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 Aussie troops were withdrawn from Vietnam, and in 1975 our PM was controversially dismissed.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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Barry Humphries as Les Patterson and Peter Cook at the launch of the inaugural Melbourne International Comedy Festival, 1987. Photo: Peter Milne
Barry Humphries as Les Patterson and Peter Cook at the launch of the inaugural Melbourne International Comedy Festival, 1987. Photo: Peter Milne


Melbourne Comedy Festival launched

In 1987, comedy legends Barry Humphries and Peter Cook launched the first ever Melbourne International Comedy Festival. The inaugural event featured 56 shows, including performances by Gina Riley, the Doug Anthony All Stars, Rod Quantock, Circus Oz and Geoffrey Rush.


By 1988 the festival was off and running, and had a look to match – cartoonist Michael Leunig supplied his first artwork for the program, a much-loved tradition that continues to this day.

Over the years the Melbourne International Comedy Festival has welcomed artists such as Phyllis Diller, Monty Python's Graham Chapman, Rita Rudner, and even the casts of Neighbours and Flying Doctors who competed in a Celebrity Theatresport competition!

It has been credited with giving some of the country's funniest talent their 'big break' into the comedy scene, including Tim Minchin, Chris Lilley, Josh Thomas, Peter Helliar, Hannah Gadsby and Claire Hooper.

The festival is now recognised as one of the top three comedy events in the world, and is Australia's largest ticketed cultural event, featuring more than 450 shows and attracting more than 600,000 people.

Beyond its Autumn laugh-fest, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival works all year round to develop the comedy sector and uncover and foster new talent.

This includes the popular open mic comedy competition, RAW Comedy, which has heats right across the country; Class Clowns, a national secondary school comedy competition; and Deadly Funny – a workshop and showcase program that is creating a new career path for Indigenous comedians.

The festival's annual Roadshow also travels the length and breadth of Australia (and even to Singapore and Hong Kong) bringing Festival highlights to over 80,000 eager comedy lovers.

From a grassroots event created by people who love to laugh, to an organisation that makes an impact, nationally and internationally, all year round, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival proves that comedy in Victoria is a serious business!

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