Monday, 25 May 2015

St Peter's Anglican Church, Hamilton

Hundreds of children were on the march, a more-or-less orderly line snaking its way from St Peter’s Anglican Church to Hamilton Station. At the front, two children held a wavering church banner aloft. They were off to the annual Sunday School picnic at Speers Point, the highlight of the year.

First, they would catch the train to Cockle Creek, then a steam tram to Speers Point. The event would have been an exciting adventure for children whose families did not own cars, and who walked everywhere within their suburb, Hamilton.

Picnic at Speers Point (n.d.)
Photograph by Ralph Snowball, from the Bert Lovett Collection, part of the Norm Barney Photographic Collection, courtesy Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, Australia

The small rise crowned by Hamilton Public School and St Peter’s Anglican Church has long been a place of learning for children.

Imagine the noise and bustle of 500 children gathering for Sunday School each week, taught by a small army of 40 teachers! This was peak participation, sometime in the 1930s.

St Peter’s first Sunday School Hall was an economical building - made of unpainted timber slabs recycled from the first church.

Eventually considered ‘unsafe and unsightly,’ a new hall replaced the old in 1897 - but only after much debate and dispute within the church Council about the additional debt involved. In fact, two Council members resigned.

Numbers were still on the rise when in 1921, another new hall was built. All the land was mortgaged, except where the church stood. In 1970, when the Sunday School and Church Hall was dramatically modernized with optimism and at considerable cost, church decision makers were not to know the future. Within a decade or two, Sunday schools, youth fellowships and large church gatherings would become things of the past.

St Peter’s Church and Rectory, Hamilton 2015
Photograph by Craig Smith

The first and second church buildings

The first Anglican church in Hamilton was of built timber slabs between 1863 and 1864, at 148 Denison Street. Because a church still stands on this site today, we can pinpoint almost exactly where the AA Company’s D Pit once was – just opposite.

Opening on 3 July, 1864, the first church seated 80 - 100 people. No longer would parishioners have to catch the clanking dusty rail trolley that the AA Company provided on Sundays, to worship at St John’s, Cook’s Hill.

Twenty years later, in 1883, plans were underway to have a new church built.

The influential church architect, expatriate American John Horbury Hunt, was commissioned to design it. If Councillors thought the next stage would be smooth sailing, how wrong they were. Horbury Hunt was reportedly ‘a man of quick temperament’ who ‘often fell foul of workmen and employers.’ At times he was at loggerheads with one or another Council members, and once declared Council members ‘greengrocers and guttersnipes.’ [1]

Hamilton was a large and populous centre but it was not prosperous. Still, by March 1884, £1200 had been raised by hard working parishioners towards what would be the final cost of £1900. State aid for such buildings had ended, and St Peter’s was built entirely from public subscription – a great tribute to the efforts of ‘greengrocers and guttersnipes’.

Many of those early Council members have left their names to be remembered on surrounding Hamilton streets and in Hamilton Municipal Council records – men like James Ray, William H Milton, Thomas Tudor and J Lord.

The new church, seating around 200 people, was dedicated on 29 October, 1885. This simple brick building, in Gothic style, would become historically and socially significant at a local level.

The foundation stone for St Peter’s Church is dated 1896, 11 years after it was opened

The church’s one design flourish would be an unusually shaped bell turret, a brick cylinder ascending into a pyramidal timber spine. [2] Its height is between a bell tower and a spire. Today, this turret is a significant landmark in Hamilton, and a means by which Hunt gave his buildings individuality.[3] Originally, the church was designed with a pyramid roofed lantern above the nave, a counterpoint to the turret. Thought also to be for ventilation, it was removed in 1911. Unusually, too, the church is side-on to the street, to overcome the problem of a shallow plot of land and to provide interest.

St Peter’s Anglican Church, 148 Denison Street, Hamilton NSW (n.d.)
In this this photograph c. early 1900s, both the turret and the lantern can be seen
Photograph from Bert Lovett Collection, part of the Norm Barney Photographic Collection, courtesy Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, Australia

As I visit with Father David Smith to research this post, he is concerned about the damage to the church roof caused by the violent April storms of 2015.

