didn’t know any of their colleagues. She also noticed that when male performers brought their wives along to functions, they seemed to get a little neglected with their husbands talking ‘shop’ most of the evening. And so, after a conversation with fellow performers and gathering a few phone numbers from Judy at Artistes Answering Centre, Toni set to work organizing a women’s association within the variety industry. Gathering around her for their first meeting included Tami Lind, Fay Warnock, Dorothy Barry, Bunny Gibson, Margaret
Flanagan, Pat Scroope, Elizabeth Garnett, Di Georgeson, Lynece Morris, Julie Bower, Robyn Alexander.
Many names for the association were tossed around but A.L.V.A. (The Australian Ladies Variety Association) was unanimously decided upon. Their colours would be red and gold with the Waratah being part of our insignia. 46 ladies attended the first general meeting at Balmain Leagues Club on the 30th January 1979, the Committee was approved and members voted on membership criteria and decided that while they were having fun, they would raise funds to build a Nursing Home for Variety performers (similar to Brinsworth House in London, which is managed by The British Actors Benevolent Society and patronized by the Queen and the late Queen Mother).
All proceeds from the Royal Command Performance each year are donated to B.A.B.S.
Toni approached Dame Vera Lynn, who at that stage visited Australia each year, to be their first Patron. Everyone was so thrilled when she graciously accepted our invitation and to this day, she is still our International Patron. Since then Mrs. Margaret Whitlam, Lady Joan Hardy and Lady Sonia MacMahon have all become national patrons.
Ten Founder Members, asked four others each, making the first 50 Charter Members, who were presented with their badges by Dame Vera Lynn with a total of 104 ladies being present at the Sebel Townhouse on the 21st February 1979. The room looked resplendent when the wall from the cocktail lounge descended, revealing a fully candlelit room and red and gold regalia around the walls handmade by some of our members, Robyn Alexander, with artwork by Sylvia Raye. Robyn also headed the team making the centerpieces for the tables out of red and gold ribbon. Our first honorary members were paid tribute to – they were Edith Dahl, Sadie Gayle, Maude Meredith and Jenny Howard, with Muriel Haines being added to that list a little later.
The first ALVA Honours was presented to Kerri Dyer for her strength and determination following an horrific car accident. Forty years on Kerri has shown that anything can be achieved if you have the courage. From that night, ALVA went from strength to strength, the membership consisting of active entertainers and the wives/partners of active entertainers. Later the Constitution was altered and extended to retired entertainers and the wives/partners of retired entertainers and has subsequently been opened to other sections of the industry, including honorary members, but still the association remains very exclusive.
Some of the earliest fundraising activites included their Annual Art Union, for which, for the first three years (thanks to the then PR Bee, Cherie Donavan) they received a car free of charge from Tony Packard. The Art Union was launched at ALVA’s First Annual Variety Gala Ball held at the Wentworth Hotel when Tony Packard, complete with crown and cape, atop a brand new car, entered the ballroom preceded by the NSW Police Pipe Band. What an exciting night that was, as were all of the subsequent Balls and Art Unions, which raised many thousands of dollars for the kitty. A Christmas party was organized on Shark Island when we entertained a large group of under-privileged children. Santa was to have been brought in by Dick Smith’s helicopter, but winds were too high and Santa (namely Alan McQueen) was ferried over from Double Bay instead. A carnival was organized at Ryde Oval with an estimated 8,000 in attendance.
The thoughts of building a Nursing Home were later dropped when it became apparent that new rules and legislation in this field were going to make it far to difficult and, as most entertainers worked until they dropped, there weren’t too many who needed it. So now, 40 years on, the association helps anyone in the industry who falls on hard times or who need financial, physical or psychological assistance. Toni is naturally very proud of what she started all of those years ago. It has brought companionship and lifelong friendships have been nurtured within it’s ranks. Since then Toni has been responsible for producing many fund raising shows and has generated hundreds of thousands of dollars for scores of Charities, including, CanTeen, Leukaemia Foundation, Red Cross, Royal Institute for Deaf & Blind Children, Cancer Research, Children’s Medical Research, Clown Doctors to name but a few and, when a friend, Ron Cassamento, who had only months previously made the Guinness Book of Records for lawn bowling in aid of the Children’s Hospital Oncology Unit at Camperdown, decided he would push a bed from St. Margaret’s Hospital in Perth, across the whole width of Australia to the Hospital at Camperdown, Toni set about producing a show to welcome him back. Alas, during training, just a couple of weeks before the event was due to take place, Ron fell during training, fracturing his skull. All the plans were in place, so a relay team took on the task and completed the feat that Ron set out to achieve. TV footage was obtained from all over Australia including the rushes from Channel Nine that morning and, as the team pushed the bed into the Camperdown Children’s Hospital on screen, preceded by the NSW Police Pipe Band, the same team pushed the bed into the auditorium at Canterbury Hurlstone Park RSL Club which was followed by a spectacular show to celebrate the achievement. Jackie Trent and Tony Hatch headed the bill, with other wonderful performers such as Barry Crocker & Ian Turpie and a host of wonderful entertainers.
At the ‘Mo’ Awards in 1998, Toni was honoured with the prestigious John Campbell Fellowship Award for services to the industry and for her charity work. Earlier she had also been nominated for inclusion in the ‘Australian Who’s Who of Women’ (1985) and subsequently the ‘World Who’s Who of Women’ (1986) and in the same year was included in the ‘International Directory of Distinguished Leadership’. More recently, in her work through Rotary International and her own Club, The Rotary Club of Warners Bay, Toni continues to help others by raising funds for needy people and various causes. She admits it’s what she loves to do most.