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Renovate, wreck or ruin? Australia’s Festival Halls (including Melbourne Festival Hall, intended for high-rise apartments) have a chequered history.
They are also part of an emerging movement in Australian poster art collectables. Even tickets are now collectors’ items as museums and private owners snap them up.
The Festival Halls qualify for among ‘world’s most bootlegged’ as venues, but what’s the story behind the famous chain?
It’s becoming a familiar story in Australia, that the books, vinyl, eBay auction items and other memorabilia which celebrates a fast-fading musical history – is increasing in value. Meanwhile iconic venues and their continuing contribution to Australia’s bands, are downgraded in price. In comes the wrecking ball.
Of all the collectable books about music venues, Plastered by Murray Walding and Nick Vukovic (The Miegunyah Press, 2005) is one of the most valuable.
The silkscreen printing industry that spawned early posters for venues was given a particularly good run by the Festival Hall chain around Australia. In fact, The Johnny O’Keefe Spectacular (part of the Hi-Fi Club) of the 1950s had one of its earliest outings at Festival Hall, Melbourne, promoted on a silkscreen poster.
Jazz acts like Kenny Ball (these kinds of posters are now in private collections or galleries) were also promoted at ‘the Festivals’ (below, from Plastered).
In its time, the boxing at Festival Hall, Melbourne was as big as some of the bands who came later. Boxing-format posters were copied for the emerging Fifties music industry in Australia. Little or no artwork, derived from fight advertising, they were cheap and basic at the time but are now rare pieces of Australian cultural history.
“Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney all boasted a “Festival Hall”, venues all owed by Stadiums Limited. These cavernous stadiums were often all that were on offer when promoters brought touring acts to Australia, and all of them had wonderful colourful histories.”
“Melbourne’s version was originally built in 1912 as a boxing and wrestling venue. After a fire in 1955, it was rebuilt in time to serve as the venue for the boxing, weightlifting and wrestling events at the 1956 Olympics. Like its contemporaries, it was built of sturdy brick, iron and tin.”
Sydney’s Festival Hall was demolished in 1973. Brisbane’s Festival Hall remained as a venue until 2003 – and Melbourne’s fell to the axe, officially, on Tuesday 23rd January, 2018. Game over? Australian music collectors will take an interest, whatever happens.
Australian Music T-Shirt Day on 3rd November 2017 was a successful fundraiser for the music charity Support Act which partly gives financial support to musicians with mental health issues. High-profile faces involved included Jimmy Barnes, seen here giving Opposition Leader Bill Shorten a Cold Chisel T-Shirt, while wearing a Midnight Oil classic. (All images: Twitter).
Barnes was celebrating his bestselling memoir for HarperCollins when the opportunity arrived to promote the Support Act fundraiser.
The Easybeats – coming soon to ABC-TV – were a popular choice for T-Shirts on the day (modelled here by Michael Rowland).
As the band who introduced the idea of free T-shirts to Australian vinyl covers, Midnight Oil also found some favourite shirts and wore them to promote the Support Act fundraiser. You can donate to Support Act or find out more about the T-Shirt campaign here.
Rowland S. Howard Lane is now on the map in St. Kilda, Melbourne thanks to a campaign by Nick Haines and Rowland’s friends, family and fans.
Rowland’s blood-stained guitar is in the archives at The Australian Music Vault. The rest can be found around the city of Melbourne and as far away as Ballarat.
A number of photographers and painters have captured Rowland S. Howard over the years.
Top: Rowland S. Howard with The Birthday Party, photographed for the NME in 1981.
Artist Casey Tosh created another lane for Rowland in Ballarat, home town of Warren Ellis.
A Day in the Life of Rowland S. Howard appeared in photographer Peter Milne’s exhibition, Juvenilia, at Strange Neighbour in Fitzroy, Melbourne.
The laneway sign is the only typographical tribute to Melbourne’s most famous guitarist. Seen here being carried across St. Kilda with Nick Haines and friends, ahead of the official opening by Minister Martin Foley.