This unusual bell turret on St Peter’s Church remains a significant Hamilton landmark

The organ that was ‘a-bit-of-a-lemon’

Not much is known about the church’s first organ, but in 1890 it was sold. A replacement was purchased from All Saints Anglican Church, Singleton for £75. A Walcker, this organ dates from 1861 and is believed to be the first Walcker organ built for W H Paling of Sydney. [4] However, the organ proved to be ‘a-bit-of-a-lemon’, with major problems; even ‘entirely useless’, according to one expert, with repairs costing a further £70 over the purchase price needed to make it playable.

Much haggling ensued with Singleton, with the St Peter’s Parish Council seeking to delay the final payment and requesting compensation for repairs - without result.

In its lifetime, the Walcker was ‘rebuilt’ twice, in 1903 and 1924. It suffered water damage, and was attacked by borers. Finally, in 1967 it was sold for £700, and transferred piece by piece to the home of its new owner in Campbelltown. Until then, the organ that was ‘a-bit-of-a-lemon’ had provided 77 years of service.

One of the longest serving organists was A F (Bertie Nicholls) who played the organ at St Peter’s from 1920 – 1960. Apparently  he had some irritating habits – like bringing onion sandwiches to church. If he didn’t like the hymn selected, he’d play something else – his reason being that ‘the congregation didn’t know that one’. Still, the number of weddings, services and funerals at which Bertie had played the organ over those 40 years would be phenomenal.

Seeing the writing on the wall, the Council had set up a fund in 1962 to finance a new organ. Organ manufacturers J W Walker and Sons of London sent a recording of one of their organs to Hamilton. Once heard, it was decided that ‘this was the one’. Despite the fact that only £1000 had been raised, and the new one would cost £12,000, the purchase went ahead, in great faith. Finally, the new organ arrived in perfect condition – all parts handmade, including 433 pipes. It was dedicated on 30 April, 1967.

This is the organ that stands in St Peter’s today. Father David is acutely aware that now, after half a century of service, even this great instrument needs repair.

Interior of St Peter’s Church, Hamilton showing handsome eagle and the present organ, built by 
J W Walker & Sons, London, 1966
Photograph by Craig Smith

‘Matters of nature’

In 1900, ‘matters of nature’ had to be discussed at a vestry meeting, held
on 3 July. The Hamilton Council had written to the Parish requesting that a ‘privy’ be built for the convenience of those attending the church and Sunday School. The meeting considered this would be a great nuisance, and a motion was passed to say the letter marked ‘to be complied with’ be lost. Clearly a law unto itself - were they all men at the vestry meeting?

In due course, a privy was erected, and it did present a nuisance. One parishioner complained about a woman who ‘repeatedly left the church at the same time each Sunday and the resulting noise disturbed her in her worship. Maybe it was during the sermon?’ [5]

Rowdy youth

Again, around 1900, a problem that worried the clergy was noise and disruption by youth at the back of the church during the service. On one occasion Canon Ramm stopped his sermon short and issued an ultimatum – either they cease their noise or he would call the police.

Church group, St Peter’s Church, Hamilton NSW, 18 April 1896
Photograph by Ralph Snowball, from the Bert Lovett Collection, part of the Norm Barney Photographic Collection, courtesy Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, Australia

A Rectory at last

The lack of a permanent home for the Rector and his family was finally addressed in 1905. After petitioning the AA Company’s head office in London for a grant of land for the Rectory, and assisted by the influence of Mr Jesse Gregson, then AA Company Superintendent and luckily, a member of the church, the request was granted.

A fund was established and in 1906, Menkens and Castleden were chosen as the architects. F W Menkens designed many impressive Newcastle buildings, including the Masonic Hall  and the Mechanics' Institute in Hamilton.

Finance always presented challenges for St Peter’s. Reading between the lines of the historical account, it appears Mr Menkens may have gotten a bit carried away with his plans for the Rectory. After submitting three designs, the fourth was finally accepted. However, the Council must have been uneasy about how they were going to pay for even that modified design. When Menckens conveniently departed on an overseas trip, his partner F G Castleden was asked to come up with something less elaborate.

On a block of land adjacent to the church, the Rectory is a gracious brick bungalow with nine rooms, large halls and wide verandahs. Ceilings are of Queensland pine, and fittings of maple. The interiors have been updated over time.

