From a desert, from the driest continent, from this land at the opposite end of the globe ...

... as remote as could be in the hockey world ...

... came one of the world’s oldest winter sports trophies.

A cool tradition, a dream of champions, and a story we owe it to our children to tell.

Legends of Australian Ice.

[ HISTORY ] Brisneyland on Ice

Homes of Australian Ice Hockey


Under the Victoria rail bridge in Brisbane are some quirky plaques commemorating past entertainment venues in the area like The Blue Moon Skating Rink and the original open-air Cremorne Theatre. The roller-skating craze came to Queensland at least as far back as the late 1800s, closely linked to the same rink promoters in Sydney and Melbourne. There was a long chain of roller rinks up north and memorable among them was the The Blue Moon at South Brisbane right next to the Victoria Bridge since 1937. These days the site is part of the South Bank promenade, but back then it was a smelly, dingy and dangerous part of town with the fish markets on the other side of the bridge, and adjacent wharves filling nearby pubs and streets with drunken wharfies. The Blue Moon hosted artistic skating (figures), speed titles and roller polo between teams from Brisbane, Rockhampton and Toowoomba and by 1954 roller polo teams such as the Blues, the Eagles and the Avengers fought it out for the state premiership. C H Flanagan was general manager and his daughter Ethel was Australian champion in 1938 and Queensland champion for a decade. Yet, despite this, or perhaps because of it, the Sunshine State was last to open an ice rink to the public, years after Australia's first rinks down south had celebrated a half century of ice sports and closed.



Queensland Championship Skating finalists Rene Picking and Noel Thomson at The Blue Moon rink at South Brisbane in late August, 1949. Image source: The Courier-Mail

THE FIRST SKATABLE ICE IN QUEENSLAND came courtesy of Melbourne-born British theatre impresario, Sir Oswald Stoll, the co-founder of Moss Empires in Britain. His Majesty's Theatre in Brisbane was not only the first ice stage in the state, but also the first ice rink, installed by the touring English ice ballet Switzerland that opened there on 25 November 1939. Stoll had been the first to develop a stage ice floor at his London Coliseum. Five engineers, five miles of piping and five tons of plant accompanied the show from England to Africa and Australia. When assembled, it produced an ice floor dimensioned 40ft by 60ft. Of course, the stage at His Majesty's was hardly a public rink, although a few socialites did entertain there assisted by the olympian and world champion star of the show, Megan Taylor. Rink parties had became a fashionable preference to garden parties.

It was no coincidence that the city's first purpose-built ice rink proposal had been promoted the year prior at a site occupied by a timber yard in Wickham St, Fortitude Valley, almost opposite the Municipal Baths. Named the Ice Palais, it was proposed to be 162ft long by 80ft wide and powered by the refrigeration plant of Trails Pty Ltd in Bridge Street. The first directors were Chas V L Mitchell, formerly City Valuer in Brisbane for the Commonwealth Government; Maldwyn D. Davies, owner of Davies Motor Company Ltd; and accountant Sir Byrne Hart who helped manage His Majesty's Theatre and its adjoining hotel in Queen Street. The property had been owned by his mother's family since before 1850 and leased to J C Williamson's for over 80 years.

It was expected to open by April 1939 but it had taken all that time to re-locate it to a council-owned wharf adjoining the Commercial Rowing Club's boathouse at North Quay. There, with the support of the city council planning committee, it was meant to extend 25ft over the river, but instead it quietly sank. In 1947, Les Cecil, secretary of the Queensland branch of the Pedal Cyclist's Association, tried unsuccessfully to generate interest in an indoor cycling track close to the city, with similar provision for a movable dance floor and an ice rink. At that time, Brisbane suffered an appalling shortage of sporting facilities, but no-one with money or power batted an eyelid.

Next up was Armand Perren, the world-renowned Swiss skater and producer-director of Ice Follie, which had commenced in Adelaide in mid-1950, then Sydney, before morphing into Hot Ice at His Majesty's in Brisbane in September 1953. Approached by local financiers, he became technical adviser and board member of a syndicate intent on developing "the finest sporting stadium and ice rink in Australia, with a minimum seating capacity for 4,000 people and an ice rink measuring 80ft by 180ft."

The Olympic-standard rink was intended to host ice hockey matches and the syndicate planned to equip it with a portable floor which at an hour's notice could be placed over the ice, transforming it into a playing surface suitable for professional tennis matches, boxing, wrestling, vaudeville, dancing, or concerts.

"We do not intend to do things by halves," said Perren. "The people who are financing this venture have great faith in the future of Brisbane. We will not spare expense." By this time, a rink had been tried in every state except Queensland, and Victoria and New South Wales had two. Over the next year Hot Ice toured Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne, and Perren's other shows followed in 1955, but the Brisbane proposal had simply evaporated without the syndicate spending a cent.

Perren did buy three race horses in Brisbane; Caenus, Gyropter and a yearling he named "Hot Ice" after his new show. He was well-known as a spectacular punter and Gyropoter cost him a fortune in bets. On the other hand, in March 1951, his Ice Follies show broke the Brisbane theatre's long distance run of 5.5 weeks previously held by Annie Get Your Gun.

