Friday, June 24, 2016

Before Melbourne Central



Situated on a busy Swanston Street corner, opposite the State library, there are few structures in our city as well known as Melbourne Central. With a distinctive glass cone on the roof, a train station underneath, a cinema, food court, and a full complement of retail, Melbourne Central is a busy, and heavily patronised, part of inner city life.

It's hard to imagine that corner without it.

But this is misleading.

For Melbourne Central was only opened in 1991, and so is a relative newcomer to our city. And, like many of the locations we examine on these pages, the area it was built on has already had a number of different incarnations.

Inner city Melbourne, 1860

The city blocks bordered by Swanston, Elizabeth, La Trobe and Lonsdale Streets were once the industrial heartland of the city.

This rectangular area was a rabbit warren of winding lanes, alleyways and cul-de-sacs, populated by small scale heavy industry; ironmongers, carpenters, metal workers, brick makers and coach builders, among many others. As the city boomed in the decades after the gold rush, the economic activity in this area skyrocketed.

Into this lively domain stepped James Coop.

Coop Shot Tower, 1891.

Born in England, from a hard scrabble family, James Coop arrived in Melbourne in 1855 looking to make his fortune. A plumber by trade, Coop found work in the thriving local construction industry, and was shortly after able to open his own business.  By 1868, he was based on Knox Place, in the midst of the bustling industrial neighbourhood described above.

By the 1880s, Coop's son Walter was running the business, and he decided to expand into shot making. Shot - effectively small balls of lead - was an important industry in the Victorian era; it was used not just as ammunition for firearms, but also as weight for scales, in pinball machines and mechanical games, and as ballast.

Over the years 1889-90, Walter Coop oversaw the construction of the 'Coop Shot Tower' above the family plumbing business. Made out of red brick, and standing 50 metres high, when constructed the shot tower was the tallest structure in the city.



The tower was the key component in the shot making process.

Lead bars would be transported by pulley to the top of the tower, and then melted down over a gas hotplate. When the metal was viscous, the shot maker would tip it through an iron sieve (picture to the left, above), from where it would fall, as droplets, into the tower itself. 

In free fall, the molten lead would accelerate and rotate, spinning itself into a perfect sphere. It would then land in a pool of water, which would cool and harden the metal instantly. The lead balls would then be retrieved (picture to the right, above), sorted by size, and sent for refinement and packaging.

This process could produce 25 million pellets of shot an hour, and by 1894 the Coops were selling 6 tonnes of the stuff a week.

The Shot Tower and La Trobe St, 1920s.

The Coop's kept the business in the family. 

Walter bequeathed control to his son Walter II, who in turn left the business to his sister Ellen, who assumed control in 1919 (a rare example of a woman managing a substantial business in early Melbourne). Ellen ran the company for two decades and, when she died in a tram accident in 1939, left the business to her son James.

But World War II would mark the beginning of the end of the shot industry.

By the 1940s, the hazardous side effects of lead had been well established, and industry had begun to transition to less toxic metals. And synthetic plastics, put into heavy use during the war for the first time, had begun to supplant some metals altogether.

In 1961, the Coop Shot Tower closed.

Circa 1960, shortly before the tower closed.,

Meanwhile, the industrial zone the shot tower stood over had been undergoing change as well.

As Melbourne had continued to grow and modernise, many of its old buildings, and small winding streets, were no longer adequate for modern use. Cramped, dark, and lacking in facilities and safety features, many of the buildings around the shot tower had fallen empty in the decades since the war.

Across the 1960s, the State Government began to acquire some of these properties, with a view to selling the entire block for a major redevelopment, at a future date.

But, in the short term, the Government needed the land for another reason.

Museum Station under construction, 1975.

In 1971, the State Liberal Government began work on the City Loop rail project. 

Prior to this, all of the trains in the city rail network had run from either Flinders Street Station, or Princes Bridge Station (now long gone, read more about this here). But directing all of the city's trains through two stations created a logistical nightmare; the number of trains that could be run each day was severely restricted, and there were frequent delays and bottlenecks.

The proposed solution was the City Loop; three new underground stations around the city, connected by a looped rail line, that would allow greater flexibility in the running of the train network.

