Museum of Brisbane

Sunday Stories | Taking the Stage

Did you know that the first time The Rolling Stones toured Australia, they performed at Brisbane City Hall?

Sitting in the centre of City Hall is the Auditorium, a room purpose built for performances. Comprising over 900 square metres, the Auditorium is the single largest room in the building. City Hall’s stage, in the auditorium, has been taken up by many performers over the years.

Initially this space was known as the ‘Concert Hall’, or colloquially by performers as the ‘two-acre paddock’ due to its size. The circular space is flanked by large, fluted Corinthian columns, reminiscent of Rome’s Pantheon (a key inspiration for the design of the space originally).

Just above the vast floor space sits a tiered stage, home to the Father Henry Willis Organ and its thousands of pipes. This stage hosted musical performers including Shirley Bassey, the young Gibb brothers (The Bee Gees), Billy Thorpe, The Wiggles and of course The Rolling Stones, who performed in 1965 as a support act to Roy Orbison.

The stage was used for a different kind of performer in 1968, when the auditorium hosted the Miss Australia Pageant. Helen Newton was crowned as the winner, a Queensland woman from the Sunshine Coast.

In 1976 Billy Connolly (Sir William Connolly CBE) made his debut in Australia, with a performance on City Hall’s stage that didn’t go too well. The Scottish stand-up comedian’s use of profanity and unique sense of humour landed him in hot water with the conservative Brisbane crowd. His performance involved a great deal of booing and even some physical fighting, which left Billy remarking post-tour that he would “like to return to Brisbane in a Lancaster bomber loaded with horse manure”. City Hall’s stage has hosted many other comedians over the years and is now a favourite venue for the annual Brisbane Comedy Festival.

Australia’s premiere of Piano Battle, a musical duel between two internationally acclaimed pianists, took place on City Hall’s stage in 2019.  The same year, the new generation of The Wiggles performed to a young, raving crowd from City Hall’s stage, as part of their Wiggle Fun tour.

City Hall’s Auditorium plays host to all kinds of performances and celebrations, from trade fairs, conferences, Citizenship Ceremonies, and concerts.

If you would like to see the stage in person, and explore City Hall further, book in for one of our free, City Hall Heritage Tours here.

Image 1: Mick Jagger with The Rolling Stones Preforming on Stage in Brisbane City Hall – 1965, courtesy Brisbane City Council. Image 2: Concert inside the City Hall Brisbane, Queensland, 1949, courtesy State Library of Queensland. Image 3: City Hall viewed from the stage, Brisbane, 1931, courtesy State Library of Queenland.