Speculative ice rink ventures with lower budgets than this had just collapsed after their first few years in both Perth and Hobart. Sydney Glaciarium followed suit in 1956 after almost 50 years of operation, and Melbourne Glaciarium closed its doors the next year after a half-century. Australia lost four rinks in four capital cities that decade and Sydney had no ice until the open-air rink at Prince Alfred Park opened in 1959 along with yet another boutique rink, this time in Hindley Street, Adelaide.

After five seasons without ice in Sydney, and a lot of public pressure, a rink opened. Ken Kennedy, president of the AIHF, boasted "control of Prince Alfred Park was in the hands of the three amateur ice skating bodies in New South Wales, under license to the Council of the City of Sydney". [1] No-one mentioned the rink was built outdoors on Council land at ratepayer's expense, years after the total collapse of ice sports in New South Wales and two other states.


This tiny spark of good news from interstate seemed to usher in Queensland's first permanent ice rink in 1960. Mowbray Park Ice Rink was located diagonally opposite the Shaftson Hotel in Kangaroo Point, on the border with Mowbray Park (now East Brisbane ). It was near Mowbray Park which was the site of a tent city in the early-1930s during the Great Depression. Three surviving photos of the rink interior identify it as the former Mowbray Park Picture Theatre constructed on the corner of Shafston Avenue and Wellington Road. The site has been associated with film exhibition since 1912 as Mowbray Park Picture Palace, an open-air picture show.

The building in which the rink was located replaced the former bakehouse after 1935 and measured about 44 x 26m wide, plus stage. It could only accommodate an ice floor of one-half to two-thirds the minimum size of a competition ice hockey rink. Cinema audiences declined rapidly after television arrived in Brisbane in the late 1950s and suburban cinemas like the Mowbray Park struggled to continue screening films. Many closed and their buildings were converted to alternative uses or their sites redeveloped.

The rink was owned by Mr Messenger and was passed on to his son, Keith. It was managed by Brian Crossland and his wife Shirley who came to Australia in May, 1958. They were former members of the Blackpool Ice Dance Club at the Pleasure Beach Ice Drome in England. Terrance Wright was in charge of the maintenance of 500 pairs of skates and operated the tractor-drawn ice plough which leveled off the ice between sessions. Originally from Franborough in England, he was once the chauffeur to the owner of the Streatham Ice Rink and cold stores in London. Marian Green, a professional acrobatic skater from the Blackpool ice revue company, also skated at Mowbray Park. She met her husband David Worrall at the Blackpool rink when he was the company's lighting director.



Contemporary aerial photograph showing location of Brisbane's first ice skating rink. The site had formerly been the Mowbray Park Picture Palace since 1912.



[Top] Mowbray Picture Palace, Kangaroo Point, Brisbane, 234 Shafston Avenue, corner Shafston and Wellington. Cars in the foreground advertise the movie, 'Kissing Cup's Race' (1931). State Library Queensland. [Beneath] 1946 aerial view of the replacement cinema building, constructed after 1932. It was converted to Queensland's first ice rink in 1960. The rink was demolished for the widening of Shafston Avenue, the black outline being the current 5-storey apartment building.

Mowbray Park Ice Rink closed in 1967 after 7 skating seasons. But, importantly, it had enabled Queensland to ice its first ice hockey teams and compete nationally in the Brown Trophy. "Queensland too is booming," said Russ Carson, secretary of the Australian Ice Hockey Federation, in 1965. "The original capitation fees to Federation indicated a mere 34 members. This year the members participating has risen to 90." [1]

Brisbane's second rink was Kalinga Park at Toombul which opened in 1971 and later became the Toombul Roller Skating Rink. Queensland reached the grand final for the Brown Trophy for the first time in 1972.




References:

1. Australian Ice Hockey Carnival 1965, program, NSW Ice Hockey and Sports Club Ltd, Sydney.

2. Special thanks to Gordon Lockyer who provided the address for the rink and detail on its demolition to make way for the road widening. Gordon played hockey there for the Redwings from 1960 and was one of the initiators of the Panthers IHC c 1963. Gordon's father worked on the refrigeration unit when it was previously truck-mounted for use in touring ice shows.





Floods in South Brisbane 1890, showing a skating rink.



Blue Moon Skating Rink, 1938 adjacent Storey Bridge, Brisbane. State Libary of Queensland.



Sir Oswald Stoll (1866-1942), Melbourne-born British theatre impresario.





Megan Taylor assisting the Misses Rhodes and Forrest. On stage at Switzerland, His Majesty xs Theatre Brisbane, 1939. Courier-Mail Brisbane 5 Dec 1939:17



[Top] First Ice Skating Rink Proposal, Wickham St, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, 1938. [Beneath] Queensland Eights at the Commercial Rowing Club, North Quay, Brisbane, 1911. The rink proposal was relocated here, to project 25ft over the water.





Newspaper announcement of the Fortitude Valley rink proposal, c 1938.



Brian Crossland doing a stag jump at the Mowbray Park Skating Rink , East Brisbane, 1961. National Archives of Australia





Terrance Wright sells a pair of ice skates at the Mowbray Park Skating Rink in Brisbane, 1961. National Archives of Australia



Marian Green (Worrall) on skates at the Mowbray Park Skating Rink, East Brisbane, 1961. She and her husband David Worrall migrated here. David was a former professional acrobatic ice skater in London and at the Blackpool Icedrome Revues, where he became lighting director. National Archives of Australia

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