The Saints donated a guitar to The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. Private collectors pay a large amount of money for any instrument which has survived the 1960’s-1970’s. The great Australian guitar obsession probably began with Jimi Hendrix, seen here on the cover of a rare copy of Go-Set, ‘The Teen & Twenties Newspaper’ for music-mad Australians that inspired a whole generation of garage bands in the Sixties to go down to Brash’s music store with a fistful of cash. Since 1968 not much has changed.
Rowland S. Howard
The most famous Rowland S. Howard guitar is stored in the climate-controlled interior of Hamer Hall, Melbourne. Senior curator Carolyn Laffan and her team have many guitars in their care, including Rowland’s white Fender Jaguar.
His lifelong friend and collaborator Genevieve McGuckin (below, holding the Rowland S. Howard Lane sign at its St. Kilda launch), told the media –
“It followed him around his whole life. It was pawned a few times but it always managed to get back to him. I redeemed it a few times myself and so did others. It’s a hard life, being a musician.”
And “yes, that is his blood on the back”, she confirms.
GUITAR STORIES – SCOTT ELLIS
Not every Australian guitarist becomes world famous, but in the local ‘who’s who’ of players every bass (and its owner) still tells a story. Writer Scott Ellis remembers his Ibanez, here:
The first guitar I ever picked up was a bass.
It was 1980 and as usual, a mate and I were hiding in his room listening to The Jam or The Clash, blowing B&H Extra Mild cigarettes out of the window and discussing the deep issues of the day – like why Strontium Dog was cooler than Judge Dredd.
Then he picked up one of the ever-present guitars that his house always seemed to have (both his parents were art teachers) and started to play.
It was a three chord riff, nothing complex, but it needed, I was assured, something more.
So a bass was found, I was given about a minute of instruction (left hand here, hit that string there) and we were to my amazement, playing music. And like the first time I heard Joe Strummer play, I was hooked.
The next week I was looking to buy and there were two second-hand bass guitars I could afford, a Gibson Thunderbird and an Ibanez Roadstar. The Gibson had flatwound strings – I didn’t know what they were, but I knew they felt weird – so I bought the Ibanez and went home.
By now my mate had turned those three chords into four songs, lyrics were written, almost all about skateboarding and we convinced a guy we vaguely knew to play drums. When the song count hit ten – still almost all about skateboarding – we organised a gig with ourselves on the bill and played. And in one form or another, with the same bass, I haven’t stopped.
I’ve played parties, pubs, festivals, clubs, more gigs than I can remember and some I’ll never forget.
That bass has been dropped, thrown, caressed, thrashed. It’s been played with fingers, plectrums, coins, drumsticks, mikestands, bottles, fists, whatever worked to get a decent sound.
It’s been scarred, patched, covered in stickers, scraped clean then covered up again, graffitied, etched, rewired, retuned, retired (briefly, for a Rickenbacker interloper), rediscovered and never let go.
I was never that good – those first three chords are still my favourites – but my bass has become, after more than 30 years, an extension of my arms.
I can find any note without thinking, know which control to grab at what time and where to turn it to make whatever sound I want.
I know exactly how far it reaches if I need to butt someone off stage, how much weight I need to put into the swing to get all the strings to buzz when you belt it against an amp… and I know when I’m playing it, it doesn’t matter that I’m really just some guy who lucked onto stage; those moments are gold.
Even when I’m not playing it, just opening the case reminds me who I was, who I am and how I got from one place to the other. I haven’t played the bass for a while now; there’s an acoustic six-string that gets more attention, but it was the first guitar I ever owned and I’ll never sell it.
One day one of my kids might want to have a play. Or maybe I will.
And I’ll know where to find it.
Scott Ellis is an entertainment journalist for Fairfax Media who somehow, much to his amazement, managed to get two listings in The Who’s Who Of Australian Rock’N’Roll for playing in punk bands almost nobody has ever heard of. It still makes him laugh.
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.
Australian music and politics have been intertwined since Vietnam and its aftermath. Khe Sanh is sometimes called the alternative Australian national anthem. Only Nineteen, by Redgum, continued the tradition set by Don Walker and Cold Chisel, in the Eighties.
THE OILS IN THE EIGHTIES
The early-mid 1980s saw the rise of People for Nuclear Disarmament in Australia. Midnight Oil played strong songs that sold the anti-nuclear message and toured the country widely, educating a generation about nukes. This laminate, from the collection of Marshall Cullen, dates from that time. Hobart was a focus for the anti-nuke protests of the mid 1980’s after the controversial visit of the U.S.S. Enterprise – Peter Garrett was there.
STOP THE DROP, 1983
U.S. FORCES GIVE THE NOD
U.S. Forces lyrics which the crowd sing word-for-word in the Stop The Drop clip can be found at Midnight Oil’s official website . The song was written by Jim Moginie and Peter Garrett.
