The Final Round at the House of Stoush

There are pillars in our lives. Structures that we can latch on to for surety and safety. It goes without saying that family and friends are foremost among these bearings of comfort. But there are also physical markers, tangible objects, to which we cling subconsciously to reassure ourselves that our lives are on an even keel. We may have only had the slightest association with such monuments, but their familiarity is heartening nonetheless. And of course, it is not merely the physical structure which is important, but also the memories contained within.

 

Having lived my entire adult life in Williamstown, I have borne witness to countless historic buildings and old pubs disappearing over the years in the name of progress – many converted into apartments, subsequently sold to people desiring an historic area with old buildings and pubs. The irony is inescapable.

 

But at what cost? I have known for a long period of time now that there is a tiny part of me that dies just a little whenever one of these familiar structures is removed. Surely I am not the only one? It is our heritage, our past, our memories. All irreplaceable.

 

And so it will be when the bulldozers move in to flatten Festival Hall to prepare the land on which it sits for the construction of…more apartments. Any live music fan worth his or her salt will have sweated through a gig there. And that live music fan will no doubt hold an ambivalent relationship with a venue that can be at once soulless yet intimate, overbearing yet simple and informal. I will be honest. It is not my favourite venue – but, for me, the memories it holds are many.

 

My first ever ‘real’ gig was at Festival Hall. As a 15 year-old in 1981 I saw Dire Straits; Mark Knopfler had the crowd eating from the palm of his hand. Paul Kelly and the Dots, the support act, were less enthusiastically received, if my memory serves me correctly. Next was Cold Chisel – with Barnesy necking a bottle of liquor on stage – and then came many others memorable, and many others not so…REM, George Thorogood and the Destroyers (the air in the hall thick with weed), UB40, Dropkick Murphys. And of course the Pogues, with Shane Macgowan in his bombastic pomp in 1988, and then again in 2012 when two of my sons accompanied me.

 

It is not only the music…the “House of Stoush” has hosted thousands of boxing and wrestling matches down the years, some of which I can still recall watching on the television in the lounge room as a boy. Which Melburnian of a certain age cannot real off the famous names of the men who graced the ring – and Jack Little’s famous call to arms “This Saturday night at Festival Hall…be there!!!”

 

Festival Hall has stood on Dudley Street for over a century. It is part of this city’s cultural history. And, for better or worse, it is part of my history, and my family’s history, too: my mother and father saw the Beatles at Festival Hall in 1964, a year before I was born. I have no quibble with the vendors, for who can begrudge the owners of an asset for attempting to legally maximise their return? Then there is the issue of an ever-decreasing number of “medium sized” live venues – in recent times the Metro and the Palace have been lost. Surely, not every smaller concert can be held at Hisense Arena (a venue specifically referenced by the owners as an impediment to Festival Hall’s viability)?

 

All the same, the whole situation cannot but leave a slightly bitter taste in the mouth…for in Melbourne, in this day and age, it often seems like no plot of land is so small, no icon too crucial, no piece of our heritage too important that apartments cannot be erected upon its envelope.

 

 

 

 

About Darren Dawson

Always North.

Comments

  1. John Butler says:

    I feel you on this one, Smoke.

    I don’t think Festival Hall has ever been anyone’s favourite venue. It’s long been a dump, but a dump that has hosted many memorable moments. It survived because it filled an important gap in the ecosystem of live venues in a very music oriented town.

    Like you, I wonder if the economics of Hisense really match up as an alternative. I suppose we’re about to find out.

    To your list, I’d also add Iggy, Faith No More, The Pixies, The Ramones, various Nick Cave shows, The Oils, The Easybeats reformation, Robert Cray, BB King, The Black Crowes….I could go on. And on.

  2. Jennifer Muirden says:

    Terrifically topical piece, Smokie. I totally concur with all the thoughts you expressed and yet was surprised that I did not attend any of those same concerts at Festival Hall.

    While I never attended any of the boxing stoushes, I certainly enjoyed many a music concert there over the years. Standouts for me were Billy Idol during his Whiplash Smile tour in 1987, Iggy Pop during his Instinct Australian Tour in 1989, Garbage and Sex Pistols (who were almost upstaged by impressive support group Skunk Anasie) in 1996.

  3. The last time I was there was for Patti Smith’s valedictory gig with Courtney Barnett. A good way to end. My first ever concert, Don Maclean, alone on stage with a chair and his guitar. Awesome. In between, Black Sabbath, Queen, Sports, Graham Parker and the Rumour and even Meatloaf!

    It will be ‘missed’. Perhaps there will be the ocasional whiff of blood, sweat and feedback or the luck apartment dwellers of the future.

  4. Kasey Symons says:

    Oasis, Plus 44 with Unwritten Law, Alexisonfire and Pheonix were my memories of the sweat box. Always uncomfortable, sticky and difficult to get a drink – always memorable. I will miss it.

