Perfect Portraits

One of the treasures in the Performing Arts Collection is a album containing 160 carte de visite photographs of Australian performers from the 1860s and 1870s. A carte de visite is a small photograph, usually a portrait, presented on a piece of card 6.5 cm x 10cm. The size of carte de visites made them an economical and extremely popular format as they could be easily shared and mailed to friends and family.

The beautiful photograph above is of one of the Wiseman sisters, most likely Fanny Wiseman (1846-1933), an actress who performed on the Australian stage for over four decades in pantomime and melodrama. Her theatrical family included sisters Emily (1844-1881), Alice (1850-1940) and Laura (1857-1943).

Laura Wiseman 1992.079.001-136. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.
Emily Wiseman 1992.079.001-133. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

These photographs show an exquisite level of detail, capturing the intricate costume decorations and elaborate hairstyles of the actresses. Their photographer achieved such perfection by using a headrest; a metal frame that prevented the sitter from moving and blurring the photograph. The base of the headrest has been carefully hidden beneath draped fabric, but is visible in Fanny and Laura’s portraits.

Not all photographers during the period used headrests. This lively photograph of Benhamo and Zebrediah of Burton’s Circus (1877) gives some idea of the extraordinary balance and strength of circus performers who could remain still during the long exposure time.

Brothers Benhamo (William Benham) and Zebrediah (Zebediah Benham), 1877. 1992.079.001-190 Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

Another striking portrait from the album is of Lena Carey, dressed in costume for the production “Pygmalion and Galatea”. Carey appeared as ‘Galatea’, a statue come to life, in the very successful 1873 production with George Coppin (1819-1906) and Hattie Shepparde (1848?-1874). The State Library of Victoria have two portraits of Hattie Shepparde in the role of ‘Cynisca’. When Shepparde died the following year in childbirth, Lena Carey was among the famous actresses to be pallbearers at her funeral.

Lena Carey, c.1873. 1992.079.001-29. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.
Hattie Shepherd, 1873, by Charles Hewitt. State Library of Victoria, H9476.

Can you help?

There are a number of unidentified photographs in the album. If you know the names of any of the performers below we’d love to hear from you. As a hint, the handwritten notes around the edges of the photographs are mostly misleading. Please post any suggestions in the comments field below or contact us via our Research Centre.

1992.079.001-128. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.
1992.079.001-191. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.
1992.079.001-195. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.
1992.079.001-196. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.
1992.079.001-128. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

Christmas in the Collection

Merry Christmas everyone. We hope that just like the young fellow pictured with Father Christmas at the Shell Club party (December 1960), you have a wonderful Christmas and New Year.

2016 was a big year for the Performing Arts Collection. There were 6 exhibitions, dozens of displays, a design forum, hundreds of research enquiries, 35000 catalogue records created and updated, and the Australian Music Vault was launched.

To celebrate this great year, we’ve assembled a special ‘more-is-more’ collection of Christmas in the Performing Arts Collection. Please enjoy!

A radio 3DB Christmas party c.1960s. DB 4443 Laurie Richards Collection. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne





The Olympic Arts Festival 


The Olympic Arts Festival was a special feature of the 1956 Melbourne Games. While fine arts competitions were associated with previous Olympics, Melbourne was the first Games to have an arts festival as part of the official program.

Programme for the Olympic Arts Festival. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

This program included fine art and design exhibitions and a Festival of Music and Drama that aimed to communicate something of Australia’s national character to overseas visitors and showcase the county’s best talent.

Music was a large part of the Festival with the Melbourne Symphony and Sydney Symphony Orchestras presenting concerts. This included a unique combined performance at the Olympic Swimming pool, where Sir Bernard Heinze conducted what was claimed to be the largest symphony orchestra ever assembled in Australia. During the performance soprano Glenda Raymond sung Ah, fors’è lui from La Traviata, and Olympic Overture by Clive Douglas was premiered. This work was the winning entry in an Olympic Composers Competition staged by APRA and the ABC.

The combined Melbourne and Sydney Symphony Orchestras during the Olympic Swimming Pool performance, 2 December 1956. ABC 344 Laurie Richards Collection. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.
Glenda Raymond and Sir Bernard Heinze at the Olympic Swimming Pool performance, 2 December 1956. ABC 340 Laurie Richards Collection. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.