Not far to walk to work - the Rectory is built on land adjoining
St Peter’s Church, Hamilton
Photograph by Craig Smith

Continual improvements

In the 130 years since it was built, St Peter’s has been subject to many alterations and improvements. From functional improvements such as pathways and fences, a new western entrance, electric lighting, carpets, ‘up-to-date’ pews, and replacing the original shingle roof, to installing new stained glass windows and replacing others, parishioners somehow found the necessary funds.

Creating this new western entrance was considered a major, exciting new project that would significantly enhance St Peter’s Church
Photograph by Craig Smith

Damp has been a continuing problem for St Peter’s. In 1906 the interior was painted to brighten up the church. By 1916, the damp was just as bad, so the mortar was scraped out from between the bricks in the sanctuary, and walls covered with timber panelling. Because only one quote for the work was obtained, Mr W Milton, one of the longer serving laymen of the parish, resigned. One hundred years later, the damp continues and the problem remains unsolved – a legacy, perhaps of inadequate foundations.

Ecclesiastical architect John Horbury Hunt favoured timber, as seen
in this interior view of St Peter’s Church
Timber panels installed later in the sanctuary did not stop the rising damp
Photograph by Craig Smith

Power play

In researching the early history of Hamilton, I’ve often noticed how the names of some community leaders recur again and again in businesses, churches and friendly societies, or the Hamilton Municipal Council.

I first learned about Mr FW Lean and Mr K A Mathieson when writing the story of the Greater Building Society. Together, in 1924, Lean and Mathieson created the Newcastle and Hunter River Star-Bowkett Building Cooperative Society, the forerunner of the Greater as we know it today. As influential Anglicans, deeply involved in St Peter’s Church, both men believed strongly that innovative ways should be found to enable ordinary people to own their own home.

Ken Matheison held many leadership positions within the church. As superintendent of the Sunday School, he declared that  ‘part of the aim (of Sunday School) was to make the children fit citizens of the community.’ [6] He was at various times, Captain of the Tennis Club; co-founder of the Anglican Temperance Society; Secretary of the Anglican Men’s Society; and leader of the Young Churchman’s Union.

Tennis players from St Peter’s Tennis Club, Hamilton
The Club raised substantial funds for the church over many years
Photograph courtesy of Hunter Photo Bank

Fred Lean’s commitment to the church was over 50 years, when he held various committee offices.
A prominent local businessman who contributed much to St Peter’s was Mr Fred Hely.  Hely Brothers Pty Ltd was a large Hamilton business, manufacturing tool handles, shovels, spades and wheel components. ‘Fred’, as he was known, was Chairman of Hely Brothers and had a long and almost unbroken association with St Peter’s since before the first World War. Fred’s father, his brother and Fred himself served on the Parish Council, Fred for a time as Secretary, and advisor to the Parish Paper. For his wisdom and experience, he became known as the Elder Statesman. [7]

A flourishing of groups

I often wonder what it was that impelled our forebears to make personal sacrifices to create inspiring built structures, spaces within which a community of people with shared values could flourish.

For its first hundred years or so, the community of St Peter’s was almost a world unto itself. It was not just a place for worship, learning and spiritual solace. It was a highly connected, interwoven network of groups in which friendships were sustained, social lives conducted, and new skills developed. It was a place for volunteering, and for service.

As well as the groups mentioned earlier, women’s groups such as Young Women’s Club, the Women’s Guild, and the Mother’s Union provided a friendship and support network for women, forged in practical and spiritual activities. Some parishioners today still remember the heady days of the tennis club, although the tennis court gave way to a parking space in the 1980s.

The colourful history of the choir is a story in its own right – members stood their ground on issues of principle, like whether they should be expected to contribute to the collection plate when they had to buy their own music scores and books. But they also went on picnics, social outings, and holidays together.

And since 1882, fourteen rectors have given leadership and service to the parishioners of St Peter’s, Hamilton. They have helped create the rich social capital to be found in our suburb today.

These days, our networks are in cyberspace. I remember the English philosopher and writer Alain de Botton [8] lamenting that secular society does not nourish our souls and imaginations in the way that religion has done. He asks - where do we go for the meaning and wisdom we need to make it through the day?

We might learn something from the churches of old, suggests de Botton – how to build a sense of community, inspire the desire for service, practice life-affirming rituals, and even… how to create opportunities for strangers to sing together.