    I just hope that they actually do something with it rather than the now empty Palace. It breaks my heart every time I go past it on the 96 on my way home and see it all boarded up.

  5. Spot on Smoke. Heritage is getting bulldozed. Progress apparently, so more people can squish into jail cells called apartments.

    Festival Hall for me will always be more about the boxing. Despite the championship bouts there is a very long history of magnificent 12 rounders under the Festival Hall roof. Outstanding athletes and tough characters. There would be some terrific stories to be told. My old man took a lot of great boxing stories with him when he went in 2016.

  6. Colin Ritchie says:

    Any big act touring Oz played Festival Hall before the advent of the more appropriate venues we have today. I was fortunate to see so many great acts there; Kinks, Hollies, Beach Boys, Neil Young, Little Feat, Bee Gees, Chicago ( when they were good!), early Eagles, Lou Reed, Eric Clapton, Three Dog Night, Guess Who, and many, many more.
    In 1964, a fellow student from 2D (Year 8) at Colac High School saw The Beatles there. Boy, were we envious!
    Dad took my brother and me to the wrestling there once. Incredible scenes, the “goodie”, the Golden Greek ( can’t remember the rest of his name!) was beaten up by a “baddie”, Killer Kowalski or Skull Murphy or one of that ilk, and the largely Greek crowd went berserk. Memorable stuff! Can’t see that sort of entertainment happening anywhere else except for a Festival Hall!

  7. I live in Williamstown also Smokie and despair at the loss of our beautiful old buildings, are you aware that the Rose (aka The Broken Nose) in Ferguson St & The Prince Albert in Douglas Parade are earmarked for conversion to apartments? And don’t get me started on the Oriental and the development of the old woollen mill & nugget factory sites. The Brittania, The Crown, The Bristol, the list goes on …..

  8. Luke Reynolds says:

    Well said Smokie. A venue that always seemed old and somewhat primitive to me, but an atmosphere about the place nonetheless. Plus you could usually work your way into a decent spot up the front to the side somewhere. My list wouldn’t be as long as many, but here’s my top 3 Festival Hall gigs-
    Cold Chisel a few years ago was a great gig, a glimpse at what it must have been like to see them in such a venue in the 1980’s. Madness in 2017 was absolutely superb, party like show in a room full of Poms. But the best one for me was The Living End in 2006, totally packed in like sardines, hot sweaty room fully captivated by a brilliant high energy rock show. Was so thrilled when this gig was released on DVD.

  9. Jennifer Muirden says:

    Luke, I’m SO very envious of you seeing Madness at Festival Hall last year!

    As a keen skeggie Ska girl groupie from back in the eighties and nineties, attending Ska Fests at Prince of Wales in Fitzroy Street in St Kilda, I would have loved to have experienced a night of nuttiness in The House of Fun.

    Livng End and Cold Chisel would both have also been great to see too!

  10. Re the Madness mentions above, I saw them at Festival H way back in the day. A surprisingly powerful gig, top flight. But the best was The Clash in 1980? 81? Their encore was Duane Eddy’s I Fought The Law (I think) That should have been on Carl Sagan’s gold disc heading into the cosmos. Then Patti last year was revelatory, whoever heard of a venerable punk. I’ll give her the last word. On the night she said, “This place is just a shitty, grungy old club isn’t it? I love it.”

  11. Thanks for your comments, one and all.
    JB – very true, Festival Hall was never anyone’s favourite, but I am sure are were plenty of favourite gigs.
    Jen – Billy Idol!!! That would have been an interesting one!
    Ken – the new apartment dwellers may well be visited by the ghost of Jack Little!
    Kasey – I was ambivalent about the Palace, but very sad to see it go.
    Dips – I regret not seeing any boxing stoushes at the Hall. My dad has a few good stories from when he was a taxi driver.
    Col – sounds like you have many fine memories of the place.
    Gerry – you just wonder what Williamstown will look like in another 10 or 20 years; I get the feeling that HBCC tries, but VCAT trumps them anyway.
    Luke – I have seen bits of that Living End dvd, are you in it? A little before your time, but the Chisels circa 81 had to be seen to be believed.
    Anson – the Clash??? Fark, I am jealous about that one.

  12. Can only hope that putting Worksafe in charge of monitoring Major Hazard Facilities may stop any major developments down the eastern end of Nelson Place. If Willi ends up like Port Melbourne with all the apartment developments around Bay St I’ll be off, back to the bush ….

  13. Luke Reynolds says:

    Smokie, not in the DVD as far as I’m aware. Really big packed in crowd that night, we were somewhere 2/3 of the way back from stage, slightly to the left. Truly wondeful gig. The Hunters & Collectors brass section came on to join TLE for a few songs, the roar when they were introduced was so loud, and it was so wonderful that they were acknowledged in that way.

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