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Remembering Cloudland Ballroom

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Remembering Cloudland Ballroom

CHRIS CURRIE waltzes through the State Library of Queensland collections to relive memories of a much-loved venue.

At 4am on November 7, 1982, one of Brisbane’s most controversial demolition projects took place.

Despite a National Trust listing, public protests and a  lack of permits, Cloudland Ballroom was reduced to rubble in under an hour, marking the end of more than 40 years of dates, dances, music and memories made beneath the building’s colonnades.

The site of Cloudland was purchased in 1938 by self-described ‘international amusement designer, engineer and executive’ T.H. Eslick, with a view to creating a modern amusement park called Luna Park (named after the Melbourne venue of the same name). It would include a grand entertainment space based on California’s La Monica Ballroom (both projects designed and built by the enterprising Eslick).

Plagued by construction delays, union in-fighting, destruction of its uninsured funicular railway and various break-ins, Luna Park’s Cloudland Ballroom nonetheless opened its doors for the first time on Friday, August 2, 1940. As the spectre of war loomed, however, the crowds fell. By January 1941, the entire complex had closed, and T.H. Eslick all but disappeared.

It was wartime that gave the site its next life, when it was requisitioned by the US military from 1942-45, becoming ‘Camp Luna Park’. Despite some personnel regarding their location as “a magnificent, jerry-built, unsuccessful Coney Island”, the US military did, upon leaving, restore the distinctive spring-mounted flooring, repaint the interior, and return all pre-war furnishings to their rightful places.

In 1947, the site was purchased by two sisters, Mya Winters and Francis Roach, and reopened as Cloudland: a space reinvigorated through a lively program of music and dancing.

Through three owners and across three decades, Cloudland’s dancefloor, private alcoves and spacious galleries played host to every type of event – from debutante balls and state receptions to weekend markets and student exams.

One particularly interesting item held in State Library archives is an original Cloudland ‘telephone directory’ from the 1947 Post Office Ball. The short pamphlet lists the extensions of every Cloudland alcove, allowing potential partners to literally call on each other to dance.

Cloudland’s semi-circular bandstand played host to some of the largest names in entertainment over the next 30 years, including Buddy Holly, the Bee Gees, AC/DC, The Clash and the Go-Betweens. Despite its lauded history and generations of collective public fondness, Cloudland would not survive the turbulent social, economic and physical landscape of the Bjelke-Petersen era of Queensland politics.

The building was deemed a hazard and wiped from existence that fateful November morning in 1982, to make way for apartment buildings.

 If you have any significant material relating to Cloudland and would like to donate it to John Oxley Library, contact qldmemory@slq.qld.gov.au

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