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Archives In Brief 36 - Theatres and public halls

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A brief overview of the major sources held by State Records that relate to the administration of theatres and public halls in NSW. Other records may be identified in Archives Investigator.


In 1789 a dozen convicts presented a play in Sydney for the Governor and his officers to celebrate the King's birthday.

Albert Hall, CanberraThis play, The Recruiting Officer a comedy written by George Farquhar, was possibly the first performed in the colony. A small playhouse was built in 1796 in what is now Bligh Street, Sydney. In 1800 Robert Sidaway (who opened the Bligh Street establishment) presented Shakespeare and other contemporary English pieces.

In September 1828 An Act for Regulating Places of Public Exhibition and Entertainment allowed for copies of plays to be submitted to the Colonial Secretary for approval prior to being performed. The thirty-one plays that were retained by the Colonial Secretary are listed on page 293 of the interim Guide to the Colonial Secretary's Correspondence. This regulating power was extended to cover cinematographic films under the Theatres and Public Halls Act 1908.

Full-time professional theatres were gradually established in all Australian colonies between 1830-50. The discovery of gold in the 1850s, and the consequent increase in both population and wealth, proved to be the key factor in the transformation of Australian theatre from its somewhat amateurish beginnings into a mature and prosperous profession.

A select list of sources

Board of Fire Commissioners

NRS 479, Correspondence relating to inspections of Theatres and Public halls, 1928-48 [20/14892-913]

NRS 490, Inspections of Theatres and Public Halls country towns and districts, 1922-58 [20/14914-87]

NRS 491, Inspections of Theatre and Public Halls — Metropolitan area, 1925-53 [20/14988-15024]

Colonial Secretary

NRS 1059, Registers of licences granted, 1829-1863 [4/1710, 4/5784]
Reel 2231
Information on the licensing of many theatres in New South Wales (which included Port Phillip to 1850) may be found in NRS 905, Colonial Secretary; Letters received, 1826+.

NRS 1307, Index to registers — Theatres and Public Halls Act of 1908, 1916 [4/7779]

NRS 1308, Maps of Sydney and Environs showing sites and proposed sites of Theatres and Drive-in Theatres, n.d. [Maps 18878-83, 19057-66]

NRS 1309, Theatres and Public Halls Branch: Minutes of the Committee reviewing regulation under the Theatres and Public Halls Act, 1966-75 [11/3375-76]

NRS 15318, Files relating to licences for theatres and public halls, 1895-1982
This series relates to licence applications and renewals for theatres and public halls.

NRS 906, Special Bundles
* Theatres and Public Halls Act 1908 — regulations, 1908-34 [5/5417]
* Licensing of the Palladium (later known as the Strand Picture Theatre), 1914-21 [2/8096.2]
* Review of regulations under the Theatres and Public Halls Act, 1928-67 [12/4190.1 pt]
* Licensing of the Globe Picture Theatre, 1920-25 [2/8096.5]
* Cinematographic Films Act: Theatres and Public Halls Act, 1933-70 [12/4193.1]
* Children's Matinees, 1943-74 [12/4191]
* Seating arrangements in theatres, 1953-56 [12/4190.1 pt]
* Panic lighting in theatres and public halls 1953-67 [12/4190.1 pt]
* Theatres and Film Commission files, 1968-81 [12/4144.2-4154]
* Amendment of Theatres and Public Halls (Censorship of Films) Regulations, 1971-78 [12/4196.3]

Theatres and Films Commission

NRS 14082, Subject card index to license applications, 1939-77

Inquiry into the Film Industry in New South Wales

NRS 1547, Transcripts of evidence, c.29 Dec 1933-by 26 Jul 1934
Further lists at [7/6001-02].

Further research

Researchers conducting further research into this topic should refer to Archives Investigator for records of the

Researchers should also consult the Index to Colonial Secretary's Correspondence, 1788-1825.

Details of performances at theatres and public halls may be found in the National Library of Australia's Trove Newspapers and on the AusStage website.

Researchers should consult the Register of Access Directions to confirm the public availability of records. State Records' staff can advise you on the availability of records if they are not listed on the register.

© State of New South Wales through the State Records Authority, 2003.
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