Legislative Council: Wednesday, October 18, 2023


Adelaide Festival Centre

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. J.S. Lee:

That this council—

1. Notes that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Adelaide Festival Centre, Australia's first major capital city arts venue, known as the heart of the arts in this Festival State;

2. Commends the Adelaide Festival Centre management and staff, board members, performing artists and all who have supported the centre with their philanthropic endeavours, their volunteer efforts, their labour and creativity, and their patronage over the last 50 years; and

3. Recognises the extraordinary ongoing economic, educational, cultural and arts tourism contribution made by the Adelaide Festival Centre and its associated entities and activities over the last 50 years, today and into the future.

(Continued from 30 August 2023.)

The Hon. F. PANGALLO (17:27): I thank the member for this motion to celebrate 50 years of the Adelaide Festival Centre and surrounds. Coincidentally, it is the 50th anniversary of the iconic Sydney Opera House, which took seven years to finish amid lots of controversy. That was not the case here with our centre, a project fulfilled by Premier Don Dunstan, a staunch supporter of the arts in this state.

The centre, of course, was built after the demolition of the Adelaide city baths. For its day, the futuristic, geometric design was quite a surprise for a staid city of churches like Adelaide, but it emboldened our reputation as the Festival State, where we have enjoyed the Festival of Arts since the early 1960s.

I was a young cadet journalist at The News while the centre was being completed and as the afternoon paper's TV writer, I was lucky enough to be invited as part of the audience for one of the theatre's lead-up events to iron out any teething problems before the official razzle-dazzle opening where most of the elite establishment, the who's who of Adelaide society, were invited. This was a must-have ticket. As for us plebs from the suburbs, to get a seat in the amazing theatre to see the live broadcast of Ernie Sigley's Adelaide Tonight was like winning a bingo ticket.

I do recall the immense enthusiasm of 2,000-odd ordinary South Australians dressing up to the nines to be part of the excitement. It lived up—and more—to our expectations. Multiple Logie award winning Ernie was a great compere, albeit a rather modest singer. The show was broadcast live on NWS9 and included all the regulars, including Ian Fairweather, Kevin Crease and the incomparable Anne Wills, who can sing. I am scratching my head, but I reckon our own acclaimed baritone, Thomas Edmonds, also performed. It was a rollicking good night and everything seemed to go smoothly in the hands of the producer/director, Ron Christie, although we do not know if anything did go on behind the scenes.

The Festival Theatre established itself quite quickly as the hub of cultural activity in Adelaide and attracted many artists, actors and big stage musicals. I have been fortunate to have seen many of those productions, including spectacular operas, performers and musicians I admired, seated in those comfortable seats. I have also shot stories there as a TV journalist and been backstage to see how it all worked.

The centre was not without its controversy. One incident that comes to mind was in 1977 when the Queen was invited to open the new Hajek Plaza, which has since been demolished. It attracted a huge crowd of onlookers as well as invited VIPs. One long-haired guest made himself quite unwelcome for disrupting the ceremony after staging a protest by running across the plaza waving a flag. After all, the 1970s was the era of protests.

As he ran across the plaza, police, caught by surprise, quickly pounced on him and took him to the lock-up. He was released the following day without charge. Although it caused great concern at the time because of the presence of royalty, it later created some amusement for the sheer cheek he had shown. I do not think he would mind me naming him here today as we look back on it as part of the centre's unique history. That long-haired rebel with a cause was none other than the member for Giles, Eddie Hughes.

I have another experience to share. During my time as a South Australian bureau chief for TV Week magazine, I had the pleasure of chaperoning Hollywood TV and film star Pernell Roberts on a visit to Adelaide to promote his new TV show, Trapper John, M.D., which was a spin-off from the hugely popular M*A*S*H show. Mr Roberts was also one of the stars of the popular Bonanza TV western. A wine aficionado, we had arranged for a visit to the Barossa Valley to sample some of our finest reds and a sumptuous lunch. It turned out to be a very long and boisterous lunch.

An honourable member interjecting:

The Hon. F. PANGALLO: I am getting to that. However, Pernell told me he was in a rush to get back to Adelaide because he did not want to miss the legendary mime artist, Marcel Marceau, performing that night at the Festival Theatre. I accompanied him to the show and we had front-row seats. When the show started, you could hear a pin drop as Marcel entertained us with his silent artistry of mime, that is, until loud snoring erupted right alongside me. Pernell had fallen asleep, much to the amusement of the star on stage.

Of course, being a mime artist, he could not exactly yell to Pernell to wake up and be quiet. That would have spoiled his entire act. However, with that touch of brilliance and improvisation, Marcel stared and pointed at me, then made an action with his elbow for me to stir Pernell from his slumber, which I gently did, and he came back to life. Those around us all thought it was part of the act.

