CREMORNE

(Memories of Sandgate recalled by John McCallum)

The present Cremorne Theatre in Brisbane’s Performing Arts Centre is the namesake of the well-known theatre which stood in Stanley Street, South Brisbane. Founded by John N. McCallum, the original Cremorne theatre was destroyed by fire in 1952. The visitor to the Esplanade at Sandgate will note a large rambling home with a cupola on its corner, and also named Cremorne.

Cremorne house at Sandgate

John McCallum, actor/producer son of John N. McCallum explains the relationship.

“I was born in March 1918 in the Brisbane suburb of New Farm – my parents had a home called Duddingstone in Brunswick Street. At this time my father was running the Cremorne Theatre at South Brisbane. He decided to build the house at Sandgate in about 1920/21 because he found it difficult to “unwind” after spending every night in the theatre. He thought the drive to Sandgate and the sea air might help him to sleep better – and that it would be a pleasant place for my younger brother (born 1919) and myself to grow up in – as it was.

“He had a faithful “handy man” at the theatre called Joe, and he and his wife, Annie, came to Sandgate to live in the house and to help my mother with entertaining (of which they did a lot) and to look after us. I remember John Fuller from New Zealand of the famous theatrical family (the founder of it) often came to stay as did a lot of other artists – Billy Moloney, Gus Bluett and his father, Dan, Maud Fane, Claude Dampier, Harry Borradale, Arthur Aldridge, and others. Dr Paul, Health Officer of Brisbane, his wife and daughter Gwenda often stayed as did Fred Gilbert, the Brisbane tailor. Other great friends were the Stewarts, owners of the Criterion Hotel, Brisbane, and Jimmy Blair, later Sir James Blair, Chief Justice. Local friends were the McMenamins, who lived at Shorncliffe .

“My memories of the days at Sandgate were those of a very young child: the soldier crabs. .

playing in the pools left behind by the tide. . .

Arthur Mailey, the cricketer’s comment: “Sandgate is 12 miles from Brisbane and 13 when the tide is out” . . .

a house, pulled by a steamroller, being moved from one street to another . .

the ice cream bicycle man (best tasting ice cream ever.) . . .

bumping about in the car on the corrugated dirt roads. . .

the chickens we kept. . .

terrible thunderstorms. . .

raining tiny green frogs. . .

mosquitoes and joss sticks. . .

the piano at night, my father playing and the artistes singing. . .

the big verandah, since closed in. . .

the paradise under the house – toy motor cars and playthings. . .

my brother getting his finger caught in the mangle (turned by me) and taken off to hospital. . .

the billiard table and cigars. . .

heat and dust. . .

water fowl in the lagoon. . .

lots of swamps. . .

a butcher with initials I. B. – I B Best Butcher. . .

“We lived there until 1924, when we went to Sydney. However, in 1930 we returned to Brisbane and lived at Shorncliffe next to the McMenamins, and were there for about three years. Being much older by this stage, I remember far more, of course. Shorncliffe was a wonderful place for school holidays – I was a boarder at CEGS, Churchie, with my two brothers – swimming, fishing from the jetty and in the creek by the golf club, bicycling, driving (we all drove cars then – aged 12 and 13 and motor bikes).

“My father was also very interested in Sandgate (and Redcliffe) and thought they would develop as the seaside resorts of Brisbane. He took an interest in local affairs and became Mayor of Sandgate. He was keen on golf, and helped found the Sandgate Golf Course. He was the club’s first President.

“My father invested in land at Sandgate believing in its future. Ironically, when Surfers Paradise was “discovered” during and after the Second World War, one of the prominent “discoverers” was Bob Gerahty, manager at the Cremorne Theatre for Will Mahoney who rented the theatre during the war years. People wanted the surf, and Sandgate and Redcliffe lost out. My father sold the Shorncliffe house in 1933 and all his land – there used to be a hill he mostly owned just south of the town called “McCallum’s Hill”.

“The Cremorne Theatre was rebuilt as a cinema and leased to MGM in 1935, and I left Brisbane in 1936. Three years ago, while in Brisbane with a play, I revisited Sandgate’s Cremorne with my wife, the well-known actress, Googie Withers. The visit brought back a host of memories – all of them happy ones – of my early days there.

“While we were there, a rather eerie thing happened. The old house had been converted into three or four flats. The tenant of the largest flat told us that he had discovered an old oil painting in a cupboard, which she brought out and showed to us. My wife looked at it and said, astonished, ‘That is the view from Studland in Dorset overlooking Poole Harbour, and I lived in Studland from the age of seven to fourteen.’ And so when I looked at the picture in the billiard room at Cremorne in Sandgate aged seven, Googie was looking at the same, real view in Dorset.”

The house has changed little, like Sandgate itself. It’s still 12 miles from Brisbane, or 13 when the tide is out. . . . but perhaps we should be talking in kilometers now.

John McCallum

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

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