One of the new stations was to be built on the corner of Swanston and La Trobe streets, across the road from the State Library. As the Victorian Museum was still based in the library building, the new station was to be called 'Museum'. The construction effort was so significant that La Trobe Street had to be redirected around part of it (see picture above).

Museum Station, when complete.

Museum Station was the first of the new City Loop stations to open, operations commencing January 24, 1981.

While construction of the train line had been ongoing, the State Government had continued to search for a large scale tenant for the remainder of the site. By 1983, this was up for open tender, and 28 consortiums submitted proposals, which a special committee was convened to assess.

The committee deliberated for two years, before finally announcing the successful scheme; a joint project between local firm Essington Limited, and Japanese development giant Kumagi Gumi. Budgeted at $1.2 billion over 5 years, the new property would be a multi-purpose building, known as Melbourne Central.

The initial plans would include a major shopping complex, an office tower and a luxury hotel (the hotel would eventually be abandoned, as costs rose).

Melbourne Central, under construction.

The construction of the complex was difficult, exacerbated by the shot tower, which had been granted heritage protection in the 1970s. The Government had made preservation of the tower one of the key conditions in the tender process, and now the winning consortium had to find a way to incorporate it into their design.

Their solution was innovative.

Chief architect Kisho Kurokawa designed a 20 storey high glass cone, to fit over the tower and so enclose it within the new building. The cone was, and remains, the largest structure of its type in the world.

The opening of the centre was heavily hyped:



By this time, the consortium had also found their inaugural major tenant: Daimaru.

The Daimaru store, Kobe, Japan.

Darimaru is a Japanese department store chain, one of the largest in South East Asia.

It was founded in 1717 as a dry goods store, in Kyoto, and continued in that line until the 20th century. In the 1920s Daimaru expanded into general, and then household goods, and rapidly increased its number of storefronts.

By 1960 it was the largest retailer in Japan, and had established shops in Thailand, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Daimaru Melbourne, exterior.

By the mid 1980s it was ready to expand again, and decided to open two shops in Australia. One would be on the main tourist strip on the Gold Coast, one of the major destinations for Japanese holiday makers, while the other would be in the newly minted Melbourne Central shopping complex.


Daimaru Melbourne, interior (note: Timezone!)

The shopping complex would open in 1991, and Daimaru was ambitious in their efforts.

Their Melbourne store would span 6 floors and include an extensive (and ultimately legendary) food court, alongside clothes, electronics and household goods. The store was open plan, and the vast central space around the shot tower would feature whimsical decorations; a colourful hot air balloon, a wooden bi-plane and a giant pocket watch, with a 12 foot gold chain.

Large crowds, 1992.

And Daimaru was hugely successful at first.

There were few overseas retail stores in Australia at the time, and so Daimaru offered something different, and mildly exotic. And the store's commitment to customer service, all floor staff were given extensive training in the company's methodology, was a hit with local consumers. 

The new store attracted 2 million visitors in its first three weeks.

A travel article form the Canberra Times gives a sense of what a visit was like:


The excitement around Daimaru reached a frenzy during the Boxing Day sales of 1992, when a local woman lost the tops of two fingers when they became trapped in a security door. The woman had been queued up to enter the shop, and had been pressing against the doors in her eagerness to get in.

Several other shoppers were also injured in the scramble to get bargains.



But the excitement did not last.

The retail market in Australia is very competitive and, in Melbourne, featured two entrenched players in Myer and David Jones, who aggressively responded to the newcomers bid to take their business.

Despite Daimaru's initial popularity, the company always struggled to make money from its Melbourne store. And, when that initial popularity began to wain, the losses began to add up.

Finally, in 2002, the company decided to call it quits.


Daimaru Melbourne closed 31 July, 2002.

Melbourne Central has continued on, with the ever changing roster of tenants that make up much of modern retail. 'Borders' came and went, and the exterior was recently revamped, to give it a more up to date look.

There is even a small reminder of the Daimaru era, above the entrance to Hoyts. You can still see two elevator platforms on the wall, now connected to nothing, at one time leading to Daimaru's top floor...


