Theatres/Venues 3b: Queensland


Rockhampton - mapSituated 45 kms from the mouth of the Fitzroy River, and some 600 kilometres north of Brisbane, Rockhampton is the Capricorn Coast region’s major town and port. The traditional home of the Darumbal Aboriginal people, the area was explored during the mid-1840s by Ludwig Leichhardt and Thomas Mitchell. It’s fertile grazing lands led to settlers arriving from 1855. The Fitzroy River provided a vital waterway for shipping of supplies, and a settlement along the river quickly developed (Rockhampton’s name is derived from the English term for village and the rocks that prevented further upstream navigation). By 1861, the town had a regular newspaper, banks, court house and School of Arts. After gold was discovered at nearby Mount Morgan in the early 1880s Rockhampton became central to the shipping of supplies and gold. It was proclaimed a city in 1902. The following year saw the rail connection to Brisbane completed (the line north to Mackay was not finished until 1921, however). A railway line west to Longreach had been completed in 1892.

Rockhampton montageLeft: East Street, ca. 1887. Right. East Street, 1923. Source: John Oxley Library, State Library of Qld.



aka Arcadia Open-Air Picture Theatre

(1914-1930) Yaamba Road, North Rockhampton.

Harry Webber and William Hobler (1867-1936) opened their Arcadia Theatre, North Rockhampton on 17 October 1914 with a full programme of moving pictures. The theatre was briefly managed by Mrs P. McInerney before being taken over by A.E. Carrell (Strand Pictures) from 7 September 1918. Vaudeville acts were introduced into the theatre’s programmes from November 1919, beginning with tenor Gerald Cashman. The Arcadia and Strand/Tivoli theatres operated in conjunction with each other throughout the 1920s under different managements (including Victor L. Hobler), with performers often appearing at both theatres on the same evening. The Hobler family closed the Arcadia in mid-1930 in order to focus on the Tivoli (and newly formed Tivoli Talkies Ltd).

Arcadia [MB 16 Feb 1918, 2]

  • See also: Strand Theatre / Tivoli Theatre [below]
1: The Hoblers retained ownership of the property’s freehold until it was eventually sold in the mid-1930s.
2: The Arcadia’s opening night under McInerney’s management (2 July) included performances by Louisa Mack (illustrated singer) and the Misses McInerney (piano and violin). McInerney only operated the theatre for two months.



Coliseum [MB 22 Nov. 1935, 12](1913-1935) Corner of Archer and East streets.

The Coliseum opened on 11 June 1913 as an open-air skating rink. J. Burge was the first manager, with entertainment supplied by the Lakes Brass Band and the Flying Squadron orchestra. The venue was soon afterwards renovated to accommodate theatre productions, opening under that guise on 11 October the same year with an extended season by the Pom Poms variety company. It later alternated vaudeville, moving pictures and skating. Among the variety troupes to play the Coliseum were those led by Vaude and Verne, Mrs Minna, and Chales “Ike” Delavale. The Coliseum was bought by James Edgar in 1919. He remained its owner until closing it down in 1934.

The Coliseum, was demolished in late 1935, around the same time as the Arcadia, North Rockhampton.
Image source: Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton) 22 Nov. 1935, 12..



(1910-1938) Denham Street (corner of Alma Street).

One of several theatres in Rockhampton controlled by Birch and Carroll (and later Birch, Carroll and Coyle), Earl’s Court opened on 24 September 1910 as an open-air and partially roofed venue. It was later converted into a fully-enclosed theatre. The site had previously been known as Goodson’s Promenade Concert Grounds [below] (1909). As with all of the Birch and Carroll/Birch, Carroll and Coyle theatres, Earl’s Court catered for both film and live entertainment, albeit with film predominating. The company closed down its operations at the venue in November 1938 and demolished the building. A new Earl’s Court was erected in its place.


EARL’S COURT [2]: (1939-1972) Following the demolition of the first Earl’s Court in November 1938, Birch, Carroll and Coyle showed their Earl’s Court Pictures at the Palais Royal while the new venue was being built. In the lead-up to its opening on 19 July 1939 the Morning Bulletin claimed that the building’s dimensions (151 ft x 93 ft) made it the largest single-floored cinema in the nation. The seating capacity was reportedly around 2,500 (“New Earl’s Court Theatre” 5 July 1939, 11). Unlike the first Earl’s Court this cinema it was used almost exclusively for film. Renamed the City Cinema Centre and later the Southside Cinema before its closure in 1972, the building has been used by St Andrews Presbyterian Church as a Ministry and Conference Centre for many years.



(1909) Corner of Denham and Alma streets.

Following George Birch’s successful introduction of moving pictures (and live acts) at Rockhampton’s Theatre Royal in December 1908, Harold and Benjamin Goodson acquired the lease of a block of vacant land a few blocks away in the New Year. After converting it into an open air venue the brothers opened their Promenade Concert Grounds on 20 February. Goodson’s Pictures, as the venture became known, ceased in December and the property remained largely vacant (apart from occasional community activities and exhibitions etc) until the lease was acquired by George Birch in mid-1910. He renovated the existing structures and turned the site into Earl’s Court. The new partially-covered venue opened on 24 September.



Olympia ad [MB 14 Nov. 1913, 2]

Olympia Air Dome Theatre

(1913-1919) Bolsover Street (between William and Denham streets).

