Historical Insights

The “Historical Insights” page provides access to general historical accounts of popular culture entertainment activity in Australia up until the mid-1930s. Here you can access:

(incl. digitised PDF and online resources)

(incl. podcasts)

(incl. theses)

(and other related online resources)

The resources and items made available will typically provide information and observations relating to the social, performative, industrial and/or institutional  evolution of variety theatre in this country. Some will also focus more towards the history of city-specific theatres and venues, as well as other aspects relating to the production and reception of popular culture entertainment – notably variety theatre’s association with film, radio, circus, publishing and war.



This section comprises selected historical accounts of variety theatre up until the mid-1930s that were published in newspapers and magazines. [Click on << Historical Insights >> below]

There are also a number of entries with links to series published by the National Library of Australia through its free digital newspaper service – Trove.

Please be aware that many of the articles selected by the Australian Variety Theatre Archive will likely contain historical information which must now be considered out of date, if not erroneous. All observations and personal accounts should also be treated with circumspection. It is hoped that over time these articles will also provide insight into the way Australian popular culture entertainment has been recorded by social and theatre commentators working in the print media.
It is further anticipated that by collecting such articles in one place we may better understand not only how this recorded history evolved, but why our current understanding differs so markedly to what actually occurred.





aka “As told to J.M. Rohan”

(1939-1940) The former vaudeville star (Vaude and Verne) turned radio celebrity and author Charlie Vaude (aka Charles Ridgway) presented a weekly series of historical insights for Melbourne’s Sporting Globe between June 1939 and May 1940. Comprising memoir, funniosities, and gossip “from one who was often there,” the stories, mostly relating to the variety industry, were told to journalist J.M. Rohan and published each Saturday. There was no regular series title, and hence each piece was essentially given a name that reflected the content. The first article to be published, “A Born Humorist” (10 June 1939) introduced Verne and provided salient details of his life and career.

1.   “A Born Humourist” (10 June 1939)
2.   “Some Experiences While Travelling the Road to the Tivoli” (17 June 1939)
3.   “Charlie Vaude Invites You to Meet the Guvnor” (24 June 1939)
4.   “The Greatest Comedian of all was Dan, the Drunken Dog (1 July 1939)
5.   “Some of the Famous Vaudeville Stars of the Tivoli Circuit” (8 July 1939)
6.   “Sold His Head for £500” (15 July  1939)
7.   “Had to Hawk ‘Daisy’ to Publishers” (22 July 1939)
8.   “When Sydney Wharfies Threatened to Strike Over an Elephant” (29 July 1939)
9.   “Town Hall was Packed to see a Man-Eating Shark” (5 Aug. 1939)
10. “Funmakers of the Tivoli” (12 Aug. 1939)
11. “How Frank Gorman Became the Singing Parson” (19 Aug. 1939)
12. “The Show Must Go On.” (26 Aug. 1939)
13. “Charles Austin Never Failed to Raise a Laugh with Parker P.C.” (2 Sept. 1939)
14. “On Show with Bob Fitzsimmons” (9 Sept. 1939)
15. “The Virginian Judge” (16 Sept. 1939)
16. “Humour and Great Versatility Made Harry Rickards Famous” (23 Sept. 1939)
17. “When Charlie Vaude was Lured to the Lions” (4 Nov. 1939)
18. “Memories of the Stage Stars Who Toppled Overnight” (11 Nov. 1939)
19. “The Artist Who Sang ‘When the Ball is Over’” (18 Nov. 1939)
20. “Vaude’s ‘How Do You Do’s?’ – Their Origins” (25 Nov. 1939)
21. “Actors Are Poor Business Men: Charlie Vaude Tells Why” (2 Dec. 1939)
22. “The Little Man Who Got Big Laughs” (9 Dec. 1939)
23. “The Drunk at the Piano” (16 Dec. 1939)
24. “From Artist to Entrepreneur is a Stiff Climb” (23 Dec. 1939)
25. “Quick-Fire Vaudeville” (30 Dec. 1939)
26. “Some Stars of Pantomime” (6 Jan. 1940)
27. “Lost!!! A Bengal Tiger” (13 Jan. 1940)
28. “The Fuller Family” (20 Jan. 1940)
29. “Origin of War Songs” (27 Jan. 1940)
30. “A Stage Revival is Certain” (3 Feb. 1940)
31. “Dread of the Mike” (10 Feb. 1940)
32. “Theatrical Artists Often Found Themselves in Tight Corners” (17 Feb. 1940)
33. “The Buskers” (24 Feb. 1940)
34. “The World’s Worst Show” (2 Mar. 1940)
35. “Looking for Stars” (9 Mar. 1940)
36. “Ghost Shows” (16 Mar. 1940)
37. “Burglary… In it’s Sunday Clothes” (23 Mar. 1940)
38. “Freaks: The Life of Sideshows” (30 Mar. 1940)
39. “One Man Shows” (6 Apr. 1940)
40. “Chance for Local Talent” (13 Apr. 1940) poor quality
41. “Charlie Vaude Takes a Trip Down Sideshow Ally” (20 Apr. 1940)
42. “Props Do Not Make the Performer” (27 Apr. 1940)
43. “Charlie Vaude Signs Off” (4 May 1940) Series final
Vaude went on to contribute a “Fun Corner” series for the Sporting Globe between 25 May and 17 August 1940.
Image source: Sporting Globe (Melbourne) 15 July (1939), 8.



by Valentine Day (The Referee)

Reminiscences of the StageWritten by Valentine Day and published in the Referee newspaper in 1917, ‘Reminiscences of the Stage’ was a 22-part series of historical insights, memoir and short biography largely focusing on aspects Sydney’s ‘legitimate’ and variety theatre industries. The first 15 installments are devoted to Harry Rickards, his key theatres and key artists, both Australian and International, who appeared on his circuit. The remaining numbers look at Sydney’s old Opera House (16-19) and Gaiety Theatre (20-21) and the murder/suicide of English actors Amy Rozelle and Arthur Dacre in Sydney in 1895.

Each of the installments below are entered by their subtitle. All were published under the column heading: “Reminiscences of the Stage.”
1.   “True Tale of the Sydney Tivoli Theatre” (2 May)
2.   “True Tale of the Sydney Tivoli Theatre” (9 May)
3.   “True Tale of the Sydney Tivoli Theatre” (16 May)
4.   “True Tale of the Sydney Tivoli Theatre” (23 May)
5.   “True Tale of the Sydney Tivoli Theatre” (23 May)
6.   “Tales of Tivoli Theatre: Old Time Favourites” (6 June)
7.   “Tales of Tivoli Theatre: Old Time Favourites” (13 June)
8.   “Tales of Tivoli Theatre: Old Time Favourites” (20 June)
9.   “Tales of Tivoli Theatre: Burnt Out in 1899” (27 June)
10. “Tales of the Tivoli Theatre: A New Regime” (4 July)
11. “Tales of the Tivoli: Some Recent Performers” (11 July)
12. “Tales of the Tivoli: Some Recent Performers” (18 July)
13. “Tales of the Tivoli: Notable Performers” (25 July)
14. “Tales of the Tivoli Theatre: Close of the Old Regime” (1 Aug.)
15. “Operatic Stars at the Tivoli Theatre” (8 Aug.)
16. “The Old Opera House: Pleasant Memories” (15 Aug.)
17. “Pleasant Memories of the Old Sydney Opera House” (22 Aug.)
18. “When Emile Melville was Star of Light Opera” (29 Aug.)
19. “Stars that Shone at the Old Sydney Opera House” (5 Sept.)
20. “The Gaiety’s Olden and Golden Days” (12 Sept.)
21. “The Gaiety’s Olden and Golden Days” (19 Sept.)
22. “The Dacres, and Their Melancholy End” (10 Oct.)
See also responses to the series: “Old Times Recalled.” Referee (Sydney) 17 Oct. 1917, 14 “Old Timer” • “Old Times Revisited.” Referee (Sydney) 24 Oct. 1917, 14.



by John Smith (The Leader)

American blackface minstrel and showman John Washington Smith came to Australia in 1857 and remained for the rest of his life, apart from occasional tours to the East. In 1871 Melbourne newspaper The Leader published Smith’s “Stray Leaves from the Diary of a Showman,” a six-part series in which he recalls incidents that occurred during his career in America and while on tour in Siam and Java.

1.”Stray Leaves from the Diary of a Showman: No 1 – Siam.” Leader (Melbourne) 1 Apr. 1871, 18.
2. “Stray Leaves from the Diary of a Showman: No II – Dick Nash.” Leader (Melbourne) 8 Apr. 1871, 18.
3.”Stray Leaves from the Diary of a Showman: No III – The Christys in Java.” Leader (Melbourne) 13 May 1871, 18.
4. “Stray Leaves from the Diary of a Showman: No IV – The Blue Waters in Java.” Leader (Melbourne) 3 June 1871, 18.
5. “Stray Leaves from the Diary of a Showman: No V – The Floating Palace.” Leader (Melbourne) 17 June 1871, 18.
6. “Stray Leaves from the Diary of a Showman: No VI – The Yellow Fever.” Leader (Melbourne) 29 July 1871, 18.

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Published on May 8, 2017 at 4:02 am  Comments Off on Historical Insights