The February 27th-March 28th 2015 Juvenilia exhibition by Peter Milne at Strange Neighbour in Fitzroy highlighted the life and work of Rowland S. Howard, Nick Cave, Tracey Pew and other members of The Birthday Party’s inner circle, at the start of their career.
Rowland S. Howard Lane – one of many ways Australia remembers him.
This clip shows Rowland introduced by Australian music journalist and author Clinton Walker on the ABC-TV program Studio 22.
How does Rowland fit into the Melbourne and particularly St. Kilda music scene?
Nick Haines: In the late 70’s when the “new music” was sweeping the world St Kilda became something of a hub for this new sound. So much so that it earned the nickname Berlin by the sea. Rowland’s contribution to the originality of the Melbourne scene at this time is a matter of record.
A fan who signed the petition lobbying for a laneway in his name, said Rowland was ‘One of the greatest guitarists in rock ‘n’ roll, anywhere in the world.’ Why do you think his guitar work mattered so much to music and musicians?
I’m not a guitarist so it’s hard for me to answer from a musician’s point of view on why his work mattered, but in my opinion Rowland showed other guitarists that you create your own sound and stick with it. But like I said, it’s hard for me to answer from a musician’s point of view.
What have been the highs and lows involved in the process of getting the lane way up? Where do things stand right now?
It’s been a long battle but I can finally see light at the end of the tunnel. The low is, I never imagined that an unnamed laneway with no street address on it couldn’t be named with two names as it was too difficult for emergency services. To me it just seemed like bureaucracy gone mad. Almost like something out of an episode of Yes Minister. I mean seriously…. “Rowland S. Howard Lane” as opposed to the “unnamed laneway between Jackson Street and Eildon Road opposite the Jackson Street carpark!?” Which is more difficult?
The high, without a doubt, has been the hugely moving global support for a tribute laneway for Rowland, from noteworthy musicians through to fans in Asia, Europe, UK, USA and Australia. Their words and measure of love for him and his work motivated me to persist through the red tape and to keep going.
Here is another petition comment from a fan of Rowland’s – ‘Even though the St Kilda that Rowland impacted is mostly painted over by jeans shops and fancy restaurants, his influence is still strong between the cracks and in the shadows and makes perfect sense to name the street after him.’ And Shannon Rowe wrote, ‘Roland was a regular customer at our cafe, Miss Jackson in Jackson Street. Who was the Rowland S. Howard you remember and what was he really like? How did you get to know him and how did the friendship continue through his illness? And for fans visiting St. Kilda, are there are any other cafes he frequented?
Rowland was a regular fixture with his daily strolls down Fitzroy Street. Many locals knew him well by these without knowing of his background in music. I know Rowland frequented Miss Jackson a lot also he and I spent more hours together talking and drinking coffee than I care to admit at the Pelican.
Did you ever discuss a laneway memorial with Rowland?
I never discussed death or dying with Rowland, because he wanted to live and work and play forever. The idea of a tribute laneway occurred to me on my way to his funeral, not before he died. I wanted him to live and play forever too.
Your thoughts about Autoluminescent, the documentary about Rowland made by Richard Lowenstein? Is that the Rowland you knew?
Very much. The later one-on-one camera interviews with him I found very hard to watch as that was the Rowland I knew best. My wife and I got very teary during those shots.
Watch the Autoluminescent trailer again from Ghost Pictures, here, posted at YouTube.
What is your favourite Rowland S. Howard music?
My top three would be Exit Everything (off Teenage Snuff Film), Hyperspace (off the These Immortal Souls album – Never Gonna Die Again and Golden Age of Bloodshed (Off Pop Crimes)
Anything else you’d like to say here? Thank you Nick.
Considering the rich musical and arts heritage that Melbourne has I hope this sets a precedent for other musicians and artists who have made a significant contribution to be honoured similarly.
Rowland S. Howard Lane, Ballarat created by Casey Tosh.
The City of Melbourne’s movers and shakers want your views on Melbourne – past, present and potential – on their website, now. As the home of Go-Set and Countdown – and today, the home of The Tote, The Old Bar, The Labour in Vain, Cherry Bar, The Espy, AC/DC Lane, Amphlett Lane, The Forum (below) – Victoria’s capital is the nation’s music capital. This is your chance to be heard by Melbourne councillors.