Friday, June 10, 2016

10 Classic Vintage Billboards


1918 

'Buy War Bonds'


In every sense, war is expensive. The financial costs alone are enormous, and the revenue raising required to conduct warfare is so large, and so controversial, that they stand behind many of the most famous social upheavals in history (English Civil War, French Revolution, among many others). 

In the 20th century, Western governments came up with a new idea; borrow the money to fight from the population, and pay it back with interest when the conflict was over. This was the 'War Bond' program, an ad for which is on the St Kilda bound tram above.


There were also 'Peace Bonds', which were issued by the Government after the end of the war... to help them pay back the money they had borrowed during the conflict. As we said, war is expensive.



1925

'Minties - The Universal Sweet'


The hard, white, cubic lollies known as Minties were first concocted in 1922, by James Stedman in Sydney. Initially sold under the 'Sweet Acres' brand - also the original home of Fantales, Jaffas and Milkshakes - the lollies' manufacturer has changed hands several times over the years; to Hoadley's (1968), Rowntree's (1971), and Nestle (1981). They are now sold as 'Allen's Minties', Nestle having bought out the Allen's brand in 1985. About 500 000  Minties are still sold each year.



1925

'Collegiate Super Bedding'



Have your old mattress cleaned, remade and delivered... on the same day!



1926

'Son of the Sheik'



Born in Castellaneta, Italy, in 1895, Rudolph Valentino came to America in 1913 to seek his fortune. Like many European migrants he landed first in New York, and spent several years working odd jobs and living below the poverty line. A proficient singer and dancer, in 1917 he joined a travelling opera troupe that played a series of engagements across America, heading west. Valentino eventually ended up in Hollywood, where he joined the fledgling silent film industry.


Handsome, dashing and mildly exotic, Valentino worked his way up from bit parts to leading man status. He found enduring fame, and a lifelong nickname, in the 1921 smash hit 'The Sheik,' where he played a rugged Arabian prince who is smitten with a tough minded American girl. The billboard above promotes the film's sequel, 'Son of the Sheik,' where Valentino reprised his role, and also played the character's son.

Sadly, the film would prove his last. Later in 1926, he was suddenly stricken with acute appendicitis, which progressed into peritonitis. Valentino died from the illness on August 23, 1926, aged only 31, and so triggered an extraordinary outpouring of public grief from his fans. An estimated 100 000 people lined the streets of New York for his funeral procession.



1935

'Australia's Tropic Garden - Queensland'



Nowadays, many of us in the southern states will head north for a holiday, or even just a long weekend, looking to escape the cold and wet in sunny Queensland. So it's interesting to note that this has been the case, and that the Queenslanders have actively sought our tourism business, for decades.



1940

'Make Life Easier - Install a Telephone'

'Bovril - Keeps You Up to Par'


The telephone came to Melbourne in 1880, only two years after the first exchange was established in the US. It caught on quickly; from 44 customers at its inception, there were 30 000 telephone numbers registered in the city by the turn of the century. 

After Federation in 1901, telephones were regulated by the newly created Postmaster General's Office (which also oversaw telegraph lines, as well as the actual post). The type of telephone in the ad above was known as a 'Candlestick', and had been in use since the 1890s. It was on its way out, however; in the 1940s phone manufacturers switched to a more modern design, with the mouth and earpiece combined in a handset.

The Postmaster General retained control of Australia's phone lines until 1975, when the Fraser Government created Telecom, the forerunner of Telstra.


First concocted in 1870 by John Lawson Johnston, Bovril is a beef extract initially designed as a war provision. It was requested by Napoleon III, ruler of France, who was struggling to adequately ration his troops fighting in the Franco Prussian war. It was, and is, manufactured in England, where it then caught on as a popular domestic product; most often dissolved in hot water and served as a kind of tea. It then found its way out into the British Empire, and it can still be found in many local supermarkets today, still in its distinctive bulbous bottle.



1955

'Fly B O A C'



The British Overseas Airways Corporation, or BOAC, was formed by the British Government in 1939, just as World War II was about to erupt. Throughout the war years, the airline continued to run passenger services between England and the rest of the world, often at great risk, and so kept a vital communication and transport link open.

