Theatres/Venues 3b: Queensland


Toowoomba mapToowoomba, known as the “Garden City,” is situated in the Darling Downs region of Queensland, approximately 130 km west of Brisbane. Although only the sixth largest city in Queensland, Toowoomba is nevertheless the state’s most populous inland metropolis. It is also Australia’s 16th largest city in Australia and the most populous inland non-capital city (second only to Canberra). The first settlers in the Downs began arriving in the 1840s, initially founding the township of Drayton (now an outer suburb). Toowoomba’s CBD was originally a swamp that was cleared for agricultural purposes in the 1850s. The arrival of more people to the area eventually led to another township being established and in 1860 it was declared a municipality. The first council elections were held the following year, with William Henry Groom voted mayor (he was also elected to parliament in 1862). A gaol was built in 1864 and a rail link to Ipswich (and hence Brisbane) opened in 1867. Toowoomba was declared a city in 1904.

Ruthven Street montageLeft: Ruthven Street, ca. 1881 (; Right: Ruthven Street, 1908 (Toowoomba Historical Society)


ASSEMBLY ROOMS: See Royal Assembly Rooms



Alexandra Building - Twmba [Downs Folk](1902-ca. 1930s) 451-455 Ruthven Street (Alexandra Building).

Built by Toowoomba businessman Thomas Kelsall Lamb, the two-story Alexandra Building is located in the heart of the city’s CBD. It initially comprised a large auditorium on the upper floor and two retail spaces on the lower floor (including the Café Alexandra). The Hall, which could hold between 600 and 900 people, was accessed via a 7ft (2.1m) wide timber staircase accessed from a separate entrance off Ruthven Street and located between the two shops. During its first two decades the Alexandra Hall was used for both community activities and professional touring entertainments, including variety and moving picture shows (and often both at the same time).

  • For further details see: “Alexandra Building.” Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.
Brisbane-based film exhibitor Sidney Cook is recorded as having used the Alexandra Hall at various times during the late 1900s and early 1910s. His shows often comprised both film and live performances. Gold Radio Service and 4GR broadcasting moved into the building in 1938. Both remained there until the 1970s. The auditorium appears to have been sub-divided and used for offices by the late 1930s.
Image source: Downs Folk.



(1904-1917) 84-88 Margaret Street (opposite Queen’s Park).

Austral Hall - Twmba [Holtze]Built on the site of the old Toowoomba Gaol by the Austral Society, Austral Hall was at the time the largest venue in Australia (holding up to 4,500 people). After opening on 5 November 1904 it briefly became a hub for the city’s cultural life, serving as a venue for the short-lived Austral Festival, musical and elocutionary competitions, concerts, school events, sporting contests (incl. sheep shearing), and also for skating. It also operated as a picture theatre (with irregular live vaudeville acts) between 1909 and 1911. Among the performers to play the venue were: Nellie Melba and the Queensland Juvenile Entertainers (both 1905).

Austral Hall was offered for sale several times in 1915 and 1916 before being purchased by the National Association. The Brisbane Courier records in October 1917 that it was to be dismantled, shipped to Brisbane and re-erected on Petty’s Paddock (11 Oct. 1917, 6).
Image source: A. L. Holtze. Toowoomba 1860-1910 (1911).



aka Elton’s Elite Variety and Picture Palace / Elite Theatre

Elite Picture Gardens - Twmba [TC 17 Nov 1913, 6]

(1913-1917) Russell Street.

Situated next to the Western Hotel, Toowoomba’s first permanent open-air picture and vaudeville house was opened on 18 October 1913 under the management of Fred and Grace Elton. Feature live performers included comedian Bert Edwardes, Carl the Juggler and Grace Elton (musician). Less than a month later local publican E.T. “Ned” Meagher (Grand Hotel) bought the venue, operating it as the Elite Picture Gardens. After he died in October 1914 the business continued under trustee managers Arthur Gorring and Mr Garvey. In 1917 local businessman W.J. Braemer took over the lease of the site and built the Princess Theatres in its place.

  • See also: Princess Theatre [below]
The Elton’s were well-known to Toowoomba variety audiences having been toured their several times prior to 1913. Their farewell was billed as 31 October. Although Meagher’s name appears in advertisements for the first time on 22 November, he likely took control at the start of the month. He was only 34 when he died.
Image source: Toowoomba Chronicle (Qld) 17 Nov. 1913, 6.



(1911-) 56 Neil Street.

