Theatres/Venues 7b: Western Australia

Located 558 kilometres (347 miles) east of Perth, Coolgardie’s origins date back to 1892 when gold was discovered at nearby Fly Flat. The name is likely derived from one of several terms used by the region’s Wongi (or Wongatha/ Wangkatha) tribal people – these being “golgardi” (meaning “waterhole” or “depression”) or “Koolgoor-biddie” (“hollow surrounded with mulga trees”). Coolgardie was officially gazetted in 1894. That same year saw the founding of its first newspaper, the Coolgardie Miner, a city council and a hospital. Soon afterwards followed postal and telegraphic services, a police station, a Warden’s Court, and a Registry Office. The massive influx of people to the area saw Coolgardie become Western Australia’s third biggest centre within six years. Numerous travelling shows and showmen also came east from Perth. At its peak in 1900 the town had 23 hotels, three breweries, six banks, two stock exchanges, and seven newspapers.

Coolgardie’s fortunes began to decline in the early-1900s as the gold was depleted, and by the mid-1910s its population was seriously diminished. At one stage this fell to 200 residents. While sandalwood cutting took over as the main industry, there was a brief resurgence in gold mining during the Great Depression.

Coolgardie ca. 1890s
L: Eastern Goldfields Historical Society. R:Outback Family History

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GREAT VARIETIES HALL

(1893-1894) Hunt Street.

The first theatre in Coolgardie was a timber framed canvas structure called the Great Varieties Hall. Located in Hunt Street it was the only “purpose-built” place for theatrical entertainment in Coolgardie until the Theatre Royal opened in 1894. Because the venue operated before the founding of the town’s first newspaper (in April 1894), little is currently known about it. We do not know, for example, who built and managed it, how long it operated, and who performed there. However, given that huge numbers of prospectors and ancillary businesses had been attracted to the region following the discovery of gold in the late-1880s, it is likely that small-time theatrical companies, showmen, and performers (both “legitimate dramatists” and otherwise) plied their trade in places like the Great Varieties Hall at irregular intervals.

Image source: Moya Sharp. Outback Family History.

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THEATRE ROYAL

(1894-1898) Woodward Street (between Hunt and Ford streets).

Although not the first entertainment venue to be erected in Coolgardie, the Theatre Royal was certainly the town’s first proper theatre. Built by local auctioneer and amateur singer, Frank Smalpage, it opened on 27 October 1894 with a concert and boxing match. The Coolgardie Minstrels played there a week later. Over the next three years the Royal hosted all manner of local sporting and social events along with numerous touring shows – among them variety companies led or organised by Ettie Williams, Ada Delroy, Tommy Hudson, Hosea Easton, Jones and Lawrence, W.H. Speed, Harry Rickards, and Carl Hertz. Competition from the Cremorne Gardens (1896-) and Tivoli (1897-) saw the Royal’s popularity decline from mid-1897. Smalpage sold the building to the Catholic Church in early-1898. It thereafter became St Mary’s Convent School.

1: Frank Weston (the Wizard Oil Prince”), Charles Taylor and Ella Carrington, and Alfred Dampier also played the Royal.
2: Boxing and wrestling were held on many occasions, and the building also played host to at least two athletic carnivals. Among the other popular pastimes it hosted were dances, balls, lectures, local dramatic productions.
3: The last known public entertainment held at the Theatre Royal was on Sunday 23 January 1898. It comprised a lecture and recitations by Tom Cannam. The comedian/actor, who was well-known to the local community, also presented around 100 pictures which were exhibited via a trinoptican. This was reportedly manipulated by Mr E. [or F.] Smalpage.
Theatre Royal, 1897. Source: State Library of Western Australia.

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Published on March 6, 2017 at 9:35 pm  Comments Off on Theatres/Venues 7b: Western Australia  
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