WHAT KIND OF MUSIC CITY SHOULD MELBOURNE BE?
From SLAM to the Save the Palace campaign, Melbourne has been home to strong protests about live music venues. As the home of new bands as well as some national treasures in the Australian music industry it has a special part to play in Australian life and culture. If you haven’t already made yourself heard on the City of Melbourne’s website, do it now. What kind of music city, should the country’s music capital actually be?
Chrissy Amphlett loved dogs and bred them. At Amphlett Lane in Melbourne, a black Pekingese called Holiday (named after Billie Holiday) is now watching over her mistress. Chrissy Amphlett and her dogs were immortalised in stages and have since become a social media hit. These are just a few of the many photographs, below.
The award-winnng Tasmanian artist Peter Gouldthorpe was commissioned to create the mural. Since then, fans and Melbourne visitors have flocked to the portrait of Holiday, Saki, Tuppence and Dobro to take photographs on Instagram and Twitter. You can read more about Chrissy’s dogs in her autobiography, Pleasure and Pain. This great portrait of Chrissy Amphlett is by Reg Ryan, from social media.
The Chrissy Amphlett dogs, school uniform and Divinyls amplifier make a popular backdrop for fan photographs on Instagram and Twitter. Famous visitors to the Amphlett Lane include Blondie drummer Clem Burke and Paul Kelly.
Chrissy Amphlett and her dogs required an award-winning animal portrait painter. Peter Gouldthorpe’s dog murals also adorn Hobart.
Holiday stands on an amplifier bearing the name of Amphlett’s legendary band Divinyls, joined by Saki, Tuppence and Dobro her dalmatian. It is a mural that has been created from photographs lent by her husband Charley Drayton, drummer with Cold Chisel. You can see the mural being developed by Peter Gouldthorpe in stages, here. The hidden fire hose unit, bottom, became a Divinyls amplifier in his hands.
Holiday went everywhere with Chrissy and Charley, appropriately enough on holiday to Puerto Rico once, where the airline also let Chrissy put the Pekingese on the seat next to her, flying over. Later on in Chrissy’s life Holiday became her loyal companion during her breast cancer and MS: Chrissy told fans ‘My little dog Holiday lies on the end of the bed when I am not feeling great and doesn’t leave my side.’
Amphlett Lane also features a plaque donated by the City of Melbourne and a lane way screen mural by Melbourne artist Damien Arena.
Artist Peter Gouldthorpe’s work includes the 1994 Picture Book of the Year, First Light. He has illustrated books by Paul Jennings, John Marsden, Colin Thiele, C.J. Dennis and Ethel Turner. He’s one of the heavy lifters of Australian illustration, painting and street art.
Mural process photographs by Peter Gouldthorpe, with special thanks.
The campaigns around Australia, saving Australian music venues from demolition are part of an ongoing mission to preserve ‘living museum spaces’ which once gone – are gone forever. The Palace Theatre on Bourke Street, Melbourne (above) attracted over 30,000 people to its Save the Palace Facebook page. All ages and generations turned up to chalk protests about the destruction of the venue. In its place, developers plan a high-rise hotel.
Through petitions, crowdfunded legal battles, rallies and more, Australians are pushing back against the demolition of music venues in favour of high-rise inner-city apartments where once stood a ‘local’ with its own local bands. Pictured below – Australia music fans at The Esplanade (The Espy) in St. Kilda in the summer of 2016.
The Espy, or Esplanade Hotel, St. Kilda, is an Australian institution, and in Melbourne – which many argue is the musical capital of the nation – it has become a symbol of everything musicians and music fans want to save. From the ceiling down. Locals celebrated the return of this sprawling venue, ripe for recreation. Heritage issues in Australia go beyond the bricks-and-mortar historic value of a venue, many argue. We’re talking about memories. Cultural and social living history. The Espy has been a Melbourne institution for generations.