By the time the war was over, BOAC had established itself as one of the world's largest airlines and so continued to operate. In May 1952, BOAC became the first passenger airline to use jet aircraft, when it began running services with the de Havilland 'Comet 1'. The Comets were removed from service only two years later after several crashes, later determined to be from the previously unknown issue of metal fatigue. 

BOAC was immortalised in 1970 when The Beatles made reference to them in the opening lyrics of 'Back in the USSR,' written by Paul Macartney:

'Flew in from Miami Beach, BOAC
Didn't get to bed last night.'

Two years later, the British Government established 'British Airways' as the new, state run airline, and BOAC was absorbed into the new entity, along with the smaller British European Airways (BEA).



1955

'Virginia Cigarettes'


'State Express' was an English tobacco brand, originally manufactured by the Ardath Tobacco Company. The story goes that Sir Albert Levy, a London based tobacco merchant, founded the brand after riding a high speed train in the US in 1893. The 'Empire State Express' hit a then record 180km per hour when running from New York to Buffalo, and Levy enjoyed the experience so much he trademarked the name 'State Express' on his return to the UK.

Ardath sold the worldwide rights to 'State Express' to British American Tobacco in 1925. BAT continued to use the brand, and marketed different numbered tobaccos, from 111 to 999, of different strengths and aimed at demographics. The 777 brand indicated above was a strong smoke, made from Turkish tobacco. 

Cigarette advertising on billboards was banned in Australia in 1992, having been banned from TV and radio since 1976.



1955

'Gentle Cleaning'


I have no other information about this one, other than it is very cute.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Television City

Bendigo Street, Richmond runs from behind the local Officeworks down to the busy hubbub of Swan Street.

The houses are mostly from the 60s and 70s, and look well kept. At the top of the street is a community garden, and about half way along, at number 22, a substantial red brick factory complex, which has been renovated and turned into apartments. There are a couple of upmarket cafes, and a swanky looking bar.

It's the very picture of successful, hip, inner city Melbourne.


It's hard to believe, visiting today, that this street has had other lives; that it was once part of the industrial heartland of the city, that pianos and baked beans were manufactured here. That, even more astoundingly, this street even has a glamorous past, and was a second home to many local celebrities. But some embossed lettering that remains on the re-modeled factory frontage confirms this unlikely history for us.  It reads: Television City.

But our story doesn't start in the age of television. Instead, it starts in  eastern Europe.

Hugo Wertheim
Hugo Wertheim was born in Lispenhausen, Germany, in 1854. The son of a successful businessman, who himself came from a merchant family, Wertheim came to Melbourne in 1875 to make his fortune. He took a junior position with his father's cousin, a wealthy manufacturer of sewing machines, and soon established himself as hard working and dedicated, with a flare for and promotion,

Saving money diligently, Wertheim was soon able to go into business for himself. He sold not only sewing machines, but other mechanical devices popular at the time; mangles, knitting machines, washing machines, bicycles, and even pianos.

Wertheim's business expanded rapidly, and by the 1880s he had established a presence in  Europe and America. He traveled extensively, and was well known for staging elaborate demonstrations at trade shows. He returned to Germany in 1885 to be married, and then settled with his wife in a magnificent 17 bedroom mansion - 'Gotha' - on the banks of the Yarra. 

Hugo Wertheim had become one of Melbourne's most successful, and well known, businessmen.

The Wertheim piano factory.

Pianos had, by this time, become one of Wertheim's most profitable products. Well before television, and before even radio had taken hold, the piano was a fixture in many Australian homes, as a source of light entertainment. But despite their popularity, no pianos were manufactured locally. They were all imported, mostly from Europe (Wertheim sourced his from his native Germany).

Around 1900, Wertheim decided to change this, and sent his son abroad to study piano manufacture. Meanwhile, he acquired a large industrial site in Richmond, and commissioned architect Nahum Barnet to design an extensive complex, with 50 000 feet of floor space. The factory included iron and brass foundries, wood curing facilities, and its own private power generators and tram stop. The project was significant enough that Prime Minister Alfred Deakin laid the foundation stone, in October 1908.

When the Wertheim piano factory opened it was one of the largest industrial sites in the city, capable of producing 2000 pianos a year. The distinctive chimney was large enough to be visible across the inner east.