This centre is a treasure for all South Australians, and we are thankful that successive governments have spent considerable amounts of money to refurbish it and rebuild areas that had been affected by insidious and damaging concrete cancer. We have a Festival Theatre, along with its adjoining theatre and amphitheatre, which will serve our community for generations. I commend the member's motion.

The Hon. R.B. MARTIN (17:34): I rise in support of this worthy motion. Members should rightly take a cross-partisan pleasure in celebrating this golden anniversary milestone for the institution that is the emblem of Adelaide's globally recognised arts landscape. The contribution of the Hon. Jing Lee in putting this motion to the council did a thorough job of paying tribute to the present day Festival Centre, and I echo her sentiments in relation to recognising the contribution of the Adelaide Festival Centre CEO, Douglas Gautier AM; the Adelaide Festival Centre Trust and its Chair, the Hon. Hieu Van Le; and the centre's board members, its management and all of its staff.

I also recognise the thousands of people, both within our state and outside of it, who have contributed crucial support through performance, through philanthropy, through volunteering their time, effort and creative expertise as well as through loyal patronage of the Adelaide Festival Centre's performances, programs, exhibitions and events across five decades.

The Festival Centre today is the proud result of well more than 50 years of broad collaborative efforts on behalf of so many good South Australians and many friends of the state over the decades to conceive, create, improve and maintain the centre to the high standard it now offers, from the building itself to all that happens within it.

I would like to focus my remarks on the pivotal and essential contribution that Don Dunstan made as Premier to the creation of the Adelaide Festival Centre. It is one of the most widely recognised physical monuments to his legacy, with the Dunstan Playhouse bearing his name in tribute, while the entire complex bears his essence in remembrance of his role as South Australia's visionary and unfailing champion of the arts.

The Festival Centre was far from a sole Dunstan effort in its concept, and it is certainly true that the idea of a Riverbank single-venue festival hall as well as the early planning began under Premier Steele Hall. The fact of the idea having enjoyed early and enthusiastic public support is a testament to its merit.

Don Dunstan had a vision for a more extensive arts complex relative to initial plans for a single concert hall, and when he came to office in 1970 the plans for the Adelaide Festival Centre evolved into the interconnected set of venues that now stand. Once the design, led by architects John Morphett and Colin Hassell, was approved, work on the nation's first multipurpose arts centre began in 1970. All three stages took 10 years to complete.

The Festival Theatre was completed in 1973, notably within its budget of $10 million. On 2 June 1973, which was a Saturday, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam officially open the Festival Theatre, and its first performance was held that night.

It is great to see a recent announcement that the Festival Centre will present a series of free public conversations as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations: the Don Dunstan Lectures, exploring the influence of the arts in broader culture. The first, presented by Her Excellency the Hon. Frances Adamson, Governor of South Australia, on 28 November, will explore the role of cultural diplomacy and the value of the arts to society.

The second lecture, presented by former Premier the Hon. Mike Rann, will focus on Don Dunstan's creative legacy in film, screen and the arts more broadly and will be held on 14 December. While the lecture series is free of cost, registration is required to reserve a seat, so I encourage members to see to that if they wish to attend.

Local writer and columnist Brian Matthews, honorary professor at Flinders and a Don Dunstan enthusiast, recalls an endearing Dunstan anecdote. In Eureka Street he wrote in 2013 of a play he once staged in the Pioneer Women's Memorial Garden:

Towards the end of the 1970s I became a member of the Adelaide Writers Week Committee. It had been the custom in previous years to have a commemorative session on an Australian writer…I got the job for Writers Week 1980.

I decided to stage a kind of play for voices—a couple of critics, a poet, a narrator and two actors…the narrator…[was] an important role requiring someone with a fine voice, good timing, impeccable presence. With an insouciance that still embarrasses me when I look back, I asked Don Dunstan himself. He…said yes.

So we did it and it was a hit.

I had arranged lunch for the cast in the Festival Centre restaurant when the show was over and I walked across with Dunstan. As we approached the splendid building, its domes and contours glowing in the bright autumnal sun, he stopped, waved an arm to encompass the whole scene and said, with an ironic grin, 'I did that.'

Don Dunstan was not in all things known for his humility, but in all that he felt proud of achieving I submit that he amply earned his bragging rights. The Adelaide Festival Centre is an enduring icon of the arts in our state, and we are fortunate to have the opportunity to celebrate its landmark 50th year. I would like to again acknowledge every person who has contributed to its continued success over the past five decades and beyond. I thank the Hon. Jing Lee for moving this motion, and I commend it.

The Hon. J.S. LEE (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (17:39): I would like to thank the Hon. Frank Pangallo and the Hon. Reggie Martin for their wonderful contributions. Many interesting stories and treasured memories have been shared by the members. I would like to thank them for their support in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Adelaide Festival Centre. With those remarks, I commend the motion.

Motion carried.