A marble baptismal font honours the dedicated service given to
the community of St Peter’s Church by Mrs Ramm, wife of the much loved and respected 
Canon Ramm


The information for this story was gleaned largely from the historical and heritage references cited. My thanks also to Father David Smith for his contribution and for welcoming photographer Craig Smith and me to the St Peter’s Church and site.

Unattributed photographs are by Ruth Cotton.

[1] A History of St Peter’s Church, Hamilton, Newcastle New South Wales to mark the Centenary Year 1885-1985. Researched and compiled by Billie Coleman. Newcastle, 1985, p. 3
[2]  Turrets are generally round or polygonal, whereas St Peter’s turret ascends from circular to pyramidical. Heritage note, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, refer
[3] NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, refer
[5]  A History of St Peter’s Church, Hamilton, Newcastle New South Wales to mark the Centenary Year 1885-1985. Researched and compiled by Billie Coleman. Newcastle, 1985, p. 8

[6]  A History of St Peter’s Church, Hamilton, Newcastle New South Wales to mark the Centenary Year 1885-1985. Researched and compiled by Billie Coleman. Newcastle, 1985, p. 19
[7]  A History of St Peter’s Church, Hamilton, Newcastle New South Wales to mark the Centenary Year 1885-1985. Researched and compiled by Billie Coleman. Newcastle, 1985, p. 16
[8] Alain de Botton, 2012, Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion, Hamish Hamilton Ltd, London

Monday, 18 May 2015

The Roxy Theatre

When I first heard Colin Chapman’s name spoken, it was in reverential tones. ‘Of course, you know of Colin Chapman.’ I didn’t, then – but now I understand the reason for the revered expression.

Most of us are fortunate if we know one person like Colin Chapman in our lifetime.

Colin Chapman was a singer, teacher, conductor, producer, director, actor and playwright. A leader and a visionary, he was able to gather round him others who shared his vision and were prepared to personally volunteer their skills, effort and time to achieving it.

Colin Chapman, 1904-1984
From the personal collection of Betty Lind

Novocastrians didn’t realize it at the time, but in 1938 when Colin Chapman established the Colin Chapman Students’ Club, later to become the Newcastle Dramatic Art Club (NDAC), he would be giving Newcastle its first long lived theatrical company.

NDAC would buy and sell two Roxy Theatres in Hamilton, and despite financial ups and downs, continue to operate for over 70 years until 2010.

Chapman would also be giving hundreds of individuals the opportunity for self expression, friendship, service to a shared cause, and for some, career advancement. NDAC has been described as ‘the fount from which much of Newcastle theatre has flowed.’ [1] He would be giving the Newcastle community endless delight in performance art, and an appreciation of a world of music and culture far beyond the boundaries of this industrial city.

Not just the fount from which Newcastle theatre flowed, the association was where many met and married their future partners. Betty Lind, Colin’s daughter, estimates there could have been as many as 150 weddings.

Who was Colin Chapman?

Colin Chapman was born in 1904 in Boorowa, NSW, one of two children. His father was a soldier; his mother had theatrical leanings she was unable to pursue.

Chapman’s working life began on the railways.
When Chapman married Emma (known as Ailey) Field in 1929, he was Night Officer at Cardiff. Always a lover of music and singing, Chapman began formal studies under Gladys Davis in Newcastle.

Not only did he become the youngest stationmaster in NSW at the time, based at Arthurville, but he also became known as ‘the singing railwayman.’

In 1934 Chapman entered the City of Sydney eisteddfod and was successful, and again in 1935 and 1936 when he won the Operatic Championship. Part of the prize was to participate in a season of grand opera the ABC was presenting on radio with the famous conductor Maurice de Abravanel.

‘My father toured for the ABC throughout Australia,’ explained daughter Betty Lind, ‘but he couldn’t afford to travel overseas to continue his career. By then he had a wife and family. He became a well known soloist in Newcastle and featured in many of the musical events of the city at this time.’

With such experience, and a growing reputation, in 1938 Chapman began teaching singing. His first studios were in New Lambton and Maitland, later expanding to Newcastle city, Charlestown and Goulburn.

Advertisement for The Academy of Music
Program for The White Horse Inn, from the personal collection of Betty Lind

It was at the first annual recital at the Maitland studio that the formation of the Colin Chapman Students Club was announced. The new Club would give his students ‘a stage to perform on.’

The Club went from strength to strength, presenting musicals at Newcastle City Hall and the Victoria Theatre. Throughout the second World War, many concerts were given to troops in the area.