Andrew Street and Sarah Taylor on Venue Destruction
“The march toward transforming all of our nation’s cities into a Jenga-block landscape of apartment buildings has a lot of unexpected costs. They change airflow of our streets and recirculate car exhausts. They put massive localised strain onto sewerage systems. And they destroy rock’n’roll.”
Andrew Street, The Sydney Morning Herald.
Andrew Street is just one of many writers, academics, historians and music lovers around the country who have argued for the priceless investment in people and music – as opposed to the pricey (and polluting) cost of ‘Jenga’ development. Sarah Taylor is another.
In the 1990s, Sydney was entering a well-documented decennium horribilis. By the late 1990s even the unofficial home-town booster band, The Whitlams, was singing (sadly) about their hometown more than in it. Speaking on radio in 1997, lead singer Tim Freedman commented that Melbourne had ‘a bigger sense of community, in pubs and being part of a crowd’, while inner-city Sydney had been ‘scattered to the wind’ … In addition, a variety of contemporary accounts point to a negative feeling in Sydney live music in the 1990s, depicting the city as a tough place to get a gig or find a friend…”
The Corkman pub in Carlton, Melbourne became a symbol of the battle between developers and music fans when it was turned into asbestos dust after an illegal and shameful wrecking operation.
A long-standing home for Irish music in Victoria, The Corkman was also the occasional home of Ned Kelly’s judge and the local legal community – and a classic example of a piece of Melbourne history which has been trashed for apartments.
It is hoped, as the banners around the site proclaim, that The Corkman will rise again. The pink netting over the emergency fences erected to protect the asbestos-riddled, illegally-demolished pub remains – while in Victoria, a legal battle is set to be fought that will hopefully start a serious approach to the preservation of Australian history – and the conservation of the musician and music-lover’s natural habitat; the Great Australian Pub.
After years of uncertainty, The Lansdowne Hotel – home to generations of Sydney University students and their favourite bands – is coming back. (Images: Pinterest, Twitter, Rock Brat, ABC).
The Lansdowne is an Australian hotel worth preserving and resurrecting. Steve Pavlovic, a Sydney promoter who would book Nirvana for an Australian tour – before Nevermind hit the charts – famously began his career as manager at The Lansdowne, on Sydney’s Broadway
The Living End, Mudhoney, Hard-Ons, Died Pretty, Go-Betweens and You Am I all played the art deco Lansdowne, built in the 1920s, designed by prominent local architect Sidney Warden. Its state heritage listing describes it as a “prominent landmark”. Other pubs around Australia have not been so lucky and have met the bulldozers, ending memories – and sometimes, musicians’ careers.
The State Heritage listed Lansdowne had a history – like the ill-fated Corkman and Palace – of being much more than a music venue. At times it was an occasional haunt of the Sydney Push, a group of young left-wing intellectuals that began congregating in the 1940s.
Without The Lansdowne – there would have been no Half A Cow. Swirl played at an open mic night at the Lansdowne Hotel, and attracted the attention of Nic Dalton, founder of Half a Cow label (who was mixing all the bands that night). They were part of the “new breed” of Sydney bands that came in the wake of the success of Ratcat and The Hummingbirds.
Why did Australia have such a healthy music industry as recently as the early 1990’s? Partly because musicians and their fans could afford to rent shared houses within stumbling distance of great pubs, with empty stages.
New Zealand-born Andy Kent (You Am I) was one of them. A short walk away in Sheppard Street, Chippendale, was Tim Rogers. They spoke about the area to Triple J.
Tim Rogers – It was pretty fortuitous that you (Andy) just lived up the road, actually. Talking about the soundtrack to a house, Mudhoney were a massive band for us when I was in that Sheppard Street.
Andy: And Bleach was huge.
Tim: That was a big one, my brother Jaimie loved it – he used to live there, and he’d either wanna be Andy’s best mate or suddenly have a turn like us Rogers boys are known to do… it happened all the time.
Andy: I remember he chucked everyone out once! I lived up the road, about 300 metres just on the left, and there was the Lansdowne, the Phoenician… all these great venues that had music happening. Everyone was living around here then; Annandale was far out in those days. You’d go to a pub here and they’d be people you know; you’d go to the Lansdowne or the Phoenician and there’d be people you know.
