Broadhurst was born in rural Queensland, at Mungy Station, near Mount Perry. She became a singer, winning local eisteddfods, and joined a group known as the Diggers who performed in Toowoomba. In 1922 she joined a comedy sextet known as the "Globe Trotters" and later the "Broadcasters", who toured South East Asia and China. In 1926 she established the Broadhurst Academy in Shanghai, offering tuition in violin, pianoforte, voice production, banjolele playing, modern ballroom dancing, classical dancing, musical culture and journalism.
She returned to Queensland in 1927, and sustained head injuries in a car accident after her return from Shanghai. She went to England and married Percy Walter Gladstone Kann, an English stockbroker; they co-directed Pellier Ltd, Robes & Modes. Kann and Broadhurst separated, and Broadhurst became involved with diesel engineer Leonard Lloyd Lewis, living in Banstead from 1939. During World War II she joined the Australian Women's Voluntary Services, offering hospitality to Australian soldiers.
In 1949, the couple and their son moved to Australia. She travelled widely and produced 114 landscape paintings, which were first shown as "Paintings of Australia" in 1954 at David Jones's art gallery, Sydney, then later in Brisbane and Canberra. She was a foundation member of the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales and a member of the Society of Interior Designers of Australia, was a teacher of printmaking and sculpture at the National Art School and was also involved in a variety of charitable activities. Her husband left her and their son in 1961.
She travelled to England in 1973 to receive treatment for her failing eyesight and hearing. She returned to Sydney and was murdered in her Paddington studio in Roylston Street, in 1977. The murder remains unsolved. There has been some speculation that Broadhurst was a victim of serial killer John Wayne Glover - (see "Florence Broadhurst - Her Secret and Extraordinary Lives" by Helen O'Neill), who was convicted of murdering six elderly women between 1989-90 and is thought by police to have been responsible for other deaths. In Gillian Armstrong's "Unfolding Florence", friends and employees of Broadhurst stated that they believed the killer may have been known to her and that the motive may have been financial. This was due to the presence of two cups of tea near her body, suggesting a meeting or appointment, and the killer's apparent knowledge of her factory's layout.
In 1959 Broadhurst established Australian (Hand Printed) Wallpapers Pty Ltd., which later became Florence Broadhurst Wallpapers Pty Ltd, advertised as "the only studio of its kind in the world". Her brightly-coloured geometric and nature-inspired over sized designs were all hand printed. Advances made in her studio included printing onto metallic surfaces, the development of a washable, vinyl-coating finish and a drying rack system that allowed her wallpapers to be produced in large quantities. By 1972, her wallpapers reportedly contained around 800 designs in eighty different colours while by the mid-1970s, she monopolised the quality end of the Australian market and was exported worldwide.
Broadhurst's library of wooden silk-printing screens and film positives was sold to Wilson Fabrics and Wallcoverings in 1978, just one year after her death. However, the decline of wallpaper as a popular form of home furnishing in the 1980's saw the collection languish and it was later re-sold to Signature Prints Pty Ltd. Signature Prints in turn was purchased by a conglomerate led by current CEO David Lennie in 1989. Lennie had previously run a small wallpaper company in Auckland, New Zealand and briefly met Florence Broadhurst before her death.
In the late 1990's, Chee Soon & Fitzgerald, a small but influential Sydney design store, held the wholesale and retail distribution rights for Broadhurst wallpaper. This led to some popularity in Sydney design circles but little media attention. In the early 2000's, Signature Prints made a conscious decision to promote Broadhurst's designs overseas, specifically in the UK. This effort, coupled with an international resurgence of interest in wallpaper, greatly increased the designer's profile and led to distribution deals being struck for both the UK and the USA in 2003..
Five-hundred and thirty Broadhurst designs are in the company's collection but only a small proportion are printed by the company as wallpaper and fabric. The company retains strict control over the designs and insists printing take place in its inner-city Sydney factory. Some licences have been granted for other uses, such as high-end fashion pieces by designers Akira Isogawa, Nicole Zimmermann and Karen Walker; carpets and other homewares have also been produced using her designs.
The 2006 Gillian Armstrong docu-drama Unfolding Florence: The Many Lives of Florence Broadhurst, details her life. Writer Siobhan O'Brien published "A Life By Design" on the Florence Broadhurst story in 2004, but only one book has been written that investigates both Broadhurst's life and designs in detail - the multi-award-winning Florence Broadhurst: Her Secret and Extraordinary Lives by Helen O'Neill.
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