Arts Flashback

To celebrate Arts Victoria's 40th anniversary we've hit the archives
and uncovered some choice moments in the development of
Victoria's arts sector.

Click on the images below to view the stories and photo galleries, share them with others, and find out how Victoria grew to be the arts and cultural powerhouse it is today.


Bell-bottoms, handlebar moustaches, platform shoes, our daring approach to fashion (and facial hair) belied an era of serious social change and political drama in 1970s Australia.

We scrapped the White Australia Policy and welcomed an era of multiculturalism. Aussie troops were withdrawn from Vietnam, and in 1975 our PM was controversially dismissed.

We had more leisure time that ever before. Norm coaxed us off the couch with Life. Be in it and we got fit. But when we weren't out BMXing, ten-pin bowling or roller-skating, we were listening to Skyhooks and Sherbet, tuning into the new world of FM radio, and watching Number 96 on our brand new colour TVs.

Here in Victoria, a creative community of artists, craftspeople, theatre-makers and musicians were laying the foundation of the mighty independent arts sector we enjoy today.

Premier Rupert Hamer put the arts firmly on the Government's agenda with the creation of Australia's first state Ministry for the Arts. Its first priorities? Getting the construction of Southbank's Arts Centre complex moving, creating a chain of regional performing arts centres, and bringing art out into the public.

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Arts Centre spire
Arts Centre Melbourne spire


Melbourne Arts Centre opens

The Melbourne Concert Hall (later renamed Hamer Hall) opened in 1982, and the Theatres building, under the iconic spire, followed in early 1984, finally completing the Victorian Arts Centre complex at Southbank. The Centre provided a home for Victoria and Australia's leading performing arts companies, including the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Melbourne Theatre Company and the Australian Ballet.


The first ever performance – a Mother's Day Concert – was held at the Melbourne Concert Hall on 9 May 1982 as a thank you to an invited audience of hundreds of people who had been involved in the building of the Centre. The concert featured popular singers Karen Knowles, Suzanne Steele and Jackie Love, pianist Roger Woodward and the Melbourne Showband with musical direction by Brian May. Betty Pounder, who for 20 years had been responsible for some of JC Williamson's most memorable productions, was the producer.

On 26 June, the Melbourne Concert Hall opened for business, even though some of the foyer areas and finishes were yet to be completed, and public concerts were greeted with great enthusiasm.

The Hall was officially opened on 6 November 1982 with a gala celebration followed by a month of festivities. At 11am a pipe band and float procession made its way from the State Library, proceeding through the city to the Yarra River. Bands played on the lawns and terraces around the Concert Hall all day and a jazz band cruised up and down the Yarra escorted by a flotilla of decorated boats. The official guests arrived on a tram decorated by artist, Mirka Mora.

Among the memorable performances inside the Concert Hall that evening was a 20-minute speech by Victorian Arts Centre Trust Chairman, Kenneth Myer, who thanked each and every person who had been involved in the building of the Hall – without any notes! After 25 years' association with the building there was little about the place he had not committed to memory. But perhaps the greatest moment was when the then Premier John Cain, stepped aside in a generous show of bipartisanship and invited the former Premier, Rupert Hamer, to officially open the Hall. This gesture was echoed after Hamer's death in 2004, when the then Premier Steve Bracks renamed the Melbourne Concert Hall, Hamer Hall.

In its first full year of operation, the Concert Hall attracted audiences in excess of 500,000 to a diverse array of concerts – from the ABC Red Series concerts with the MSO, to popular artists like Barry Humphries, the Little River Band, Joni Mitchell and Harry Seacombe, to special community concerts. More than 100,000 people took a paid guided tour of the Hall and about 250,000 people attended free performances.

The following year, the Hall played host to royalty – the newly-wed Prince and Princess of Wales. A Royal Gala was held on 14 April 1983, featuring performances by Marcia Hines, with the Melbourne Youth Choir, and the David Atkins Dancers, the Little River Band, Paul Hogan and Peter Allen.

On the neighbouring theatres site, while the landmark spire had been erected, industrial disputation severely delayed other work. In particular, a six-month plumbers' dispute held up the roofing of the theatres building, which slowed progress. The three theatres – the State Theatre, the Playhouse and the Studio – finally commenced operations in May 1984, with the official opening following on 29 October.

In January 1989, the State Treasurer, Rob Jolly, handed over a cheque for $78.8 million to Victorian Arts Centre general manager, George Fairfax, fulfilling an earlier government pledge to clear the remaining debt owing on Australia's premiere arts facility. Victoria now owned the Arts Centre in St Kilda Road outright from the "tip of its spire to the deepest orchestra pit".

Arts Centre Melbourne, which also incorporates the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, is now Australia's largest and busiest performing Arts Centre complex. It hosts more than 4000 performances and events each year, attracting more than 2.3 million visitors. Hamer Hall underwent a major redevelopment from 2010, reopening in July 2012 with improved acoustics and amenities, upgraded theatre technology, new spaces and new connections to the Yarra River and the city.

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