You Am I released their first EP Snake Tide at the Lansdowne Hotel on 3rd June 1991.
The Palace Theatre, Melbourne, is still boarded up, ready for demolition, years after the first protests to save her, began. Kate Ceberano is among many performers to have headlined at the venue, who has spoken out about the loss of heritage architecture. Patricia Amphlett, whose cousin Chrissy has a lane named after her, ending at the stage doors of The Palace, has also made a public statement. What’s next? Who knows. But as the campaigners behind Save the Palace say “It’s not over yet!”
“What a tragedy to have to lose such an iconic building with memories that can never be replaced.
It’s too easy to demolish and simply put something up in its place, but you can never replace the investment that has been made in that space. Every note, every ounce of sweat produced on that stage all forgotten…. “like tears in the rain”! I’d like to think that Melbourne is a city that knows why it invests in its arts and culture…. Why stop at its heritage architecture, especially a building steeped in so much history?”
Every great city of the world has great theatres. Like the Lyceum Theatre in London, The Palace has been an opera house, and a venue for rock bands – including Divinyls, featuring my cousin Chrissy Amphlett – and some great theatre. Like the Lyceum in London, The Palace has also gone through many incarnations. Unlike the Lyceum, sadly, it is not a listed building. As a member of the ARIA Hall of Fame together with Chrissy, I would like to note the number of other ARIA inductees who have performed at The Palace. Perhaps most importantly, The Palace has always been there for the people of Melbourne and the people of Australia as an icon spanning the generations. For the sake of generations past, present and future we should preserve it for music, art and theatre – which it has housed since 1912.
Patricia Amphlett OAM:
National President of Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance and former Vice President of Actors’ Equity. Member of the ARIA Hall of Fame.
The Saints are to be honoured in a $60,000 mural on the north side of Upper Roma Street in Brisbane, near the band’s Petrie Terrace share house and rehearsal space, nicknamed Club 76. Rented by Ivor Hay, the original Saints’ house stood opposite the local police station. Ed Kuepper supplied the iconic red graffiti.
The Saints mural will be part of a new Brisbane music trail, including former George Street rock venues (Brisbane’s Curry Shop) and be developed over a decade with venues, practice rooms, apartments, homes, galleries and, of course, musicians – with digital place markers, according to The Brisbane Times.
It could have stories from Cloudland, which was flattened for developers.
Fans of The Go-Betweens will recognise Dr John Willsteed as the man behind Brisbane’s new music trail.
Years ago, he was John E, an artist and musician in some of Brisbane’s most inventive bands; Zero, then Xero, then the Go-Betweens and now, Halfway.
Today, Dr Willsteed is the senior lecturer in the Creative Industries faculty at the Queensland University of Technology.
The Saints’ famous DIY single, I’m Stranded, laboriously sent out by mail-order by singer Ed Kuepper, sells for $1881 on eBay although it was recorded for around $200 in 1976.
The single – and the site of Club 76 itself – officially makes Brisbane the birthplace of Australian punk, something the Queensland government seems happy to recognise these days, though it was very different when Joh Bjelke-Petersen was Premier.
Former Go-Betweens bass player John Willsteed drove the campaign for The Saint’s Brisbane mural in 2017, persuading Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to put the band on the map.
The Go-Betweens have already been honoured in the city, by the Go Between Bridge, which links Hale Street in Milton to Montague Road in South Brisbane.
The launch of Ed Kuepper Park, also announced recently, at Oxley Road and Lawson Street, was successful after local fan Maurice Murphy drove a petition.
Kuepper’s parents’ garage was the band’s first rehearsal space – and his parents’ home in Oxley provided the contact address for the vinyl. As he was later to suggest on a solo release, the young Kuepper was in fact a Mail Order Bridegroom, giving birth to Australian punk in Queensland. This photograph (below) of the young Saints in North Sydney is from Kuepper’s Twitter feed, photographed by Violet Hamilton.
