Brisbane Festival Hall

(Courtesy: ABC Stateline) - 12th March 2004

Virgin Casino


Rewind: Festival Hall
Broadcast: 12/03/2004


KIM LANDERS: In the 1950's rock and roll was sweeping the world, but it had a pretty slow start here in Queensland. Johnny O'Keefe called Queensland the 'Square State' when he was forced to call himself a Jazz act in 1957. But that was about to change. Festival Hall opened in 1959 and Queenslanders could finally see some of the performers they'd only been able to hear on radio. And it wasn't only music. For 64 years Festival Hall hosted everything from political meetings to wrestling. Now it's been demolished, bulldozed to make way for more apartments. Stateline travelled down memory lane with three people intimately involved with the venue that used to stand on the corner of Albert and Charlotte Streets in Brisbane's CBD.

RITCHIE YORK, MUSIC WRITER SUNDAY MAIL: It was sort of like the pinnacle of entertainment and you'd really made it when you got to be a headliner at Festival Hall.

JOHN WREN, FORMER GENERAL MANAGER FESTIVAL HALL: So many artists in Brisbane or even the fighters to have a fight at Festival Hall or be on stage at Festival Hall, that was their ultimate.

RITCHIE YORK: Festival Hall I think was an emporium of dreams. It was this awful shabby old building that you wouldn't really care about except that so many magical experiences had taken place within its walls.

BILLY THORPE, MUSICIAN: It was a living, breathing part of our history and it no longer breathes. A very important part of the cultural history of Brisbane has gone, never to be replaced as when they bulldozed Cloudland down in the middle of the night.

JOHN WREN: In 1914 my grandfather bought a company called Stadiums Limited. Roughly about 1957 when it was a fire occurred and half if was burnt down. My father decided to rebuild and do a modern area for boxing wrestling and also getting into the entertainment singing and rock and roll.

NEWSREEL 1959: How can Brisbane lay claim to being the home of Australia's professional boxing. People that are interested in fighting for big money come to Brisbane.

JOHN WREN: My father decided to go a little bit better and go more upmarket and we had a nice proscenium, we had a raked stage, an orchestra pit in the front of the stage, all timber floor. It was probably like the start of the state of the art when it was opened up in ’59.

RITCHIE YORK: The fact that it held 4,000 people it was larger than any of the other venues around town. Festival Hall kicked off in 1959 and opened a door to a whole range of entertainment that included rock and roll. I mean some of the earlier rock and roll shows that came through there gave us our first taste.

JOHNNY O’KEEFE PERFORMER: "You know, you make me want to shout".

BILLY THORPE: I remember seeing Johnny O'Keefe there. I thought that night, that's what I want to do. I'd like to be able to do that. I'd like to communicate with audiences like that.

JOHN WREN: The company were paying off two buildings to the banks and things dried up you know, we were in a bit of bother. Ken was over there and said we've got this Liverpool sort of stuff, they've got the long hair and do you want to have a go at some of these. Ken did not know one thing about this, he just said like eeny meemny miny mo or however he went. It was a total fluke. And signed them up. That actually helped our company to stay afloat and of course by then by the Beatles coming through there was a surge.

RITCHIE YORK: It's a raw and naked sort of intimacy you know. Teenagers could go there and get away with stuff you couldn't get away with in movie theatres you could go there and be yourself.

BILLY THORPE: To be able to go back with a number one record and play the Festival Hall was making it as far as I was concerned. It was a very special place.

RITCHIE YORK: It was a great place to sort of instigate things and I think a lot of careers, I think particularly of Powderfinger.

JOHN WREN: It just had something, I don't think anyone can explain it, you feel it and you really can't explain that feel.

RITCHIE YORK: Whether or not you believe in ghosts or vibrations but a lot of things went on there and they resonated throughout the state, throughout the country and probably throughout the world.


Australian Broadcasting Authority

The Great Aussie Promoters

Sydney Stadium

ABC Profile