Opened on 17 November 1913, the Olympia was an open-air theatre built by Birch and Carroll as an alternative to Rockhampton’s Theatre Royal (home to George Birch‘s British Bioscope Company since 1908). The Olympia programmes similarly featured vaudeville and moving pictures, with artists largely being engaged or leased from established vaudeville firms (including Harry Rickards Tivoli Theatre Ltd, Fullers’ Theatres, and Holland and St John). Local and international performers also appeared. Birch and Carroll announced the theatre’s closure on 2 June 1919, blaming issues relating to the Spanish Flu epidemic. They never re-opened it. The site later became known as the Olympia Stadium Grounds. The property was subdivided and sold to two local businessmen in early 1924.

1:The Olympia’s opening night programme was headlined by C. Post Mason‘s Record Breakers (“direct from Rickards’ Tivioli circuit) with its ragtime revue, The Glory Girl. The second part comprised a vaudeville show.
2: George Sorlie set up his tent theatre on the Olympia grounds in June 1925 (during Rockhampton’s Show Week). This was possibly the last live theatrical performance on the site.
Image source: Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton) 4 Nov. 1913, 2.



aka Princess Court

(1912-1964) Corner of Bolsover and Fitzroy streets.

Strand-Tivoli - Rockhampton [SLQ]Like many regional entertainment venues, Rockhampton’s Princess Court/Strand Theatre/Tivoli Theatre had a colourful and varied existence. Established in 1912 as the Princess Court, a combined theatre and skating rink, the venue hosted both drama and variety (notably several Edward Branscombe’s Dandies companies and the Princess Court Dramatic Co). Converted into a moving picture house in 1917 by Strand Pictures Ltd, it was taken over local entrepreneur A.E. Carrell the following year. From 1919 the programmes often included vaudeville acts. Occasional seasons of drama were also held there. After being renamed the Tivoli in 1924 its management continued to show film and vaudeville throughout much of the 1930s (albeit less regularly from 1930 onwards).

1: Numerous theatrical companies and vaudeville acts appeared at the venue over the course of its lifetime. Among them were Gerald Cashman (1919, 1920, 1924), Reynolds and [Edward] de Tisne‘s Comedy Co (1924), The Versatiles Co (1925), Chung Lee Foo (1927), White’ s Revue Co (1927), Tiny Town Circus and Rodeo Act (1928), The Charmers (1929), Coleman’s Revue Co (1930), and Mayo Hunter and Co (1934).
2: The theatre operated in conjunction the Arcadia Theatre, North Rockhampton from 1919 through until Arcadia’s closure in 1930.
3: The Tivoli was purchased by Harold Hobler in 1936. His father William, in association with Harry W. Webber, had operated the Arcadia Theatre between 1914 and 1918. Harold Hobler was also later manager of the Liberty Theatre.
Image: Tivoli audience. Source: State Library of Queensland



(1866-1926) Southwest corner of East and William streets.

The Union Hotel and Theatre Royal complex was built by John McGregor (formerly of Melbourne) and opened in early 1866. It quickly became popular as a with locals despite competition from the nearby Cornstalk Music Hall. Arguably the best known of its many lessees was George Birch who managed it for many years with his wife, Mary, beginning in 1892. The Royal remained Rockhampton’s chief place of non-cinema amusement for almost 60 years, and during that time hosted such theatrical stars as Nellie Melba, Walter Bentley, Charles Hawtrey, Charles Arnold, John Lemmone, Edwin Geach, Clara Stephenson, Julius Knight and Maggie Moore. It was demolished to make way for the Royal Arcade.

Minstrel, vaudeville companies and variety acts to play the Royal included Hudson’s Surprise Party, McAdoo’s Genuine Alabama Minstrels and Cakewalkers, Kate Howarde Company (incl. Elton Black), Clay’s Waxworks and Comedy Co, Edward Branscombe‘s Scarlet Troubadours, the Duvalli Sisters, Pollard’s Merry Midget Co, Hanco (escapologist) and comedian Albert Whelan. The Royal was also the first venue in Rockhampton to show  moving pictures. As Virginia Fraser points out, “Alice Hardie’s Great American Vitagraph Company ran a cinema and live variety show in the Royal for three nights beginning March 1, 1904” (email 5 Mar. 2005). George Birch established the first permanent picture house there on 12 December 1908 with his British Bioscope Company.
Additional information courtesy of Virginia Fraser.



Wintergarden - Rockhampton [Sophie Benjamin](1925-1974) Alma Street.

Designed by Henry White, and built by Birch, Carroll and Coyle for around £20,000, Rockhampton’s 2000 seat Wintergarden officially opened on 12 January 1925 with Douglas Fairbanks The Thief of Bagdad. As an entertainment venue it was not confined only to film, however. Over the next 50 years the Wintergarden hosted a wide array of live theatrical events, ranging from vaudeville to legitimate theatre and music concerts, musicals, jazz and rock concerts. It was also often used for local events. After the Wintergarden closed in 1974 Les Duthie bought it as a storage site for his Leichhardt Hotel. The building became vacant in 1999 and was demolished in 2013 to make way for an apartment block.

The Rockhampton Wintergarden theatre was part of a circuit of Birch Carroll and Coyle’s Queensland theatres that were conceived as Tropical Theatres. As Cryle, Cosgrove and Boyle note in 2000, the company’s objective was to complement “existing regional outlets and provide patrons with more substantial and sophisticated venues.” Other Wintergarden’s were situated in Brisbane, Ipswich, Bundaberg, Maryborough and Townsville.
Image source:


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