The Duke of Edinburgh was in the audience at the joint Melbourne and Sydney Symphony Orchestra concerts, 2 December 1956. ABC 340 Laurie Richards Collection. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.
Prime Minister Roberts Menzies at the Olympic Swimming Pool performance, 2 December 1956. ABC 339 Laurie Richards Collection. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

Other festival events included free Music for the People concerts at the Botanic Gardens conducted Hector Crawford and a chamber music festival at Melba Hall. At Her Majesty’s Theatre the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust presented a program of four operas by Mozart, Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll and the Children’s marionette play The Tintookies.

Companies not included in the Festival also staged special Olympic productions. At New Theatre, Dick Diamond’s Australian musical Under the Coolibah Tree was presented. Despite public suspicion of communism and condemnation of the Soviet Union after the Hungarian Uprising (this famously manifested in a brawl between the USSR vs Hungary water polo teams), the left leaning New Theatre kept things friendly by inviting Soviet journalists and a Chinese theatre company to view the show.

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At the Tivoli, re-opened after an extensive refurbishment, the Olympic Follies was presented. This was an extravaganza of variety featuring the Hungarian acrobatic dancers Julia and Darvas, with lavish stage design by Angus Winneke.

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The amazing Darvas and Julia, c.1956. 2002.034.465 Betty Stewart Collection. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

As you can see, life in Melbourne during the Games was friendly, social and entertaining. If you’d like to learn more about what was on during the Games check out the digitised newspapers in Trove . You can also ask our Research Centre for help in locating objects and information about this and other Performing Arts topics.

Melbourne Olympic Games

22 November – 8 December 1956

Part 1

This week marks the 60th anniversary of the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. It was the first time the Games had been staged in the Southern Hemisphere and the first time Australians had the opportunity to view the Olympics on television.

After a series of parliamentary debates and a Royal Commission, television was introduced to Australia in time for the Melbourne Olympics. Bruce Gyngell famously welcomed Sydney viewers to television on the 16th of September 1956 and on the 4th of November, Melbourne viewers were greeted by the Premier of Victoria, Henry Bolte, as he officially opened the HSV7 studios in South Melbourne.

The Laurie Richards Collection contains an interesting record of Australia’s television pioneers. Richards was a professional photographer and captured the ABC news team at work filming and broadcasting the Games into Australian homes.

Calling it how they see it – sports commentators at the Melbourne Olympics, 1956. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne. Laurie Richards Collection ABC 330.


Filming from the newly erected Olympic Stand at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), 1956. Performing Arts Collection Arts Centre Melbourne. Laurie Richards Collection ABC 332.
An ABC TV cameraman films the athletics competition, 1956. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne. Laurie Richards Collection ABC 333.
Inside the ABC broadcast van, 1956. This van is now part of the National Museum of Australia’s collection. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne. Laurie Richards Collection ABC 335. 

If you are interested in the story of television and the Olympics, The National Museum of Australia has a great article in their Defining Moments in Australian History series. Another wonderful resource is the National Film and Sound Archive NFSA Films YouTube channel, where you can watch hours of footage from the 1956 Olympics created by professional and amateur filmmakers.

Part 2 will explore the Olympic Arts Festival and other theatrical events staged during the Games. In the meantime, why not have a look at all things Olympic in our online collection. There’s even a splash of Kylie.

A Place Across The River: the home of entertainment in Melbourne for over 100 years

Aerial photograph of St Kilda Road (now Arts Centre Melbourne site) showing the Trocadero dance hall, 1960

Arts Centre Melbourne’s 4.5 hectare St Kilda Road site is steeped in entertainment history.  Here, in the heady gold-rush days, stood the miners’ Tent Town where hopeful diggers thronged the crowded alleys, singing and whistling the music hall airs they brought with them from London.

Photograph of Melbourne from St Kilda Road with Cooper and Bailey’s Great American Circus tents in the the background. Photograph by Charles Nettleton, c.1878. Arts Centre Melbourne’s Performing Arts Collection.

