ABC Stateline) - 12th March 2004
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
OKEEFE PERFORMER: "You know, you make me
want to shout".
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.
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.
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.
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.
YORK: It was a great place to sort of instigate things
and I think a lot of careers, I think particularly
WREN: It just had something, I don't think anyone
can explain it, you feel it and you really can't explain
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.
Great Aussie Promoters