The Wertheim chimney, viewed from Richmond racecourse (also long gone).

Accused during World War I of being a German spy, Wertheim denied the allegations and vigorously defended his reputation. Ultimately, the charges were found to be groundless. Hugo Wertheim died of hepatitis in his South Yarra home in July, 1919.

After his father's death, Hugo's son Herbert took over the business, and for much of the 1920's things continued much as before. But the great depression, and the growing popularity of the wireless, greatly reduced the local market for pianos. Herbert cut costs and reduced output, leasing space in the enormous factory to other manufacturers, but the writing was on the wall. The Wertheim piano factory closed in 1935, having produced 18 000 pianos over 27 years.

The site was taken over by food producer Heinz, who chose it as the location for their first Victorian factory.

Heinz takes over, 1935.

Founded by Henry John Heinz in Pennsylvania in 1869, by the 1930s Heinz was on its way to becoming one of the world's largest food companies. It's cheap products were particularly popular during the Great Depression and so, while many companies struggled in this time, Heinz was able to expand, opening a number of new factories across Australia and New Zealand.

They commenced business in Bendigo St in March 1935, with a staff of 75 producing Heinz Horseradish. Baked beans, tomato sauce and canned soup were added shortly afterwards, production increasing dramatically during World War II as the company became one of the Australian Army's major suppliers. By 1948, the Richmond factory was producing 13 million cans of food a year.

Heinz tomato sauce workers, Richmond factory, 1940s

Ultimately, the company was so successful that they outgrew the facility in Richmond. In 1955, Heinz needed more factory space to meet demand, and so decided to relocate to Dandenong, on the outskirts of the city 

The factory was sold again.

And, much like the 1930s, the new owners would again use the premises for a very different purpose.


Channel 9 comes to Melbourne.

The first television station to broadcast in Australia was TCN 9 in Sydney, in September 1956, followed by HSV 7 in Melbourne, in November. Both stations had scrambled to commence operation so they could show the Melbourne Olympic Games, which opened on November 22.

Other stations would rapidly follow.

Melbourne's second commercial station would be GTV 9, which was established in the former Wertheim/Heinz factory on Bendigo St. From the moment it was reincarnated as a TV studio, the former factory would be dubbed 'Television City,' partly due to the size of the premises, and partly in homage to CBS's famous studios in America, which went by the same name.

At 8 pm, on January 19, 1957 (coincidentally, the day the last issue of The Argus went on sale, before the paper closed) then Victorian governor Sir Dallas Brooks welcomed viewers to the new station... and advised that if they didn't like the programming, they could simply switch off. 

A new era in local entertainment had begun. And, almost immediately, it found its first big star.

Graham Kennedy
Smart, funny and quick witted, Graham Kennedy was also a larrikin, a rabble rouser and an iconoclast. And, perhaps most importantly, he didn't immediately look, or act, like a celebrity. While people were still getting used to the medium it helped, perhaps, that our first bona fide local TV star resembled the bloke next door.

From May 1957, Kennedy headed up 'In Melbourne Tonight' on Channel 9, a local variety show that mimicked the popular 'Tonight Show' in the US. With live music, interviews, and Kennedy's own witty take on the days events, the show was a smash, almost from it's inception. Initially backed by straight man Geoff Corke, in 1959 Channel 9 lured a young TV presenter named Bert Newton from Channel 7, and installed him as Kennedy's offsider.

Kennedy and Newton.
The chemistry between the two was immediate, and the popularity of the show surged still further. Recorded live four nights a week in the Bendigo St studios, IMT (as it became known) became the place to find out what was going on in the city that day, and what people were talking about. The cultural influence of the show was such that if firmly helped establish TV watching as a central part of everyday life, our first proper smash hit show.

You can watch an episode of IMT, from December 1961, here:


And as shows like IMT drove the popularity of TV, the GTV 9 Studios expanded as well.

By the 1960s, Bendigo St had its own recording studio, radio station, in house band and dance troop, the largest prop department in the southern hemisphere, and more than 2000 staff (IMT alone employed 300). More studio space was added, as the station's live output increased, and many thousands of locals made their way each week, to watch a live recording of the station's popular shows.