The Petrie Terrace area of Brisbane is also part of the history of The Go-Betweens, who played Baroona Hall in an early $5 gig. This poster comes from the excellent Live Delay website. Baroona Hall at 15 Caxton Street, Petrie Terrace is now heritage listed. The Saint’s Brisbane mural will now add to that heritage.
The June 12th, 1976 recording of I’m Stranded makes it the first punk single ever released in Australia and one of the first punk recordings anywhere in the world.
Kuepper played through Mark Moffatt’s 1960 Fender Super amp, purchased in London. A microphone placed in a concrete hallway helped the sound, according to Moffatt.
The single was recorded at Window Studios in West End, owned by Bruce Window, in Brisbane. Only 500 copies were pressed. The State Library of Queensland now owns one of them.
The mixing desk upon which I’m Stranded was recorded, was sent to a tip in Tasmania. It’s a sad story all too typical in Australia.
The 24-channel desk was purchased by Nick Armstrong and placed in Hobart’s Spectangle Productions in the late Seventies. He paid $4000 for it. Later, it was given free to anyone who wanted it and this piece of Australian history was driven away in a Kingswood by Hobart ABC staff Steve Jay and Graham Himmelhoch-Mutton. It was pronounced ‘rooted’ and was then gutted and sent to the local tip. It remains dormant in Hobart. A punk rock volcano.
The Saint’s first album was produced by New Zealander Rod Coe who had 40 albums with Slim Dusty to his credit.
Andrew Stafford gives indispensable background on The Saints’ presence in Queensland, in his Brisbane music bible, Pig City.
Kuepper was working at Astor Records as Sales Representative for Northern Queensland, which meant receiving tapes of country and western music from amateur musicians, and turning them into vinyl. Before that, he had worked in an abbatoir.
It was only when he’d left Astor that he realised that The Saints could do exactly what unknown country and western singers in Queensland were doing and take a DIY, hands-on approach.
Some copies of I’m Stranded would go to Rocking Horse and Discreet Records in Brisbane. Others would be posted to England, notably Sounds, which gave them one of the best-known reviews in music press history (below). John Ingham made it SOUNDS SINGLE OF THIS AND EVERY WEEK on October 16th, 1976 so the stamps from Brisbane had been worth every cent.
Kuepper printed his parents’ address in Oxley as The Saints’ mailing address. Cash envelopes arrived, for the single which had been mastered and pressed in Melbourne at Astor Records, probably cut by Frank Hulbert, according to Kuepper’s source Donat Tahiraj.
Anyone in Britain willing to send a 90p postal order to Eternal Productions, Oxley, 4075, Queensland Australia back in October 1976 was making a great investment. Robert Forster, writing in his autobiography Grant and I, was an early Brisbane purchaser (and Saints fan) and says he wished he’d bought multiple copies, if only for the eBay returns.
David Nichols writes – anyone who ordered a copy of I’m Stranded by mail-order in 1976 also received a request to write back, if they were interested in either The Saints – or Sixties bands.
This interest in the Sixties and Fifties was a hallmark of Seventies punk rock, all over the world. The Saints began life as Kid Galahad and the Eternals – a reference to the Elvis Presley Film, Kid Galahad, according to author Clinton Walker. Eternal Productions of Oxley also nodded to the film.
It’s now four decades since Club 76 in Brisbane. A map of The Saints’ old stamping ground is now etched on limited-edition effects pedals.
The work of Chris Bailey (in the Church of the Latter-Day Saints) gives people who are new to the band a second-wave experience. The clip below, from Rockarena, is a reminder of a band whose individual members sailed on, having launched their ships all those years ago at Club 76. Buy The Best of the Saints here.
One of Kurt Cobain’s earliest Nirvana tour interviews, recorded on the telephone for On the Street magazine in Sydney, Australia, appeared there and also in Select magazine in Britain.
Both magazines are now defunct but the lost cassette recording can now be shared online for Nirvana and Kurt fans.
Do you have Nirvana Australian tour rarities or other items for the AMMP Muster? Please share your memories, images, video or audio here in this digital museum space.