A year or so ago I wrote how ice skating was one of my teenage pleasures. At the time I could find little about the origins of an ice rink that existed at Mowbray Park, South Brisbane in the 1960s. Those searches had left me unsatisfied so with today being Trove Tuesday it seemed only logical to have another trawl of Trove.
Brisbane is of course a sub-tropical city, so one might wonder when someone took on the challenge of building an ice rink. I personally knew of the Mowbray Park one which was definitely open in the 1960s, but when did it start and how long did it last? Thanks to Ice Skating Queensland I now know this rink closed in 1967.
Trove is silent on this rink other than a couple of photos here and here (copyright and reproduction rights apply) because of course the digitised papers don’t go that far forward. The images reveal that Brian Crossland, then a recent immigrant from Blackpool, was the manager of the rink in Brisbane while fellow English immigrant, Terrance Wright, maintained over 500 pairs of skates. That’s a lot of skates so it suggests they must have been doing a reasonable business while it lasted.
I did wonder if perhaps the Mowbray Park ice rink was built on the site of a former roller skating rink that had also been in Melbourne St, South Brisbane. It could be a pretty dodgy rink at times, with strips where the ice melted regularly –rather like skating on icy corrugated iron at times.
Had Brisbane ever had an ice rink before Mowbray Park I wondered? Trove was more helpful with this query revealing there had been grand plans for an Ice Palais in Wickham St, Fortitude Valley opposite McWhirters in 1938. Trove gave me the proposed building design (above), Council approval, and an advertisement. Sydney had its Glaciarium and Brisbane obviously thought it was time to get in on the fun (or more likely the profits).
So why was Brisbane suddenly so keen on ice skating? Turns out the whole country had gone ice-mad in response to the popularity of Sonja Henie (as per this larger Trove article). Sonja was a beautiful Norwegian ice skater turned movie star. It was interesting to see her skate in this YouTube video but also surprising to see the dependence on spins and relative absence of jumps, revealing just how much more athletic figure skating has become over the years.
With Brisbane’s Ice Palais scheduled to open in April 1939, it seemed logical that the rink might have been still around when my mother arrived from North Queensland a few years later. I gave her a call, and no, it wasn’t something she could recall either. I’d been pretty astonished to read about this proposed ice rink near my old stomping ground in the Valley where we shopped regularly. If it had survived it might have been there when I was a child, which it surely wasn’t. It’s possible that the sheer cost of such an ice rink meant its construction was delayed. From this story in The Courier Mail it’s clear to see that it was a very expensive investment.
The public were still keen to get out skating and a clue in The Courier Mail’s Answers to Correspondents column gives the next clue to the Palais. (17 February 1939)
Trawling Trove month by month through 1939, I could find no further evidence of this grand plan. What happened? Could they not raise sufficient funds? If so then the declaration of war in September 1939 would likely have hammered the final nail in their plans…there’d have been no capital investment money for frivolities like ice skating rinks or Palais.
Instead the focus seems to have turned to entertainment, as it sometimes does during war-time to keep the spirits up. And one of the promotional stories provides the first confirmation that the Palais had not (yet) been built.
Ice revues were popular and just as entertainment events like Disney on Ice have especially set-up ice rinks, so did these revues held at the old His/Her Majesty’s Theatre. I thought it was interesting that the revue was timed to coincide with the annual Ekka when all the country people were in town, thereby maximising the potential audience.
And so it seems Brisbane’s hopes for an ice rink, or Ice Palais, expired for another twenty years until the Mowbray Park rink seems to have opened. In the interim, there were two proposals to combine ice skating with other sporting facilities.
Then in 1953, there was a bid for a combined swimming pool and ice rink complex at Mt Gravatt. I’m reasonably sure this never went ahead but would be happy to be corrected if I’m wrong.
After the Mowbray Park rink closed in 1967, another rink opened in the north-eastern suburb of Toombul in 1971. I did know of this rink though I never skated there (these were my PNG years), but I had completely forgotten about it until reminded by Ice Skating Queensland. My recollection now is that many (all?) of the professionals at the later rink at Acacia Ridge came from there.
Perhaps it was thanks to improved technology that made it viable to open an Olympic standard rink in the sub-tropics with Iceworld at Acacia Ridge. We had not long returned from Papua New Guinea and we embraced this different and fun activity, making Iceworld our home away from home. It also has fond extended family memories as my cousin and his family joined us in our devotion to the sport. Our smallest bear spent lots of time as a toddler at the rink –she’d sit in her pram on the sidelines while I attended women’s classes, and as each woman reached that side of the rink they’d talk to her. And then there were the dawn training sessions with our older daughters until the constant recurrence of their ear infections meant we gave it up. Lots of happy memories!
As we found during a Brisbane visit, outdoor rink is set up in King George Square in June each year for their new Winter Festival. It seems to be proving very popular with lots of people having a ton of fun. (By the way, cold in Brisbane doesn’t mean much below 10C)
I still say if Jakarta, Singapore and Dubai can have indoor ice rinks, there’s no reason (other than that pesky money) why Darwin can’t! The fact that I’d probably break my neck these days is beside the point.
Isn’t it amazing how much you can learn about your home city from Trove? I picked up all sorts of clues about Brisbane’s roller skating rinks, but that’s a story for another Trove Tuesday.
Trove Tuesday is an innovative idea by Amy at Branches, Leaves and Pollen.