The anthem U.S. Forces name checks Shakespeare (‘dogs of war ‘) as well as the Wall Street TV-speak of the early Eighties (‘market movements call the shots.’) You can see the crowd mouthing the lines “People too scared to go to prison” at Stop The Drop which was also a reflection of the times. This T-Shirt, below, is in The Powerhouse Museum collection in Sydney.
The Stop the Drop concert held at Melbourne’s Myer Music Bowl on Sunday 13 February 1983 was attended by the T-shirt donor you see responsible for the Powerhouse Museum archive donation on this page – Kevin Fewster – who also happened to be one of the organisers.
The 1983 concert was attended by 8000 people. In 1984 Peter Garrett was to run for the Australian Senate in NSW for the Nuclear Disarmament Party but was not elected.
Also at this concert, members of Goanna, Midnight Oil and Redgum recorded an impromptu song to protest the proposed damming of Tasmania’s Franklin River. Released as ‘Let The Franklin Flow’ by Gordon Franklin and the Wilderness Ensemble, it reached number 15 on the charts in May that year.
The line “Superboy takes a plutonium wife” might just be one of the most mis-heard in Australian music, but ‘sing me songs of no denying’ is something most Australian music fans would automatically attribute to the band. The album was huge in the early 1980’s and together with Red Sails In The Sunset (which shows Sydney after the bomb) politicised part of a generation.
THE RANGER URANIUM MINE
Between 1979 and 1984, the majority of what is now Kakadu National Park was created, surrounding but not including the Ranger uranium mine. The two themes for the 1980 Hiroshima Day march and rally in Sydney, sponsored by the Movement Against Uranium Mining (MAUM), were: “Keep uranium in the ground” and “No to nuclear war.” Later that year, the Sydney city council officially proclaimed Sydney nuclear-free.
The Nobel-prize winning Australian novelist Patrick White led one such march, and was photographed with Tom Uren, pictured with dark glasses, bag and stick. This is his novel The Eye of the Storm.
RUBBERY FIGURES, RONALD REAGAN AND MIDNIGHT OIL
By 1982, there were 350,000 Australians at anti-nuclear rallies, focussed on halting Australia’s uranium exports, removing foreign bases from Australian land and creating a nuclear-free Pacific. The visits of U.S. nuclear warships – as far as Hobart – was also a major early Eighties issue and Midnight Oil sang the soundtrack.
The comedy puppet series Rubbery Figures (ABC-TV 1984-1990) satirised U.S. President Ronald Reagan in the same period. To put Midnight Oil’s anti-nuclear albums 10, 9, 8 and Red Sails in context, it’s also important to remember that in 1984, shortly after both records (still vinyl) were released, President Reagan joked in a soundcheck on National Public Radio, ‘My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.’
Rubbery Figures – Ronald Regan re Anzac Day
THE BOMB AND THE EIGHTIES
Writing in Meanjin, Simon Castles remembers, ‘In 1984 the Doomsday Clock kept by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was moved to three minutes to midnight, its most dire position since the invention of the hydrogen bomb. Midnight Oil released Red Sails in the Sunset the same year, an album whose cover shows Sydney after a nuclear strike.’
‘In the eighties there was a stack of pop songs about the bomb. To name just a handful of tracks on a list that ran long, as if to a mushroom cloud on the horizon: ‘Breathing’ by Kate Bush (1980), ‘1999’ by Prince (1982), ‘Seconds’ by U2 (1983), ‘99 Luftballons’ by Nena (1983), ‘Walking in Your Footsteps’ by The Police (1983), ‘Two Minute Warning’ by Depeche Mode (1983), ‘Forever Young’ by Alphaville and then Laura Branigan (1984–85), ‘Two Tribes’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood (1984), ‘Russians’ by Sting (1985), ‘Guns in the Sky’ by INXS (1987) and ‘Everyday is like Sunday’ by Morrissey (1988).’
Red Sails in the Sunset was a title more associated with Bing Crosby and Fats Domino in the Eighties – until Midnight Oil took it over with the help of a Japanese artist who was years ahead of his time. American blogger Sam Wade, writes at The Vinyl Odyssey:
“Japanese artist, Tsunehisa Kimura, created the post-apocalyptic vision of Sydney Harbor – no water only craters from nuclear bombs and a giant fireball near the bridge. It’s one of the coolest photomontages I’ve seen and it stuck with me even more because I have family in Australia. But remember, this record came out in 1984, six years before Photoshop 1.0 would ever hit the streets. In this digital age, it’s easy to forget that this type of art was much more painstaking and analog to create.”
Dr Sarah Engledow, Historian and Curator at the National Portrait Gallery of Australia, wrote in Portrait magazine.
