Tag Archives: Palace Theatre

Palace Theatre Melbourne Secrets

Palace Theatre Melbourne Secrets

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).


Historic tiles from The Palace Theatre
Historic tiles –  Palace Theatre Melbourne Secrets, now in a rubbish tip.

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 in a plastic bag.
The Palace in a plastic bag.

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

Amphlett Lane flanks The Palace Theatre.
Amphlett Lane flanks The Palace Theatre.

AMPHLETT LANE Shelley Blake Jessica Adams Jenny Valentish

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.

The Palace mirror ball and spotlight
The Palace mirror ball and spotlight

Ian Meldrum hat via Twitter and Australian Music Vault.
Ian Meldrum hat via Twitter and Australian Music Vault.


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.

Amphlett Lane adjoins The Princess Theatre


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. 

Thomas Mooney Cartoon

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.


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:

Auditorium - Ceiling

‘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 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 plasterwork
The Palace plasterwork

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 beautiful Palace
The beautiful Palace

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.



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.

Florence Austral blouse australiandressregisterorg

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.

Florence Austral Myer

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

tremelbourne com au

It's not over yet!


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.

Audrey Hepburn Peter Finch

Peter Finch Faye Dunaway

Peter Finch Elizabeth Taylor

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.


Armlet worn by Grace Angelou at The Palace Theatre (Arts Centre Melbourne).
Armlet worn by Grace Angelou at The Palace Theatre (Arts Centre Melbourne).


Salvaging fittings from The Palace Theatre.
Salvaging fittings from The Palace Theatre.


Save The Palace rally, November 2014.
Save The Palace rally, November 2014.


This is from the Save The Palace Facebook page:

“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.”

Tiles saved from the skip.

“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. “

The Palace when it was named The Apollo.
The Palace when it was named The Apollo.

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!

Hair at The Metro (Palace Theatre) Bourke St Melbourne.
Hair at The Metro (Palace Theatre) Bourke St Melbourne.


Legendary Australian Venues


Save The Palace rally, November 2014.
Save The Palace rally, November 2014. One of several legendary Australian venues

Legendary Australian Venues

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 (Jessica Adams)
The Espy (Jessica Adams)



Relaunching the Espy

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.


The Espy Ballroom Ceiling
The Espy Ballroom Ceiling – saving Australian music venues, one chandelier at a time.


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 Hotel Melbourne

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.

The Corkman will Rise Again.
The Corkman will Rise Again.

The Corkman Brick by bloody brick 24-10-2016 at 5.45 PM #2

Saved! The Landsdowne Hotel, Sydney

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 Preatures plaque. Part of the #KeepSydneyOpen campaign on Twitter.
The Preatures plaque. Part of the #KeepSydneyOpen campaign on Twitter.
The Dubrovniks poster from Rock Brat.
The Dubrovniks poster from Rock Brat.
The Landsdowne Hotel (ABC)
The Landsdowne Hotel (ABC)
Photographs at Pinterest chosen by Narelle Kempton.
Photographs at Pinterest chosen by Narelle Kempton.



Resurrecting The Lansdowne in Sydney

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.

You Am I and The Landsdowne

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 – It’s Not Over Yet

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?”

Kate Ceberano

Kate Ceberano Kensal-Road


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.

Patricia Amphlett

About AMMP

AMMP (Australian Music Museum Project) is a not-for-profit digital archive and links hub keeping  20th century Australian music alive online. It was set up to help the nationwide push for dedicated museum spaces honouring Australian music and musicians, along with public space – like Amphlett Lane, Melbourne – for future generations of music fans to enjoy.

Come here to find out more about the national network of lobby groups and campaigners pushing to keep Australia’s historic music venues preserved and for regular updates on important developments – from Brisbane walking tours to Melbourne podcasts. If you would like to get in touch, please do so using the forms on this website.

Thank you, Jessica Adams @jessicacadams


Jessica Adams (Peter Clark).
Jessica Adams (Peter Clark).
Backstage Passes - Greg Phillips
Backstage Passes – Greg Phillips