Sunday, 17 May 2015

Townsville's Cultural Coming of Age - The Civic Theatre

The idea for a cultural precinct for Townsville was first raised almost forty years ago, when the City Council built the Civic Theatre at Reid Park.
The vision for a cultural complex alongside the Civic Theatre, first put forward 40 years ago, that was never built.
Photo: Trisha Fielding.

The Council hoped to develop a facility alongside the theatre that within just ten years would include a large restaurant, coffee shop, cocktail lounge, rehearsal rooms, teaching studios, meeting rooms and theatre workshops.

Although the ambitious plan never came to fruition, when the Civic Theatre opened on 31 March 1978, it was seen as a mark of Townsville’s cultural coming of age. Widely considered to be one of the most advanced, versatile and best equipped theatres in Australia, city leaders dubbed it the “People’s Theatre”.

The Townsville City Council’s City Architect, Mr Nigel Daniels was appointed in April 1973 to design the theatre and research visits were made to other theatres in capital cities and provincial centres in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and the ACT.  In October that same year, the site at Boundary Street, adjacent to Ross Creek, was selected.
Alderman Sheila Keeffe addressing visitors during construction of the Civic Theatre, 1977.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

It was November 1975 before tenders were called, and in February the following year, the quote of just over $2.9 million from John Holland Constructions Pty Ltd was accepted. Overall, the whole project - including consultants’ fees, preparation of the site, landscaping and provision of car parking facilities – cost $4.5 million.

Daniels’ theatre design could seat 1,066 people when seats were placed over the orchestra pit, or 1,004 if the pit was in use.  At the time it was a truly modern, and compact design, with no dress circle or gallery, and no aisles either. Daniels’ other design work included the Long Tan Memorial Swimming Pool and the Flinders Mall.

It was hoped that the Civic Theatre would create larger audiences, better presentation standards and greater opportunities for local writers, directors, actors, singers, dancers and musicians. 

With those goals in mind, the theatre was built to satisfy presentation needs in two specific fields.  First, as a training and performing centre for local groups to present drama, ballet, pop, choral and classical music concerts and band shows; and second, as a top venue for national and world class professional companies touring from the capital cities and overseas.
Civic Theatre, Townsville.
Photo:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection. 

But the theatre also represented a milestone for Townsville - the moment where Townsville’s cultural life would no longer be stunted by its isolation from the capital cities with larger facilities.

On the day of its opening, the Townsville Daily Bulletin reported that, “Local people and visitors, with some justification, see the Civic Theatre as a further symbol of Townsville’s growing status as one of the most rapidly developing and progressive provincial cities in Australia.”

Proof of the new theatre’s potential popularity was obvious on opening night, when Brian May and the Melbourne Show Band played to a full house.

The Bulletin reported that, “Townsville people, with a reputation for being conservative with their applause went wild for the Showband and clapped like they rarely have before.”

Townsville Mayor Alderman Perc Tucker said of the Civic Theatre, “It is pleasing to realise that it will be a source of enjoyment, pleasure and pride, not only for Townsville people at this time, but also for generations of citizens in the years to come.”


  1. I remember the construction of the Civic Theatre being a student at Town High at the time. I can't imagine anyone doing site tours of any construction site these days ~ even with hard hats.

  2. Hi Carol, I think it was just a tour for city dignitaries, it was probably very close to being opened. It's funny to see those seats still covered in plastic. I think they've still got the same seats!