Theatres/Venues 3b: Queensland

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Mount Morgan mapSituated on the Dee River, 38 kilometres (24 miles) south of the city of Rockhampton, and 680 kilometres (420 miles) north of the state capital, Brisbane, Mount Morgan was founded as a gold mining town in 1882. Soon afterwards it became the site of the richest gold mine in Australia, and during its first ten years of operations was considered the world’s most productive. The possibility of gold in the Ironstone Mountain area was known as early as ca.1870. Three brothers Frederick, Edwin and Thomas Morgan were the first to peg a claim there and were subsequently responsible for establishing the Mount Morgan Mine. The township which grew around the mine’s entrance did so in a haphazard fashion and was initially called South Calliungal (the name was formally changed to Mount Morgan in 1889). A road was built over the Razorback Range in 1885, the same year the town’s post office opened. The railway to Rockhampton was not built until 1898, which meant that everything was transported to the town by horse teams. The town’s prosperity and size during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, and its proximity to Rockhampton, meant that it was a popular destination for touring entertainments during that period. The Mount Morgan Mine closed in 1981.

Mount MorganLeft: Mount Morgan, 1892. Source: Richardson Collection, Fryer Library (UQ). Right: Mount Morgan, 1913. Source: John Oxley Library, State Library of Qld.



School of Arts 1 - Mt Morgan [MM Experience](1889-1891) 31 Morgan Street.

Mount Morgan’s first School of Arts opened on 11 February 1889 with entertainment provided by the local Glee Club. Conceived as both a centre for learning and a community space, the building included an auditorium with stage, two dressing rooms and a library and reading room. Unfortunately the building was destroyed two years later, an event lamented by the Morning Bulletin which noted that not only was it one of the few ornamental buildings in the town but had also been built at considerable cost (19 Jan. 1891, 5). Entertainments presented there included concerts by the Mount Morgan Defence Force Band (with local singers and dancers), Glee Club, and General and Mrs Mite.

1: Measuring 80×30 ft (24×9 m), a stage 30×20 ft (9×6 m) the auditorium reportedly seated around 200 people.
2: Although a number of touring theatrical shows are known to have played Mount Morgan during the 1889-1891 period, advertising and reports published in the Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton) rarely identify the venues being used. It is therefore currently unknown which, if any, played the School of Arts. These entertainments included Tom Pollard‘s Potter of Texas Co, Emma Wangenheim’s Royal English and Comic Opera Co, and C.B. Hicks‘ American Minstrels.
Image source: Mount Morgan Experience.



(1891-1923) 31 Morgan.

School of Arts 2 - Mt Morgan [MM Experience]Following the destruction of Mount Morgan’s first School of Arts on 18 January 1891, the new building was given a low-key formal opening on 25 August. One of the first community events held there was a flower show (11-12 Sept.). The first known theatrical entertainment was presented by Gerald and Duff’s Dramatic Co on 25 and 26 September. Over the next 32 years the building hosted countless community events, including weddings, Eisteddfods, lectures and meetings as well as local and touring theatrical shows and moving pictures. The auditorium was especially popular with minstrel and vaudeville troupes. On 25 April 1923 the School of Arts was destroyed by fire, along with 11 other buildings along Morgan Street.

Among the numerous companies and artists to perform at the second School of Arts were J.C. Williamson and Maggie Moore (1894), with Struck Oil; Harry Cowan’s Minstrels and Comedy Co (1898), the Mount Morgan Minstrel and Comedy Co (1890s/early 1900s), and Nellie Melba (1911). Ted Holland‘s Entertainers played the venue (ca. 1903-07), as did Harry Clay during his Queensland tours (1901-18, 1922, 1927, 1929). Moving Picture firms to lease the School included Globe Pictures (ca. 1910) and the Royal Picture Show (ca. 1912).
Image source: Mount Morgan Experience



School of Arts 3 - Mt Morgan [MM Experience](1924-) 31Morgan Street.

After the second School of Arts was destroyed, its Committee met the very next day to plan a new building. A temporary library was established in St Mary’s Institute while Mount Morgan Mine Manager, A. Boyd organised the plans for a new building. Erected by W. Butcher and R. Ames, the cost was largely covered by a State Government loan of £3000. Although the new library and reading room was opened on 24 April, the hall did not officially open until 20 August 1924 (with a Grand Ball). Since then the School of Arts has been used for films, balls, theatrical performances, fundraising events, high school formals and large public events.

1: Few details regarding visiting variety companies are currently known. Roy Rene’s Merrymakers (aka Mo & His Merrymakers) are known to have played the School of Arts in 1929 (touring for Clay’s Bridge Theatres Ltd).
2: During World War II the building was used by American soldiers as an accommodation and recreation base. It was refurbished ca. 2010 with funding provided by the Federal Government and the Rockhampton Regional Council and re-opened in November 2011.


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Published on March 3, 2017 at 1:43 am  Comments Off on Theatres/Venues 3b: Queensland