Australian Women's Register

An initiative of The National Foundation for Australian Women (NFAW) in conjunction with The University of Melbourne

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    Barbara Blackman, 1989, by Joyce Evans, courtesy of National Library of Australia. Used with permission..


  • From Lady Denman to Katy Gallagher: A Century of Women's Contributions to Canberra
  • In Her Gift: Women Philanthropists in Australian History

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Blackman, Barbara (1928 - )

22 December 1928
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Patron, Philanthropist and Writer
Alternative Names
  • Patterson, Barbara (maiden name)


Barbara Blackman is an author, music-lover, essayist, librettist, letter writer and patron of the Arts. Former wife of Charles Blackman, she worked for many years as an artist's model. She has conducted countless interviews for the National Library of Australia's oral history program. In 2006, Blackman was presented with the Australian Contemporary Music 2006 Award for Patronage.


Barbara Blackman was born one of twin girls on 22 December 1928 - her sister, Coralie Hilda, lived just 16 days. Barbara's father, W.H. (Harry) Patterson, died when she was three years old, leaving her mother, Gertrude Olson Patterson, as sole parent. Mother and daughter lived together in a series of homes and boarding houses in Brisbane while Gertrude worked as an accountant.

Barbara attended Brisbane State High School. She was introduced to the music of Shostakovich by fellow students Donald Munro, Roger Covell and Charles Osborne, and began a love affair with contemporary music that continues today. She frequently attended concerts with her mother and her friends. As a teenager, Barbara was the youngest member of the Barjai group of writers in Brisbane. Suffering from poor eyesight throughout her youth, she was diagnosed in 1950 with optic atrophy. Her vision declined rapidly until she became completely blind.

By 1952 Barbara was married to Charles Blackman, then an aspiring artist. The marriage was to last nearly thirty years. The two lived a meagre but happy existence in Melbourne, their income derived from Barbara's work as an artist's model and her blind pension, and Charles' work as a kitchen hand in the evenings. Much of this income went toward feeding 'the monster who lived with us' - Charles' studio. Charles and Barbara were to have three children: Auguste, Christabel and Barnaby. In 1960 Charles was awarded the prestigious Helen Rubinstein Travelling Scholarship and the family moved to London. The Blackmans lived in ten different homes over the course of their marriage.

In later life, Barbara married Frenchman Marcel Veldhoven. The pair spent twelve years together, living in Indooroopilly, before Veldhoven travelled to India to live and study Tibetan Buddhism. Though Barbara was raised in the Christian tradition, she broke away from the Church in her early twenties and today follows the teachings of Sufism.

Barbara Blackman lives in Canberra. In 2004, she pledged $1 million to music in Australia: funds have since been distributed to Pro Musica, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, the Australian National University's School of Music and the Stopera Chamber Opera Company among other groups. Barbara has a long-held tradition of anonymous philanthropy supplementing her more public donations. She was the winner of the Australian Contemporary Music 2006 Award for Patronage, and Lead Donor in the Australian Chamber Orchestra's Capital Challenge.

Barbara published an autobiographical work, Glass After Glass, in 1997. In 2007, the Miegunyah Press published over fifty years of letters between herself and Judith Wright in Portrait of a Friendship.

Sources used to compile this entry: From Lady Denman to Katy Gallagher: A Century of Women's Contributions to Canberra, Australian Women's Archives Project, February 2013,

Related entries

Archival resources

National Film and Sound Archive

  • The Good Looker, 1995, 308208; National Film and Sound Archive. Details
  • The Good Looker: Barbara Blackman Interview, 1994, 515397; National Film and Sound Archive. Details

Digital resources

Barbara Blackman
Joyce Evans
National Library of Australia. Used with permission.


Barbara Lemon

Site-wide information and acknowledgements

National Foundation for Australian Women The University of Melbourne, eScholarship Research Centre

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