‘Club members gave unstintingly,’ says Betty Lind. ‘They were holding down their ordinary jobs during the day and supporting the war effort at night.’

The Colin Chapman Students Club became the Colin Chapman Dramatic Art Club and then, in 1950, the Newcastle Dramatic Art Club (NDAC). With the last change, Colin Chapman remained as producer and became Club President.

By this time, Chapman had established his family in Hamilton. They lived in Gordon Avenue from 1944 until 1970. In the 1960s Chapman moved his ‘studio of opportunity’  to Hamilton, where it occupied three different sites over time, including 34 and 124 Beaumont Street.

In 1953 NDAC became the first amateur company in the world to produce ‘Oklahoma.’ It was performed in the Victoria Theatre, Newcastle. [2]

Over these years, Colin Chapman had nurtured a long held dream – that NDAC would one day, have its own theatre.

That dream was realized when the first Roxy Theatre, at 99 Beaumont Street, [3] opened on Friday 14 October 1955. It became Newcastle’s premier live theatre venue, from 1955 until its closure in 1971. NDAC had around 130 members.

Before then, however, for 25 years, the Roxy had been a popular picture theatre.

The Roxy’s life began in 1913. Newly built for Union Pictures Pty Ltd on land occupied since 1883 by George Gilbert’s mixed goods shop, [4] the wood and metal structure was opened on 3 May 1913 by Mayor CG Melville. The band of the Hamilton Superior Public School performed in front of hundreds of people. It was the days of the ‘silent movies,’ and a 7-piece orchestral group provided the sound track from the orchestra pit at the front. [5]

In 1923, William Herbert, who owned theatres at Islington and Broadmeadow, added the one in Hamilton to his group. The story is told how a couple of boys were given the job of carrying the reels from one theatre to another on their bikes, racing to get there in time for the scheduled show. [6] After 1929, the Hamilton theatre was renamed the Roxy, and showed ‘talkies’.

The Roxy Theatre, Hamilton (n.d.)
Photograph courtesy Greg and Sylvia Ray, published in their book ‘The Missing Years’

With the advent of television, cinema audiences were in decline. The Roxy cinema is remembered with immense fondness by Newcastle children, teenagers and adults alike. Many high tales are told of early picture going adventures!

When NDAC purchased the Roxy, it was on the condition they did not show films.
NDAC modified the front of the theatre (facing Beaumont Street) including the orchestra pit, creating an auditorium that could be used as a basketball court. This is where the Newcastle Basketball Association began. Hire revenue helped NDAC’s bottom line, not just from the NBA but also from other theatrical groups and organisations.

Program for ‘Annie Get Your Gun,’ Roxy Theatre 1966
From the personal collection of Betty Lind

The next 16 years in a permanent home allowed NDAC to flourish, with several productions each year. An opera season saw packed houses of up to 500 patrons to see Cavalleria Rusticana, Pagliacci, and Faust.  Musicals such as ‘Kismet’ and ‘South Pacific’ were hugely popular, as was ‘The New Moon,’ the show that celebrated the opening of the Roxy Theatre.

Writing in the Souvenir Brochure, Matt Hayes, Dramatic Critic for the ‘Newcastle Sun’, said –

‘The history of this achievement is essentially a story of personal effort and sacrifice, of courage and patience and dogged determination; and the full extent of this can on
only be appreciated by those who have shared intimately in it.’ [7]

A full window display in Gow’s Drapery Hamilton advertising
an upcoming NDAC show
From the personal collection of Betty Lind
The story of Gow's Drapery is here.

Many key people supported Colin throughout, not least his wife Ailey, Secretary Madge Ormerod, and daughter Betty (now Betty Lind).

Aileen Chapman, NDAC wardrobe mistress for 45 years
From the personal collection of Betty Lind

Colin’s first born, Betty had left school at the age of 15, and joined her father as a piano and singing teacher in his studio. She was later charged with the responsibility of establishing his Goulburn studio. Betty’s debut performance was singing the lead role in ‘Tosca’ in 1959 at the Roxy Theatre. Another lead followed followed in 1960,  as ‘Bloody Mary’ in South Pacific. She played opposite Frank Lind in ‘The White Horse Inn’, and they married in 1962. The young couple made their home in Hamilton North.

