Saturday, June 19, 2010

History: Sydney Stadium


 (Click on photographs to enlarge).

One of the advantages of getting older is the memories one has of events and places that these days are only moments in history. One such memory is that of the Sydney Stadium. Before the ANZ Stadium (or whatever it is called these days) there was the Sydney Entertainment Centre, and before that there was the Sydney Stadium, also known as The Tin Shed and The Old Tin Shed. I recall as a lad my father regularly taking the family to the Friday night wrestling at the Stadium, watching the likes of Killer Kowalski, Mark Lewin, Domini DeNucci, Skull Murphy, Tex McKenzie and Spiros Arion do battle.
"Never in the history of showbiz, in any major city anywhere in the whole wide world has there ever been anything like it for a big night venue -- whether it be a world championship boxing stoush, dwarf wrestling, roller derbies, religious revivals, pop and jazz concerts ... you name it. The Stadium ... was just something else. It was uniquely Oz. Uniquely Sydney. Nowhere else was there or could there have been a joint like the Old Tin Shed."

- John Byrell
Built in 1908 by boxing promoter Hugh MacIntosh, it was an open air stadium, the biggest in the world at the time, located at the corner of New South Head Road and Nield Avenue, Rushcutters Bay on a former Chinese market garden. Its first title fight took place on 24 August 1908 when Canadian World Heavyweight Champion Tommy Burns knocked out local boy Bill Squires. Not long after, on Boxing Day 1908, 20,000 spectators saw Jack Johnson defeat Burns, becoming the first black World Heavyweight Champion. A photograph of the fight and the Stadium spectators appears below. Note the stand at the right for filming. The fight was stopped in the 14th round by the police and Johnson won on a TKO. Some snippets of the fight can be seen at:

A longer film of the fight is at:

Burn’s demise begins at about the 8.30 mark but the stopping of the fight is not shown. When the police stopped the fight they also stopped the filming.

Those interested in Johnson’s subsequent career –
- the search for a Great White Hope to defeat him;
- the race riots and attempted lynchings following his defeat of James Jeffries;
- his conviction under the Mann Act for transporting a woman across State lines for an immoral purpose (even though when he did so there was no Mann Act);
- his imprisonment for a year and a day;
- his invention of a patented modified wrench whilst in prison;
- Congress’ 2009 petition to President Obama for a pardon
can read about it at:


 The Sydney Stadium was roofed in 1911. In 1912 MacIntosh transferred his interests to Reginald “Snowy” Baker who subsequently built stadiums in Melbourne and Brisbane, both named Festival Hall.

Sydney Stadium operated most nights of the week, primarily for boxing and wrestling bouts.

Note in the pic below the boxing and wrestling figures at either side of the word "Stadium".



From 1955 American expatriate entrepreneur Lee Gordon began using the Stadium for imported music acts and stars, including Johnny Ray and Frank Sinatra. Gordon also promoted local talents, originally as support acts for imported names and later in their own right – Johnny O’Keefe, Johnny Devlin, Col Joye.

According to Milesago: Australasian Music & Popular Culture (Venues) at:
In the late Fifties Gordon made his name with his legendary series of 'Big Show' concerts -- star-studded events headlined by big American names, with Australian acts supporting. Through these shows, Gordon almost single-handedly launched the first wave of rock in Australia, touring a host of groundbreaking rock'n'roll and R&B acts including Little Richard, The Everly Brothers, Bill Haley & The Comets, Duane Eddy, Eddie Cochrane, Johnny Cash, Jimmie Rodgers, Gene Vincent, Buddy Holly & The Crickets, LaVern Baker, Big Joe Turner and Chuck Berry.
There was never anything fancy about Sydney Stadium, as the local name, the Old Tin Shed, would indicate. It was roughly circular and seated about 12,000 on crude tiered wooden seats. I recall the sense of excitement in going there as a child, the lights, the atmosphere, the sense of anticipation (as a kid you think  the wrestling is real) as you went through the tunnels to the seats. I als recollect that no matter where you sat you could look through the timber rails that made up the seats, and the gaps, to the bare ground below the seats, sometimes quite a distance if you were in the nose bleed sections. I also remember that people simply dropped their papers, food containers etc to the bare ground underneath the tiered seats, as well as their cigarette butts. How they didn’t have a fire in that dire trap is unknown to me. The venue was built with an iron and wood frame and covered in corrugated iron, walls and roof.  It was unlined, uninsulated, no aircondtioning, and was cold in winter and hot in summer. Accoustics were poor and, once screaming started, made listening to lyrics difficult. The screaming at the 1964 Beatles concert was recorded at well over 100 decibels. A modern day loud, amplified rock concert is usually around the 115 decibel level.

The Stadium had a central stage or ring, depending on the nature of the event. The circular stage could be turned by hand so that all the speactors had a front view for a period. This rotation was done by srage hands pushing the stage to its new position in a circular motion, usually a quarter turn at a time.

According to Milesago:
Many performers nearly fell when the stage was rotated, as the motion was often very jerky. Bob Dylan reportedly had to ask one of his band to catch him, and The Small Faces incurred the stage hands' ire when lead singer Steve Marriott reportedly abused them -- in retaliation the stage was left in one position for most of their performance.
The Sydney Stadium's final concert presentation was The Four Tops, supported by The Flying Circus, on 1 June 1970.

In 1973 the Sydney Stadium was demolished to make way for the overhead section of the Eastern Suburbs Railway.

All that remains now are some photographs and a plaque.  And  memories. 

No comments:

Post a Comment