In Melbourne Tonight finished up in 1970, as Kennedy moved on to other projects, but live variety remained a key part of GTV 9's local production roster.

Daryl and Ozzie, early days.
In 1971, a nineteen year old named Daryl Somers moved from 'Cartoon Corner', to hosting his own kids variety show each Saturday morning. His initial co host was former Collingwood footballer Peter McKenna, but the station soon replaced him with a life size ostrich puppet, Ozzie Ostrich, operated by Ernie Carroll.

From these humble beginnings, 'Hey Hey' built an audience, that expanded far beyond children and into the wider mainstream. Somers proved himself a versatile performer, hosting not only 'Hey Hey' but his own talk show, game shows (including Family Feud), and even a live music show, 'Bandstand.'

'Hey Hey It's Saturday' moved into prime time on Saturday nights in 1984, and proved a ratings juggernaut. It's mix of live music and comedy, celebrity interviews and sketches was nothing new, but it was energetically performed, and had an appealing, madcap atmosphere, that proved enduringly popular. 'Hey Hey' would eventually run for 28 years, finishing up in 1999 (before returning briefly in 2009-10), and was one of the most popular shows in Australia across most of that time.

Don Lane with Robin Williams.
Don Lane was a moderately famous American singer, and occasional TV personality, who struck a chord with Australian audiences. He had guest hosted a number of local shows, when he was given his own talk show, 'Tonight with Don Lane', in Sydney, in 1965. The show was popular and ran for four years, before Lane returned to America to pursue his singing career.

But his popularity in Australia was such that he was able to be lured back.

In 1975 he returned to host a new talk show, 'The Don Lane Show', in Melbourne, now partnered by Graham Kennedy's old sidekick, Bert Newton. Recorded live at Bendigo St, the show was so popular that two episodes a week were produced, screening on Monday and Thursday nights. Similar to IMT, and Hey Hey, 'The Don Lane Show' took an already standard formula, celebrity interviews and chat, and added an irreverent spin, with proved very popular. The show's best ratings were among the highest recorded by any show in local history.

It was still popular in 1983 when the station ended its run, a victim of cost cutting rather than declining ratings.



Other iconic shows recorded at Bendigo St.
But to discuss IMT, and Hey Hey, and The Don Lane Show, and their famous hosts, is just to scratch the surface.

For five decades, the Channel 9 Studio in Richmond was home to any number of famous local programmes; variety shows, and kids shows and game shows and panel shows and sports shows. Not all of these programs were recorded live, but it was truly a golden age of live television, and the countless numbers that attended the red brick studio in Richmond to watch a show being taped, enjoyed a close up view of TV and local celebrity that is now quietly disappearing.


The dismantling process.

In 2010, Channel 9 management decided to leave Bendigo St, and relocate to a much smaller premise in Docklands. Then managing director Jeffrey Brown was unsentimental:

'We have been part of a great history at Richmond, but it is time to move on,' he said.

The high cost of running the giant site in Richmond was the primary reason for the move, but the network was also looking for a more up-to-date location, as TV prepared to enter a  new digital age. The nightly news, and 'A Current Affair' would be produced at the new Nine studios, everything else would be done off site, in independent studio space, another cost cutting measure,

Once the decision to move had been made, things advanced pretty quickly:

Channel 9's new HQ, Docklands.
The 9 network stopped using the Bendigo St studio in December 2010, and the site was sold in March of the following year. Local construction giant Lend Lease acquired the property, and developed it into an apartment complex, comprising 175 residences, a community centre and cafe/restaurant. The re-development took two years, with the first occupants moving in, in October 2013.

Three years later, and 22 Bendigo St seems well established in its fourth incarnation.

IN a restless city like Melbourne, it is impossible to tell it this will be its last.



Saturday, May 14, 2016

Prince at Bennett's Lane



On April 21, 2016, the musician known as Prince passed away. The exact cause and circumstances of his death are unknown at time of writing, although it has been widely reported that he was addicted to prescription painkillers, and that these may have played a part.

Prince toured Australia five times, and had been as popular and successful here as everywhere else. The outpouring of grief at his passing was public, and prolonged.