“In 1983, in an international climate of increased public involvement in protest, the Australian local news was dominated by environmental demonstrations on two fronts. The first was the Tasmanian NO DAMS campaign, making highly professional and effective use of photographs by Peter Dombrovskis,a wilderness photographer mentored by Olegas Truchanas. The second was the anti-nuclear movement. In February 1983 Midnight Oil helped organise the Stop the Drop concert in Melbourne, and headlined the event. That year, Tom Uren and Peter Garrett marched together at the head of an anti-nuclear protest. In 1984, when Tom Uren and Patrick White walked side by side at the front of an Australians for Nuclear Disarmament march and Peter Garrett stood unsuccessfully for the Senate on behalf of the Nuclear Disarmament Party, Midnight Oil released the album Red Sails in the Sunset, featuring sinisterly surreal cover artwork by Tsunehisa Kimura of the Sydney Harbour Bridge spanning an expanse of cratered red dirt, a bomb-like ball glowing lava-hot beside the Opera House. The following year, the Oils’ EP Species Deceases came with album notes on the theme of Hiroshima forty years on. Including the great track ‘Hercules’, Species Deceases was an exasperated exhortation to action: ‘Come to your senses and care/16 million I can’t hear you at all’, Garrett cried.”
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.
Rowland S. Howard on Studio 22
This clip shows Rowland introduced by Australian music journalist and author Clinton Walker on the ABC-TV program Studio 22.
An Interview with Nick Haines
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?
Vale George Young. The passing of the genius behind The Easybeats and a key member of the Young dynasty has generated new interest in AC/DC, the Young brothers and their huge influence on Australia.
THE AC/DC MAP
If you’re visiting Fremantle, Melbourne or Sydney and want to go on a Bon Scott and Angus Young pilgrimage, here are the sacred sites. On the AC/DC Map of Australia, Melbourne has to come first. Why? The band lived there. And Countdown made them famous there – mainly because Bon Scott put on a school uniform too.
AC/DC IN ELSTERNWICK, MELBOURNE
Bon Scott immortalised himself and the band filming Countdown for ABC-TV. These images are from Twitter #ClassicCountdown. Sarah Clarke @ACSarahAC is the source for the 1985 Countdown studio audience pass. Sadly the famous studio has now been sold to a supermarket. And by 1985 AC/DC had become world superstars.
MELBOURNE – ST KILDA
6 Lansdowne Road, East St Kilda. Demolished and replaced (like most of Melbourne music history) but nevertheless, nominated by music magazine Mojo as a contender for music history’s “vilest den of depravity”. There is also a free app if you are interested – put together by Australian music historian Bruce Milne and Music Victoria.
The St. Kilda Kitchen
It wasn’t all depravity, though. Sometimes there was cake. Trudy Worme’s mum used to drop her off at 6 Lansdowne Road on Sunday afternoons so she could cook dinner for them. She also baked Angus his favourite chocolate cakes. That definitely puts her on the AC/DC Map.
The visuals in AC/DC Lane (off Flinders Lane, Melbourne and the home of the ‘musicians’ music venue’ Cherry Bar) change all the time. Even if you’ve been here before, it won’t look the same. AC/DC Lane was the result of lobbying by Music Victoria’s Patrick Donovan (then a journalist with The Age) and James Young, who runs Cherry Bar.
This part of Melbourne is associated with Bon Scott (far right, with hippie band Fraternity) in particular. This is where he lost his flares, found his tight jeans and discovered his voice. You can walk from AC/DC Lane to Swanston Street and see the trail Bon and the band followed for It’s A Long Way to the Top.
The Hard Rock Cafe
The original Hard Rock Cafe was created by former AC/DC manager Michael Browning from the remains of Bertie’s, formerly Victoria and Albert. This is where AC/DC played for $1 and Angus Young fell on the floor and accidentally invented his ‘dying insect’ pose. It stood at 1 Spring Street.
The Australian Music Vault
The Hard Rock Cafe of Seventies legend at 1 Spring Street has now been swallowed up by the corporate towers of Shell (below). If you want to get a feeling for not only AC/DC, but also Melbourne music history though – the place which formed the sound – The Australian Music Vault in The Arts Centre Melbourne (opened December 2017) is a good place to start. Bon’s leather jacket is archived there.
SYDNEY – THE YOUNGS’ HOME
4 Burleigh Street, Burwood was once home to George, Malcolm and Angus Young. George went on to form The Easybeats and Malcolm and Angus went on to form AC/DC. Burwood is less well-known than AC/DC Lane in Melbourne or Bon Scott’s memorial in Fremantle, but it’s a highlight of the AC/DC Map in New South Wales.
Purchased in 1965 by the Youngs’ father, a migrant from Scotland the house at 4 Burleigh Street was home, after the family left Villawood Migrants’ Hostel. The house dates from 1906. Historian Glenn A. Baker successfully lobbied for its preservation (among with other Australian music landmarks) some years ago.
On 19 February 1980 Bon tragically died outside 67 Overhill Road, East Dulwich in London. There is no plaque there, despite a petition by fans – but Bon’s memorial in Fremantle is one of the National Trust’s most visited Australian sites. There is also a statue.
The AC/DC Map of Australia begins in Melbourne with the site of the old Hard Rock Cafe at 1 Spring Street (below) and stretches as far as Bon Scott’s grave in Fremantle. Images: Pinterest/Twitter
The Palace Theatre on Bourke Street, Melbourne – slated for demolition – has had many names. It also has secrets. A tunnel linking it to the Princess Theatre next door. The starting point for Peter Finch, who went onto Hollywood fame with Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Glenda Jackson. A special role in Chrissy Amphlett’s life. A rumoured Eureka Stockade hiding place. Melbourne’s centenary opera season. It is a theatre like no other.
The theatre has Nick Cave posters backstage and floorboards walked by the young Peter Finch. The tiles, smashed during the first stage of demolition inside the theatre, are Art Nouveau (below).
These are 1916 – built Louis 16th style decorations to the galleries, and tiles from the 1912 – built art nouveau dado from the Bourke Street staircase. They have been rescued and saved.
The Palace Theatre backs onto the end of Amphlett Lane, at the top of Little Bourke Street, near Spring Street. Chrissy Amphlett played at The Palace Theatre on Bourke Street with Divinyls on Friday 2nd June 1995 with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Map: MIXFM
Life as The Metro
The mirrored ball from The Palace Theatre’s time as the re-named Metro has been saved and stored along with the spotlight. Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum was an occasional DJ at The Metro. This is his iconic cowboy hat, stored the new Melbourne Music Vault. The hat is a museum piece – but The Metro/The Palace is slated for destruction, so it can be turned into a hotel.
TWO STAGE DOORS
This is the Princess Theatre from Little Bourke Street. The Palace Theatre is linked to her sister theatre by a small alleyway and two hidden stage doors, coming off Amphlett Lane. Destroying The Palace destroys the historic connection. If you walk up Amphlett Lane today you will find the tiny alleyway on your left, and the two doors, steps away from each other.
THE PALACE THEATRE AND THE EUREKA STOCKADE
The site of The Palace Theatre today housed the National Hotel in the early days of Victorian gold rush. Writing in her book, A City Lost and Found (Penguin), Robyn Annear notes, ‘By the end of 1854, the National Hotel was under the management of Tom Mooney, proudly Irish and of nationalist persuasion. The cartoon below shows The Palace Theatre when it was the National Theatre. Tom Mooney is centre-stage with glasses and sideburns.
Legend tells us that Mooney harboured the injured rebel leader, Peter Lalor, in an attic room at the National ‘for months’ after the clash at the Eureka stockade in December 1954.’ If this story is true, then perhaps it involves the secret tunnel to The Princess Theatre next door, described by an usherette who worked at The Palace during the 1940’s.
THE SECRET TUNNEL FROM THE PALACE TO THE PRINCESS
This account appears in On The Home Front, by Professor Kate Darian-Smith, from the University of Melbourne. An usherette named Ngaere Macgregor worked at The Palace when it was known as the St. James, and remembers:
‘I was working at St. James Theatre (in Bourke Street) and there was another girl there – a stuck-up little devil. We got together and decided we’d have a ball, just usherettes, and we had a competition for the best-dressed at this ball. Well, Sheila her name was, she went to no end of trouble, and money, to get this glorious dress. And I had no money – Mum took it all! – so I devised this thing in my head and I found this material at Norman’s – a very cheap place, but it was nice white pique. I wanted to have sparkly things, but you just couldn’t get them.
But I had a secret. At the back of St. James, at the back of the stage, I was snooping around one day and I came across one of those big, big old security doors. So I strained at it, and poked and pushed and it creaked open into a long stone corridor. It was all vaulted – ooh, cold and dark – it was like the sewers of Paris! And I found myself in the Princess Theatre around the corner. I wandered right through this labyrinth thing – and you know the Princess is haunted! I don’t know how I had the nerve! I found myself in the wardobe room and you’ve got no idea how spooky that was, with all these costumes hanging up in the semi-gloom and swords in corners and suits of armour and all these marvellous costumes! But then I came across this beautiful black velvet crinoline and around the hem there were all these stones. ‘My God, that will do for the dress!’ But I couldn’t take the whole thing, so the next day I went back with scissors and I cut the bottom right off. I unpicked them all and took them to a dressmaker and Voila! I won ,I won, and the other girl looked awful! Not really, she had on a beautiful royal blue georgette and I thought she’d win.’
THE PALACE IN 1934 AND MELBOURNE’S CENTENARY
The Palace Theatre played a very special part in the history of Melbourne in 1934 when it was chosen to host what was hoped would become the start of an Australian Opera House – some forty years before Sydney Opera House.
Sir Benjamin Fuller’s Royal Opera Company in Melbourne, which launched for the 1934 centenary of the city, can still be seen in the decor of The Palace Theatre today. Or at least – you can see it in this plasterwork, ripped from the building’s amazing interior and saved.
The Palace Theatre was renamed The Apollo for the centenary of Melbourne and Sir Benjamin Fuller gave it ‘the biggest neon light in Australia’ and presented two of Australia’s greatest singers, the soprano Florence Austral and the bass Horace Stevens.
The Lord Mayor of Melbourne (Sir Harold Gengoult Smith) welcomed the opera season to a huge fanfare in 1934.
According to Sir Benjamin Fuller the costumes were from The Met in New York. His aim was to establish The Royal Grand Opera Company in Australia, in Melbourne. Thus, The Palace Theatre (then known as The Apollo) would have preceded The Sydney Opera House by forty years. Fuller’s biggest attraction was Florence Austral, below.
FLORENCE AUSTRAL – THE PALACE SUPERSTAR
Dame Nellie Melba called her, “One of the wonder voices of the world”. Florence Austral, born in Melbourne, was a world-class Soprano who sang with the New York Philarmonic at Carnegie Hall in the 1920’s and went on to became an opera star in London. This is one of her preserved jackets.
During her 1934 season in AIDA Florence was suffering with M.S. (Multiple Sclerosis) in an uncanny parallel with Chrissy Amphlett, who was to take the Palace stage sixty years after her. Florence is one of the famous faces immortalised in the Personalities of Opera mural in the dining room of the Melbourne Myer emporium.
This costume (below) is from the AIDA production at The Palace, from the Arts Centre Melbourne archive. Florence’s jacket is preserved at The Dress Register
PETER FINCH AND THE PALACE THEATRE
The young Peter Finch (who later went on to star in films with Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Faye Dunaway and Glenda Jackson) got his start at The Palace Theatre in 1935 when it was known as The Apollo. Finch later won an Oscar for his work in Hollywood.
If walls could talk at The Palace Theatre, they would describe everything from Peter Finch’s performance in the 1935 season of So This Is Hollywood to Kylie’s season at the venue. Kylie and Grace Angelou (whose armlet in the 1934 production of AIDA is shown here) both have their costumes preserved at The Arts Centre, Melbourne, so why were parts of the stunning Art Nouveau tiles and Picton Hopkins plasterwork from the same theatre, being sacrificed? But – it’s not over yet.
“A sad day today for the the Save The Palace crew. Together with Melbourne Heritage Action, National Trust of Australia (Victoria) and Australian Music Museum Project, we trudged down to an isolated industrial yard where a single skip sat, protected from the elements by a mish-mash of tarps hurriedly thrown over to protect its contents from the elements.”
“The skip was emptied and we started our heart-wrenching foraging for items of significance. Crushed Baroque plasterwork, smashed 100 year old Art Nouveau tiles (pictured above), classical Grecian cameos ripped from balconies made our job all the harder. It took hours to retrieve salvageable items with our small team and as each layer of plaster was turned over, that had been ripped inconsiderately by uncaring construction workers our unease started to fade.”
“There was so much more we had been expecting to find that just wasn’t there. This renewed our hope. Regardless, there is ultimately still a 100 year old theatre standing there. What was taken can be restored. The cultural history can never be ripped out and it is what we will continue to fight for. “
It’s Not Over Yet
You can help rescue this historic Melbourne theatre before it’s too late. It has had many names. The Apollo. The Metro. The song remains the same, though – and despite its part-destruction – the beat goes on. It’s not too late to Save The Palace!
Jenny Valentish talks exclusively to ARIA Hall of Fame inductee – Patricia Amphlett, Chrissy’s cousin.
In the glamorous surrounds of Sydney’s QT hotel, Patricia Amphlett settles into a houndstooth armchair to summarise her life’s greatest hits into my dictaphone. Then she leaps up to mount a sofa and watch the Palestinians’ protest march pass by on Market Street.
“Wonderful,” she says, beckoning me over for a good view out of the window. Beneath us, the parade furls around onto George Street, bookended by police on horseback.
“They had so many women leading the march last week,” she says in approval; then patiently explains to a curious tourist what the purpose is of holding such a protest in Australia. Patricia has a way of speaking that’s both measured in pace and passionate in language, quite similar to her cousin Chrissy.
We first met when the campaign began for a Chrissy Amphlett laneway. Patricia toured potential laneways with Jessica Adams and Chrissy’s husband Charley Drayton and I. She enlightened us on what obstacles we may run into through the approval process, in the way that only someone who has recently been awarded a lifetime membership of the Labor Party can.
Pictured: the last stage of a search for a laneway for Chrissy begins with Jenny Valentish, Charley Drayton and Patricia’s husband, Lawrie Thompson
And now we’re here to reminisce on some key points in her career, and talk about what wonderful memorabilia she has stashed away at home that she can contribute to the digital Australian Music Museum – such as a photograph of the ‘It’s Time’ T-shirt she wore during the Gough Whitlam campaign, or the high-heeled Charles Jourdan sneakers that she’d worn on stage during the late-’60s.
Let’s go back to that first decade of Little Pattie’s career. Unusually for an era in which cover versions were king, her earliest material with EMI – ‘He’s My Blonde Headed Stompie Wompie Real Gone Surfer Boy’ and ‘Stompin at Maroubra’ – was written specifically for the fourteen-year-old, capitalising on her cute blonde bangs and surfie wardrobe. But I wonder if she was actually as acquainted with a surfboard as the Beach Boys were – i.e., with the exception of Dennis Wilson, not at all.
“I did attempt to ride a surfboard or two, but when you’re fourteen and you live near the beach, the two main reasons for going to the beach were boys and getting a sun tan,” she admits. “I don’t think I was successful in either of those wishes. As much as we lay there and giggled in our tiny triangle bikinis, the only time the boys came with us was when they were hungry. They’d rock up and say, ‘Any youse girls going to the shops?’”
These days a teenage act signed to a major record company might expect to be groomed and marketed within an inch of their lives, but Patricia remembers having to be much more of a self-starter than that.
“The executives and producers at EMI were fantastic towards me,” she acknowledges first. “Money wasn’t an issue and they protected me; I know that recording companies aren’t as supportive these days and the cost is carried by the performers and musicians. But there was no team as such. When I think of Chrissy, she had quite an entourage around her on occasions. I’m not sure I would have liked that.
“I think we were all genuine pioneers of the pop industry, thrown in at the deep end,” she says of her peers, such as Lynne Randell, Noeleen Batley, Marcie Jones and Betty McQuade. “We learned our craft as we went along. I had singing lessons and piano lessons, but that was all my training.”
While the moniker Little Pattie suggests an artist of inconsequential importance, she has disproved this time and time again by aligning herself with causes. In 1972 she spearheaded Gough Whitlam’s ‘It’s Time’ campaign (and is still a board member of the Whitlam Institute – part of the University of Western Sydney).
“My family would sit around and talk about politics, though it’s still considered fairly impolite to do so in public” she laughs. “My parents were Labor people and for what I thought were very good reasons. In 1972 it felt like the pendulum had swung and Labor could win the election. Gough Whitlam was charismatic and a man of integrity. People who had some overseas experiences, perhaps in Europe or America, felt that Australia was in the doldrums and culturally very starchy. It was time for a change.”
Jingle writers at an advertising company were employed to write the famous ‘It’s Time’ track, with some 50 household names filmed for the commercial. “We were sick of Australia going backwards,” Patricia says of the sentiment that united them.
In 1976, Little Pattie went off to Vietnam to entertain the troops – and she still counts them as her faithful fans – and friends – appearing at a Vietnam Veteran’s Day concert in Brisbane recently on August 18th.
“They’re my heroes really,” she says. “I think they’re under-recognised and misunderstood, because that particular war we had to learn quite a bit from in terms of how to treat soldiers when they come home. These days you’re offered counselling and treated very differently. The public felt as though we’d ‘lost’ the Vietnam War, which was an incredibly unpopular war anyway, and so our troops didn’t come back as heroes. But the government sent them there.”
Patricia carried on this tradition by playing to troops in Iraq in both 2005 and 2006. Not many recording artists could say they’ve stayed in one of Saddam Hussein’s old palaces, but then not many artists stay the distance when it comes to their beliefs.
“Going to Vietnam changed me as a person in a positive way, because until I was seventeen, I was spoon fed,” she says. “None of us had to do much deep thinking about things and we accept everything around us. Going to a war zone and seeing such horrible things, and seeing soldiers just a little younger than I, wondering why they’re there, it shaped the way I am today, to a great degree.”
In 1986, Patricia married Lawrie Thompson, then the drummer with the Channel Nine orchestra and band. They met when she appeared on daytime television. “People would say, ‘Oh, you both married drummers,’” she laughs, referring to Chrissy’s husband (and former Divinyls drummer) Charley Drayton. “And Chrissy would say, ‘Yes, but mine’s black.’ She was outrageous.”
YouTube Video: Chrissy Inducts Little Pattie – ‘Aria Hall Of Fame’ 2009
While it’s little known, Patricia and Lawrie were leading a double life in Quorrobolong on the edge of the Hunter Valley. They both completed a class in animal husbandry at tech (Patricia topped the class) and then bred Murray grey cattle, learning how to farm as they went along. After ten years they gave up the farm when Lawrie got an enviable gig drumming in Sydney six nights a week. “We never quite became hardened farmers – we had to ear tag them, of course, but on the tags we put the names of jazz musicians and rock musicians instead of farmers.”
It was about bloody time, when Patricia Amphlett was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2006 – by none other than Chrissy Amphlett. “She was a lot sicker than she said she was,” Patricia says sadly. “She was so brave and beautiful to do that.”
In her speech, Chrissy says of Pattie, “She was my hero when Mum would gather us around to watch Bandstand. Tricia was a super star in the ’60s, which was a tough call. She was determined to survive and succeed, and she’s done just that.”
Chrissy shared with the audience Patricia’s work with Vietnam veteran amputees: “She’d take a delegation of them to Vietnam and they’d sit in front of the Vietcong amputees and try and forgive each other. She’d sit at the end of the table, and two former enemies were brought together by Little Pattie – this 4’10” woman in her high heels and battle gear, sitting weeping alongside these burly men, also weeping.”
The icing on the cake was a “lovely letter” from Gough Whitlam, offering his congratulations.
Patricia continues to be a high achiever, managing to fit in performing, music teaching (Nikki Webster is a past student) being president of the MEAA, board member of the National Film and Sound Archive; a trustee of the Jessie Street Trust and a patron of Forces Entertainment.
At exactly ten years Chrissy’s senior, Patricia says she gave the Divinyls singer advice when she asked for it, “but she didn’t need it really. I didn’t realise I was a pioneer in my era, but she was the best pioneer, because she made it de rigeur for women to front a band and be equal, if not superior, to men. Before she came along… no matter how many hit records I had, I never topped a bill, because it was a bloke’s business. It’s quite amazing that female performers are as supportive of our male colleagues as we are.”
The idea of a laneway in Chrissy’s honour is one that Patricia feels strongly about. “I thought: of course! Why not? It’s a given. Most of my family is from Melbourne so I was aware of all the lanes named after famous people. I will be eternally grateful to all the people involved in this wonderful campaign and I think we’ll all cry when it happens,” she says. “Chrissy would get off on it big time. So often, I say, ‘Why isn’t she here?’ She’d love the I Touch Myself project and she’d love the laneway. She’d probably say to me, ‘That’s my lane!’ and be childlike with her love for it. She’d walk up and down it, probably incognito, sussing out who was walking along her lane and who was looking at her name.”
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, Saki, Tuppence and Dobro
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.
Chrissy Amphlett’s famous uniform at Amphlett Lane, Melbourne.
Holiday – Always by Chrissy’s Side
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.
Peter Gouldthorpe and His Street Art
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.
Midnight Oil went on the road in 2015 in the form of a travelling exhibition visiting Sydney, Newcastle, Melbourne, Canberra, Riverina, Southern Queensland, and Wollongong. Ross Heathcote, Curator & Public Programs Coordinator, Manly Art Gallery and Museum, spoke to AMMP about one of the most successful mobile museums Australia has ever seen. The Midnight Oil exhibition showed everything from the famous Sydney 2000 Olympics ‘Sorry’ suits – to long-forgotten posters.
The exhibition of Midnight Oil’s was a huge success at the Sydney exhibition hosted by the Manly Art Gallery and Museum – what were the final numbers?
Yes, a huge success in many ways, not only big numbers (18,000 in Manly over a short few weeks, and even more at Newcastle), but really rich visitation with great experiences and some genuine interactivity.
There were thousands of Oils fans visiting of course, but also visitors who had never heard of the Oils. At Manly there was much interstate and overseas visitation. We were thrilled. We hosted several special events include a world premiere screening of the full ‘The Making of 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1’ documentary by Robert Hambling, and some great Q&A evenings which featured Rob Hirst and Jim Moginie from the Oils.
How was your Newcastle season?
We have just pulled down the The Making of Midnight Oil exhibition in Newcastle. It looked great in the old train sheds (now Newcastle Museum). Our exhibition is based around stages and risers…real ones, with the real Midnight Oil roadcases converted into showcases. Along with the graphics, a hundred or so gig posters, original lyric scrawls and many brilliant audio-visuals, the band’s instruments and other artefacts, the exhibition had a truly authentic and unique rock’n’roll look.
Newcastle was a perfect host venue for the show. The town has a fine pub rock tradition that is maintained there. One of the highlights at Newcastle was an evening event focussing on songwriting: the panel consisted of Rob Hirst, Dave Faulkner (Hoodoo Gurus) and Dave Mason (The Reels). Apart from the fascinating, revealing and iconoclastic discussion, each of them also played or sang. I’ve never seen a happier museum audience.
Did you and the other exhibition organisers Rob Hirst, Virigina Buckingham and Wendy Osmond make any major changes to the Newcastle exhibition?
We worked closely with Newcastle museum staff to adapt the show to their space and add some local content. How could we go to Newcastle and not refer to the earthquake gig and the legendary Redhead Beach gig? Each venue on the tour is different, so Wendy and I will assess each space. Rob will inevitably tell us a ‘war story’ about the Oils and every town that the show will travel to, so we will try to include local references and stories.
In talking to host museums and galleries, I have encountered people who have their own Midnight Oil story to tell, as well. In the exhibition there is a facility to leave your Oils story on a fan wall.
What’s your favourite part of the exhibition after all this time?
That’s really hard to answer. The icons in the show include the Sorry Suits worn at the Sydney Olympics closing ceremony gig, and the giant Exxon Oil spill protest banner that the band played in front of, at their guerrilla protest gig in new York City. These are great things but I also love Ray Argall’s beautiful film piece which has wonderful concert and crowd footage from the mid 1980’s. The the ’10-1’ doco is brilliant. I love the band’s gear as well – Jim’s Gretsch, Martin’s Strat, Giffo’s Bass and Peter’s skyscaper one-piece mic stand. The gig posters are also great: they are a magnificent collection that tell us about a rich social history of accessible world class live music, lost venues, lost bands, and of course the amazing career of the Oils.
There are a couple of soundbites including an unreleased Midnight Oil track, and a recording of Jim, Rob and Bear as teenagers in their trio Schwampy Moose. Jim offered that piece saying that ‘people need to know what we sounded like when we were shit’. I’m proud of the text in the exhibition where I had the pleasure of collaborating with the band’s biographer Mark Dodshon. The hand-scrawled lyric sheets are revealing and compelling; a rare insight into the process of the band’s three main songwriters. The hitherto unseen footage of the band playing at Tanelorn in 1981 is awesome….I could go on!
What about the piece which Rob Hirst described as follows: “The piece de resistance is a replication in a box which has sticky carpet, three screens when you walk in and a curtain you pull behind you. It has footage of the band playing at the Tanelorn Festival in 1981 and there’s two sets of headphones you can choose from – one is loud, the other is really loud – and you can stick to the carpet. There’s elbows that come out from the side of the box so that you can be elbowed in the ribs. What I was trying to do was replicate what it was like coming to see Midnight Oil back then at the Mawson Hotel, the 16 Footers or the Ambassador or whatever.”
This was Rob’s pet project! He wanted a space in the exhibition where visitors could get the feel of an early Oils gig. He suggested a bizarre kind-of ‘bush shower’ to begin- steamy, smelly, loud…as if you were at the Royal Antler Hotel in 1978. I talked him out of that, and we compromised on a portaloo. That wasn’t going to work either. Wendy Osmond (3D designer) suggested we make a big roadcase that you can walk into. It was put together by some helpers including Grant Pudig (a former tour manager for the Oils). Rob had some old pub carpet, but it just wasn’t nasty enough, so we regularly spill a middy of Toohey’s Old and some cigarette butts into the floor to give that special Sydney pub smell.
It’s cramped and heated, and you’re surrounded by three screens featuring crowd scenes from the Hordern and the Oils at Tanelorn playing Cold Cold Change. Rob’s dogged persistence made this ‘Antler Room’ happen, but we have reserved the right to tease him about and it, so it is known as Rob’s Folly. I need to add that without Rob Hirst and his remarkable energy and penchant for collecting, MoMO would never have been born.
Other efforts toward making exhibitions about rock bands have not had the privileged position of having band members at hand, supportive and involved, and yet hands-off when it comes to telling the true stories and avoiding ‘vanity pieces’. Rob, Jim, Peter, Martin, Giffo, Bear and Bones have all been really helpful and generous along with the Oils’ management. The fact that they are as fearless in telling their story as they were as a musical force has given the exhibition project particular grunt.
I once would have thought of Midnight Oil as a very serious band, with their songs and stance on indigenous issues, homeless youth and the environment (many of us might have been introduced to some of these issues through their songs). These chaps turn out to be relaxed, funny, creative, witty, self-deprecating, super-literate (Rob corrected some of my text panel grammar and he’s meant to be a rock drummer!) and very easy to work with.
Given your hands-on experience with the Oils’ exhibition lately, your ideas about an Australian Music Museum – particularly the venue, format, funding, space and viability would be very interesting to a lot of people.
The interest has been enormous. It’s not just about the Oils, there is broader interest in some recent times when Australian music (rock in particular) was a massive part of our identity. The Midnight Oil story included the politics and issues that band traversed, which gave the show an added dimension. However, the great thing about exhibiting the stories of popular music is how that resonates within our memories, generates intergenerational conversations and cross-cultural conversations (and this is all beautifully documented in our visitors’ writings in MoMO).
I imagine an Australian Music museum having some of the authenticity of MoMO; a place that can feel like a pub in Adelaide, or the Sydney Stadium or Cloudlands or the Countdown set or The Palais at any given opportunity. To do this you need great designers like Wendy Osmond and Virginia Buckingham, the involvement of audience, and willing and brave contributors like Rob.
I’d like to see the music museum go beyond one space. Perhaps a ‘mothership venue’ with pop-ups around the country. There must be capacity for performance and recording in this space and it must be alive (therefore acoustics and accessibility are important). The key space needs much flexibility. It should be built by roadies as much as by museum makers. A smart government would take on the support of such a venue. We had some good corporate support from Sony Music, perhaps it’s time the music industry to get behind the physical museum project.The benefits are great.