Betty and Frank Lind on stage in 1970
From the personal collection of Betty Lind

Madge Ormerod was the first Secretary of NDAC, and later served as Treasurer.

‘Madge was a tower of strength. She kept my father’s feet on the ground,’ Betty told me. ‘He was a do-er. She was his anchor.’

Drama was Madge’s great love, and she became acclaimed as an actress in her own right. An executive officer in the rates department of the Newcastle City Council, Madge sometimes relieved as Secretary to the Mayor.

Madge Ormerod, 1960s
From the personal collection of Betty Lind

When Colin Chapman began writing a musical of his own, he turned for inspiration to the story of Tasmanian-born Eileen Joyce. Joyce rose from poverty and hardship to world wide fame as a concert pianist. The genesis of what would become the musical ‘Ragged Ann’ lay in a period of deep despondency Chapman experienced while ill in a London hospital in the 1950s.[8] He’d been told by his treating doctor, ‘Go home and put your affairs in order.’ Feeling hopeless, yet desperate to complete what he thought of as his life mission, he began to read the lives of many of the world’s greats. He describes beginning to write, lifting his head up, and fighting back.

Colin Chapman send-off. Newcastle theatrical producer, and Mrs Chapman, leaving for trip abroad, 
26 June 1956
Photograph courtesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW (hood_25785)

Chapman revisited his original inspiration in the late 1960s, completed writing what he’d begun, and in 1969, the result – ‘Ragged Ann’ – was on show at the Roxy. [9]

A scene from ‘Ragged Ann,’ 1970
From the personal collection of Betty Lind

Eventually the prospect of maintaining the deteriorating building became too much for NDAC, and in 1971, they decided to sell. Little did they know that a policy and funding environment much more sympathetic to the arts – the Whitlam government – was around the corner.

NDAC would be without a home for almost a decade. In 1974, the Club became the first company to use the Newcastle Civic Theatre, which had been newly released from its requirement to only show films. From 1974 to 1980, NDAC presented two shows a year at the Civic.

In 1981, NDAC purchased the former church of the Assemblies of God at 145 Beaumont Street. The new Roxy opened on 30 October 1981 and an exciting and productive new phase would begin.

At the opening of the new Roxy Theatre in 1981, Colin Chapman
played the second lead role in ‘Smilin’ Through’. He was then 77
From the personal collection of Betty Lind

‘The building still had a baptismal font, used for total immersion,’ Betty Lind explained. ‘We built the stage over it.’ When the company put on the drama ‘You Can’t Take it with You’, a hole was cut in the stage so that two actors could disappear down a cellar – into the old font!

An impression of the stage at the Roxy, 145 Beaumont Street, Hamilton
From the program back cover for ‘Merry Melodies’, directed by Frank and Betty Lind
From the personal collection of Betty Lind

In 1984, three years after NDAC bought the new theatre, Colin Chapman passed away. He was 80.

Writing in the program for ‘Merry Melodies,’ President Frank Lind reflected on what NDAC had achieved since purchasing the new Roxy. It was 1989, and the occasion was also a celebration of the opening of the new foyer.

The building had been purchased for $83,000. NDAC had borrowed $35,000 from the State Bank, $15,000 from members, and fundraised the balance of $15,000. In an incredible feat, the debt had been repaid in full by August 1988.

At the time of purchase, the Theatre and Public Halls Department asked that as soon as possible, the foyer be enlarged. However, the owners of the adjacent property objected to the necessary extension to the footpath level. Eventually, NDAC purchased that property too, thus eliminating the objection and providing a more spacious home for the Roxy Costume Hire Shop.

The Roxy Costume Hire Shop had long been an integral part of the Roxy Theatre
From the personal collection of Betty Lind

In March 1987 the foyer redevelopment began. It was to cost $60,000 -  almost as much as the original theatre - and involve contractors, volunteers, donations from businesses, fundraising and in-kind contributions on a huge scale. The Newcastle City Council supported NDAC over several years, and the State Government provided a grant of $2,500 – the first time in 50 years NDAC had ever received a grant from the State or Federal government.

In 1988 NDAC received a CONDA award from the City of Newcastle for 50 years of service to theatre in the city. What a pity Colin Chapman was not alive to receive it.

So many NDAC members who began under Chapman’s tutelage, performed in NDAC productions, and went on to bigger and better things have this man to thank.