But rather than focus on his sad, premature demise, today we will revisit Prince's role in a famous piece of local music folklore. The occasions (yes, more than one), when the multi-millionaire, multi-platinum selling, pop megastar played secret shows at humble Bennett's Lane nightclub.

Flyer from Prince's first Australian tour; Sydney, 1992.
Prince first toured Australia in 1992, as part of the 'Diamonds and Pearls' world tour, which kicked off in Japan, and then ventured to a handful of European cities. The clamour to see Prince live locally was enormous; he had been one of the worlds most popular musicians since his album '1999' had been released in 1982, and a visit to Australia seemed long overdue

Backed by his new band, The New Power Generation, the tour focused mainly on tracks from the 'Diamonds and Pearls' album, including the eponymous title track, and hit single 'Cream'. An extraordinary six shows were sold out quickly at the Sydney Entertainment Centre, and five at Melbourne's Tennis Centre.


On stage in Australia, 1992.
The tour was a massive success, but it would be 11 years before Prince would return.

Souvenir tour book, 2003 Australian tour.
In 2003 the artist, though still popular, was no longer the chart topping phenomenon of a decade before. Displaced from the apex of the pop tree by a younger generation of stars, Prince responded with a shorter tour (2 arena shows in Melbourne and Sydney, and some smaller gigs) and a set list that played like a greatest hits collection.

The two shows in Melbourne were set for 21 and 22 October, at Rod Laver Arena.

Bennett's Lane Jazz Club.
Before the first of these Prince, who was known to enjoy playing secret shows in small venues from time to time, decided to find a local bandroom where he could play a warm up gig. He settled on Bennett's Lane, a well established local club just off Lonsdale Street, best known as a jazz venue. Exactly why he chose the venue is not known, although the club had attracted at least one big name before; Harry Connick junior had played warm up shows at the club several times on his own tours.

Not knowing anyone at the venue, Prince simply showed up late Sunday night and explained what he wanted:

While the show was never formally announced, and was only arranged the night before it happened, word still got out. By 8.30pm on Monday evening, 100 people were queuing outside Bennett's Lane, hoping to see the show or, at least, catch a glimpse of the star.

In the end, about 200 people paid $20 each to cram into the small club and watch Prince and his eight piece touring band:



It was a lengthy set, featuring classic tracks like 'Kiss' and 'When Doves Cry', that didn't finish until deep in to the small hours. Prince's subsequent arena shows were sold out, and the performances were well received.

Prince onstage at Rod Laver arena, 2012.
Another decade on, and Prince was back in town on the 'Welcome 2 Australia' tour, again playing two shows at Rod Laver arena. After the first of these, on May 14 2012, Prince again made his way to Bennett's Lane, this time looking for a place to wind down and relax after the high energy performance of his earlier set.

Second time round, the secret show didn't even start until 2am, with the club announcing the news on their Twitter feed:


You can also note the increase in ticket price compared to 2003, although the venue announced the following day that all of the profits had been donated to charity. 

The lateness of the hour also provided a different atmosphere to the previous surprise gig; a smaller, more relaxed crowd, with Prince and his band focusing on funk tracks, and free form jamming. Prince himself played the piano, and the drums, as well as singing.

Both secret gigs have attained legendary status, in the rich musical history of our city.

Prince on stage in 2016.
Prince returned one final time to Australia, bringing his 'Piano and Microphone' tour here in February this year. 

Now the raucous, high tempo pop and funk of his earlier hits had given way to a more intimate style, as Prince played  for the first time without a backing band. His choice of venues reflected the change in approach; instead of arenas he played the more elegant State Theatres in Melbourne and Sydney.

The tour was not without its bad reviews and difficult moments. Punters in Melbourne complained of a short set length (about 80 minutes) in light of sky high ticket prices. And the artist was obviously effected by the death of a former girlfriend, singer Denise Matthews, that was announced shortly before his first Melbourne show.

But his new approach and material was mostly well received, a fitting send off for an artist who had re-invented himself a number of times. Final word can, perhaps, go to Meg Evans, eyewitness at both of Melbourne's secret shows, and someone who saw Prince at close and intimate range: