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 Aussie troops were withdrawn from Vietnam, and in 1975 our PM was controversially dismissed.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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GPAC production of The Wizard of Oz 1983 starring Guy Pearce
GPAC production of The Wizard of Oz 1983 starring Guy Pearce


Geelong Performing Arts Centre

The Geelong Performing Arts Centre (GPAC) opened its doors to the public in April 1981. Its first concert brought together local groups the Woolly Jumpers Puppeteers, the Wandering Minstrels, Grouplada, the Geelong West Technical School and Geelong Regional Youth concert bands, the Geelong Folk Club and the Geelong Schools Music Festival. An official opening followed, featuring the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.


Speaking at the official event, Premier Rupert Hamer said the opportunity to practise and enjoy the arts should be the birthright of every Victorian, and he talked about the Government's commitment to developing the arts across regional Victoria.

"The often talented small groups of people in provincial and suburban areas who battled valiantly to present theatre, ballet, music, art exhibitions and the like are no longer left to struggle alone. The Victorian Government and local government have come to the assistance with funds, ideas and direction," he said.

GPAC, now a major arts and cultural hub for the region, was some time in the making. It took a dozen years, a determined community and a visionary State Premier to realise the vision. The Geelong and District Cultural Institute led the charge.

Construction commenced in 1979 on a site that had variously housed a temperance hall, a church, a mechanics institute, a grammar school and a theatre. The Victorian Government provided funding and a fundraising appeal was launched by a local committee.

The Geelong community responded generously raising funds of $850,000 (the equivalent of $3.6M today).

In 1980 the Geelong Performing Arts Centre Trust Act was proclaimed in Parliament, providing the statutory framework for the Centre's operations. The Trust first met in October 1980, chaired by local businessman, John Robb.

Over its 32-year history, GPAC has welcomed almost five million visitors. Today, one in every two households in Geelong connects with the venue together with many more in the broader region.

GPAC has been a breeding ground for Victorian talent, and has played a role in the early careers of major artists, including opera singers Peter Coleman-Wright and Cheryl Barker, playwright Ross Mueller and actors Rachel Griffiths and Guy Pearce (who not only performed on stage but also worked behind the bar).

In addition to presenting a world of performing arts experiences, 60 per cent of GPAC's shows come from the local community. It has become the vibrant and active cultural space envisaged by its founders.

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