By 1877 Cooper and Bailey’s Great American International Circus became one of the first travelling shows to pitch its big top on the site and in 1901 a permanent Olympia was built by Fitzgerald Brothers’ Circus, the greatest of all the 19th century Australian circuses.  Three years later, Fitzgeralds’ developed the rest of the site into “an up-to-date fashionable rendezvous” called Prince’s Court which boasted a Japanese tea-house, miniature railway, a huge water chute and an open-air theatre with its own 15-member military band.

Postcard, “Shooting the Chute” at Princes Court, c.1904. Arts Centre Melbourne’s Performing Arts Collection


Stereographic photograph of Princes Court, c.1904. Arts Centre Melbourne’s Performing Arts Collection

It is Wirths’ Circus, however, that most people associate with the site. In 1907 Wirths’ Circus took over the entire site from Fitzgeralds’ and became a mainstay of Melbourne entertainment for the next fifty years. By 1911 Wirths had built a vast new Olympia and a fashionable new roller skating rink. During the First World War the Olympia was converted into a cinema and many other buildings were pressed into service as rest homes for soldiers and nurses.

Wirths’ traditionally arrived in Melbourne every October and played through until February, before moving to Sydney for the Easter season.  The rest of the circus’s year was spent touring Australia in a special train.  Wirths’ introduced a commemorative gold whip which was presented to the winning jockey of each year’s Melbourne Cup in a special ceremony in the ring on Cup Night – a tradition which continues track-side today.

Equestrienne act at Wirth’s Olympia, c. 1950. Photograph by Harry Jay. Arts Centre Melbourne’s Performing Arts Collection.

As the city recovered from the trauma of the First World War, the Olympia again became a focus for entertainment when it was converted into a dance hall in 1920s named the the Green Mill.  Situated on the northern corner of the site, a replica Dutch windmill provided the entrance through which patrons passed into a foyer and grand ballroom graced with a fernery and waterfalls. Hostesses wore green Dutch costumes and patrons danced under a ceiling featuring twinkling stars or admired the miniature indoor lake known as the Zuyder Zee.

During the 1920s and 1930s the site continued to evolve with the addition of another cinema on the corner of Sturt Street and City Road.  Opposite, on City Road, was the Glaciarium ice skating rink which was also used to show films during the summer months.  Around the corner, overlooking shady Snowden Gardens, was the Snowden picture theatre, later the Playhouse, then the Garrick, best remembered as the home of Gregan McMahon’s busy repertory company.  Here, in a 1922 production, an aspiring 16-year-old architect named Roy Grounds (later architect of Arts Centre Melbourne) played the part of a boy scout.

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Roller skates found when the site was excavated to build Arts Centre Melbourne. The skates were acquired by the Performing Arts Collection in 1977. Programme for The Glaciarium, 1929.

During the Second World War the Green Mill was renamed the Forty Club and then the Trocadero and was a popular rendezvous for servicemen and their partners. In 1946 the Melbourne South Land Act was passed designating the Wirths’ Park site for the development of a “cultural centre” which would eventually include the National Gallery of Victoria, the Melbourne Concert Hall (Hamer Hall) and the Theatres Building.

Wirths’ Circus survived the Depression and the World War II but in 1953 Wirths’ Olympia was destroyed by fire leaving a circus-shaped hole in the heart of all Melburnians.

The Girls Who Stayed at Home

‘The Girls Who Stayed at Home’ was a Melbourne based singing and dancing troupe who gave concerts and toured extensively to raise money for the war effort in WW1.  They were active between 1915-1918 and raised over £12,800. This collection has only recently been catalogued and made accessible for research.

The Girls
Programme for concert by The Girls Who Stayed at Home, The Playhouse, 11-12 September 1918. Gift of Mr Terry Wills Cooke, 1990. Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection

It was truly wonderful to see it being used in academic research, by a student who had not otherwise visited Arts Centre Melbourne. History honours student, Michael Tran accessed ‘The Girls Who Stayed at Home’ collection this week. He had never visited Hamer Hall and was wide-eyed to learn of the Research Service here at Arts Centre Melbourne having discovered ‘the girls’ in newspaper articles via Trove.

Although some of  ‘The Girls who stayed at Home’ are not at home, being on tour with the ‘Theatres of War’ exhibition, Michael said he had the most productive research day he’s had in a while.