Arts for All Appeal

Magic has been a performing arts field that has traditionally been dominated by men.

Often hired as attractive assistants to be sawn in half or to be the foil for other tricks, this new online exhibition and podcast demonstrates that women played a pivotal role both on stage and behind the scenes.

Online Exhibition – Rare Flowers and Golden Butterflies

An old black-and-white photo of a woman on a black stage, dressed as a butterfly with gigantic wings. Next to her is a candle that looks to be at least 9 feet tall.


This new online exhibition champions the lives and fascinating careers of three women in magic who performed in the mid-20th century both in Australia and overseas: Esme Levante, Myrtle Roberts and Loretta “Moi-Yo” Miller Montes.

Discover more about these incredible three women through objects found in the Australian Performing Arts Collection and images, archival videos and personal recounts from various family members.

Rare Flowers and Golden Butterflies was written and produced by Cathy Pryor, the 2021 Frank Van Straten Fellow at Arts Centre Melbourne.

Image: Undated photograph of Myrtle Roberts performing. Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

See the exhibition

Podcast – The Illusory Life of Esme Levante

An old sepia-toned trading card, yellowing with age, showing a woman wearing an ornate Asian-inspired headdress and costume. She is looking down, out of frame.


Esme Levante was destined to be in showbiz. Her father was Les Cole who, under his stage name The Great Levante, was one of the most celebrated Australian magicians of his generation.

This is a story of talent and tenacity, and a woman who carved out her own distinct style and career in the masculine world of magic.

Drawing on original interviews, archival material, secondary sources, as well as a tour of the items held in the Australian Performing Arts Collection, Esme’s world comes to life.

This audio documentary was produced by Frank Van Straten Fellow Cathy Pryor, in partnership with Radio National’s The History Listen.

Image: Esme Levante in How's Tricks, 1940, from Will Alma Collection, State Library of Victoria

Listen to the podcast

About Cathy Pryor

Cathy Pryor, a woman with long greying hair, smiles at the camera. She is wearing a colourful top with an origami pattern and is standing outside with some trees in the background.


The 2021 Frank Van Straten Fellow Cathy Pryor accessed the Australian Performing Arts Collection to complete her remarkable historical research project titled Rare Flowers and Golden Butterflies – women and magic in mid-20th century Australia. The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing lockdowns impacted Pryor’s ability to visit and use the archive for research, however tucked away amidst the myriad stories of Australia’s performing arts history, she was able to give each woman their time in the spotlight.


It was such a joy to delve into the world of magic performance last century and tell the stories of these three women who did so much to push boundaries in their own way. They all had such varied careers and lives, and the depth of talent and what they contributed to the art form over many decades was quite extraordinary.

Cathy Pryor


Discover more about the Frank Van Straten Fellowship


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