Empire Th - Twmba 1 [Fryer]The Empire Theatre Company’s 2,200 seat cinema, the first purpose-built cinema in Toowoomba, was also the largest in regional Australia. It opened on 29 June 1911 with live entertainment by the Two Quealys and the Two Sheppards. The practice of including live performers as part of the entertainment package continued on a regular basis well into the 1920s. The theatre, which also served as a vaudeville house and concert theatre on occasion (notably in 1922 with Harry Lauder and in 1937 with Gladys Moncrieff), was later subsumed into the Birch, Carroll and Coyle circuit (although still owned by  Empire Theatre Ltd). It eventually closed as a venue in 1971 but was restored and reopened by the local council in 1997.

  • See also: Empire Theatre Ltd • Austral Picture Company
  • For further details see: E.W. Burn “A Brief History of the Toowoomba Empire Theatre.” Kino 37 (1991); and “Papers Concerning the Empire Theatre (Toowoomba, Qld.), 1908-1997.” Fryer Library, The University of Queensland (UQFL423).
1:The Austral Picture Company, which built the Empire, was established out of the Austral Association (1903-1911), a society founded by poet George Essex Evans. It had been showing moving pictures in the town’s Austral Hall since 1909. The Empire was extensively damaged by fire in February 1933 and subsequently renovated in art deco style. It reopened in November 1933.
2: For information relating to the Two Quealys (Harry and Nellie Quealy) – see Harry Quealy.
Image source: Papers Concerning the Empire Theatre, Fryer Library (UQ).



(1918-1962) Russell Street.

Princess Theatre - Twmba [ Empire Collection, Fryer]Built on the site of the Elite Picture Gardens by W.J. Braemer, the Princess Theatre opened on 6 February 1918. Designed to exhibit moving pictures as well as live theatrical entertainments, it hosted numerous variety companies and vaudeville acts, albeit on an irregular basis up until at least the early 1950s. The first variety troupe to play the Princess was Ike Beck‘s Musical Revue Company in April 1918, with the last act (identified to date) being Canadian hypnotist Jack Carson (1951). Although described in 1919 as Toowoomba’s “theatre of Refinement” the Princess struggled as a fulltime cinema and over the years was used for sporting events (notably boxing), lectures, public meetings, dramatic productions and even revivalist meetings. The Strand Cinema shifted its operations to the Princess Theatre in 1929. How long this venture lasted is currently unknown.

  • See also: Elite Theatre [above]
After being remodeled in 1936 the theatre (still owned by W.J. Braemer) became known as the New Princess Theatre. It underwent significant reconstruction in the mid-1950s and reopened in 1957 as the Coronet. Competition from television led to its demise as a venue four years later. After a $1 million internal rebuild was completed in1 9184 the Coronet once began operating as a cinema under the management of Birch, Carroll and Coyle.
Image source: Papers Concerning the Empire Theatre, Fryer Library (UQ).



aka Assembly Rooms / Theatre Royal / The Barn

(1875- ca. 1905)

Built by Charles Eastaughffe (1800-85), former Chief Constable of Dalby and a prominent businessman in the district, the Royal Assembly Rooms opened on 29 March 1875 with a United Order of Oddfellows ball. Over the next 30 years the “barn” served as a venue for social events, meetings, bazaars, exhibitions, auctions, and entertainments (including minstrel shows, dramas, concerts, pantomimes). By the 1890s the building had become both dilapidated and too small to accommodate an increasing Toowoomba population. From the mid-1890s it served as the towns roller-skating rink and for a brief period (ca. 1900) it was called the Theatre Royal.



(1861-1898) 541 Ruthven Street.

Toowoomba’s first School of Arts was erected on land donated by Arthur Hodgson and built for £245. After being officially opened on 16 April 1861 the building served as a place of educational and cultural pursuits, community activities and as a venue for touring entertainments. Over the next four decades the School hosted an increasing number of minstrel troupes, entertainers and concert artists. After building was destroyed by fire in 1898 the site became the location for the third Town Hall (into which the second School of Arts was incorporated).

Among the companies known to have played the venue were: the Toowoomba Christy Minstrels (ca. 1865-66), US Minstrels (1877), Georgia Minstrels (1878), Toowoomba Amateur Dramatic and Christy Minstrel Company (ca. 1880) and Hudson’s Surprise Party (1893).


TOWN HALL [1] (1862-1880) A simple wooden structure situated in James Street, on the south-east corner of the Neil Street intersection, Toowoomba’s first Town Hall was completed in January 1862, making it the first to be erected in Queensland (it beat Brisbane by two years). The building was rarely leased for entertainments during its 18 years of service, such events being presented mostly at the School of Arts. Instead the Town hall appears to have been used primarily for civic and community activities (polling centre, balls, public meetings etc). The only established variety entertainment identified there to date was a Toowoomba Total Abstinence Society concert in early November 1865. This involved a first half of “songs of a sentimental character” and a second half of Ethiopian entertainment by the Total Abstinence Minstrels (Darling Downs Gazette and General Advertiser 11 Nov. 1865, 3).
Toowoomba Town Halls 1 & 2Source:
TOOWOOMBA TOWN HALL [2] (1881-1898) Located on the south-east corner of the James and Neil streets intersection. By the late-1870s Toowoomba Council had decided that a new Town Hall was necessary and held a competition for its design. The winning plans were contributed by Albert Myers of Orange, New South Wales, and after a lengthy delay the building was finally given its official opening ceremony on 7 November 1881. This second civic hall does not appear to have been used for public entertainments, or if so these were on rare occasions. The reason is likely due to the availability of other venues – notably the School of Arts and the Royal Assembly Rooms. After this second Town Hall was superseded in 1900 the land was sold to the State Government. In 1906 it became the site of the South Toowoomba Boys’ School.


THEATRE ROYAL: See Royal Assembly Rooms



(1900-) 541 Ruthven Street.

Toowoomba Town Hall 3 - 1915 [SLQ]Built on the site of the old School of Arts, which had been badly damaged by fire in 1898, Toowoomba’s third Town Hall opened on 12 December 1900. It was originally divided into three sections – the School of Arts/Technical College and an auditorium occupying the first floor, while the ground floor was dedicated to municipal offices. As with its predecessors the Town Hall’s auditorium hosted official events and both local and visiting entertainments, including numerous variety companies and film exhibitors. It was used by Harry Clay, for example, during his annual Queensland tours (1901-1918) and hosted vaudeville and pictures in 1910. The Town Hall was also briefly home to nightly vaudeville shows in 1913.

Among the many variety/comedy companies, international concert acts and firms to use the Town Hall during the first three decades of the twentieth century were J.C. Williamson’s Musical Comedy Co (incl. 1902, 1911), Ted Holland (1905), Swift Musical Comedy Company (1909),  Fred W. Weierter’s Royal Comic Opera Co (1910), American Burlesque Co (1913), John McCormack (1913), Tivoli Revue/ Follies (1913/1917), Ada Reeve (1917), and Sydney JamesRoyal Strollers (1918).
Image Town Hall, 1915. Source: State Library of Queensland.



Margaret Street.

Little is currently known about the Walhalla Hall apart from its location and its general use as a both a community venue (from the early 1900s to at least the early 1920s) and as an occasional film and vaudeville theatre (up until around 1912). The hall was occupied at various times, for example, by Brisbane-based cinema exhibitors Sidney Cook (Cook’s Pictures) and C.E. King (Lyceum Theatre). Advertisements placed in the Toowoomba Chronicle record that Cook employed entertainers on a semi-regular basis for his Toowoomba shows around 1910-1912.

An advertisement for the hall’s sale in 1910 describes its location as “nearly opposite the Toowoomba Post Office, and has frontages of nearly 50 feet to Margaret street and also to Church-street, at the rear, with a depth of 220 feet, and an area of ¼ acre (Brisbane Courier 10 Dec. 1910, 9). A similar advert placed in the Courier in 1915 records the rear frontage as being in Bell Street (13 Feb. 1915, 6). The old Toowoomba General Post Office (GPO) building is still situated at 140 Margaret Street. It is possible that the Walhalla Hall was located in the area occupied by the Strand Theatre (159-167 Margaret Street), which is “nearly opposite” the GPO. The Strand Theatre was built in 1915.



aka Groom’s Old Auction Mart

(1869-1871) Ruthven Street.

Politician, publicist, businessman and newspaper proprietor William Henry Groom (1833-1901) first established himself in the Toowoomba district as a storekeeper and auctioneer, setting up his prosperous Auction Mart in the mid-1850s. A large and commodious galvanised iron building (91 ft by 30 feet) it also served as a storehouse and civic meeting place. After Groom went bankrupt in 1866 the premises was leased out by the trustees and eventually acquired by agriculturalist R.F. Walker in 1869. During this time it continued to be used for meetings, agricultural exhibitions, soirees and occasional entertainments – including Rosina Carandini (singer, 1869), Ghiloni’s Waxworks (1870), Hussey and Holly’s Excelsior Minstrels (1870), and Bachelder’s Civil War panorama (1870).

1: After Groom vacated the building it operated under several lessees – first as a dwelling house, then as Grigg’s Store, and finally as a shop occupied by Rowe and Worsley. R.F. Walker, whose farm was located at Gowrie Creek, put the store up for sale in late 1870. He was possibly forced to so after losing all his crops in a storm earlier that year.
2:For details relating to Hussey and Holley see the entries for Frank Hussey and Charles Holly.


Image citation details for entries without expanded biographies are noted at the bottom of the overview. All other image details are provided in the expanded PDF biographies. For information concerning copyright issues see “Copyright” attachment in the AVTA “About” page.

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