At the time of the opening of the first Roxy in 1955, John Shaw (later AO, OBE) was performing in a principal role with the Italian Grand Opera in Australia. Rosina Raisbeck MBE, another protégée, went on to become a principal singer at London’s Covent Garden Opera. Barbara Leigh, Mona Malcolm, Betty Benfield, Eric Morrissey, and David Williams are mentioned in the Souvenir Brochure as singers who achieved notable careers, while many others won local prominence.

‘Theatre in Newcastle owes a tremendous amount to my father,’ Betty tells me. ‘Before he started NDAC, professional theatre didn’t want to come to Newcastle. It was known as the graveyard of theatre. Because of the work of everyone in the group, that changed.’

She believes her father was a man ahead of his time. ‘His understanding of the vocal process was so far ahead of current thinking – years later, I began hearing in seminars the things my father had taught. Now they were being scientifically substantiated,’ Betty says.

The Roxy Theatre was sold in 2001. Jeckyl and Hyde was NDAC’s final show, presented in 2010 at the Civic Theatre. It had produced and presented over 300 plays and musicals in 60 years.

The can-do, show-must-go-on spirit which infused the association of people that made up NDAC, under Colin Chapman’s intrepid leadership, is epitomized in a little story told by Betty Lind. Writing about the challenges of extending the foyer of the new Roxy, she says:

‘We had to install a steel pole on the property next door for the electricity. The pole (post hole ) digger we hired was not  long enough, so Amanda Helmers volunteered to go head first into the hole, the guys holding her by the legs, and dig out the remaining depth to make it the required 1.5 metres. That’s what I call dedication.’ [10]

‘There were so many people involved over the years,’ Betty concludes. ‘While Dad was the centrepin, to make things happen there had to be commitment from so many people – we received that… from people in all walks of life. The businesses, business managers, journalists, and the thousands of individuals who were members or supporters of the Club.

In a typical example of corporate support, David Jones took a full page advertisement as a tribute to Colin Chapman, in the program for Ragged Ann
From the personal collection of Betty Lind

‘To the thousands and thousands who saw our shows over the years, the people of the Hunter who supported the theatre, without them there would have been nothing.’

It’s also true to say that without the dedication and commitment of a relatively small number of people who loved theatre with an enduring passion, there would have been nothing.

NDAC Committee 1955
From the personal collection of Betty Lind

Productions of opera, musicals and plays at the Roxy Theatre, 99 Beaumont Street (1955-1971) and 145 Beaumont Street, Hamilton (1981-2001) [11]

1955    New Moon (Opening)
            The Reluctant Debutante
1956    Anything Goes
1958    On Monday Next
            The Red Mill
            Julius Caesar
1959    The Lost Prince (Children’s Theatre)
Bus Stop
            Madame Butterfly
1959    Janus
            Kiss me Kate
1960    Separate Tables
            The Glass Menagerie
Wizard of Oz (Children’s Theatre)
            Look Back in Anger
            Leave it to Jane
            South Pacific
1961    Kiss Me Kate
            They Came to a City
1962    Elixir of Love
1963    Free as Air
            Leave it to Jane
1964    Show Boat
            Call Me Madam
            Playboy of the Western World
            Cavalleria Rusticana
1965    Irma La Duce
Il Pagliacci
Il Trovatore
Die Fledermaus
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
1966    Annie Get Your Gun
            Androcles and the Lion
            Blithe Spirit
1967    Look Back in Anger
            Playboy of the Western World
1968    The Poker Session
            The White Horse Inn
            Mrs Gibbons’ Boys
Once Upon a Mattress
1969    Ragged Ann
1970    Ragged Ann
The Fantasticks
            Sound of Music
            Swamp Creatures
1971    Half a Sixpence

The Roxy Theatre was sold in 1971. NDAC continued to produce and present shows in various venues until the new Roxy Theatre opened in 1981.

1981    Smilin’ Through
            The Christmas Cracker Show or Nuts to You
1982    The Sentimental Bloke
            What’s Playing at the Roxy?
            The Stingiest Man in Town
1983    Lilac Time
            Lock up your Daughters
1985    Blithe Spirit
            Sheer Luck Holmes
1986    Annie Get Your Gun
1987    The Boys from Syracuse
1988    The Sentimental Bloke
            The King and I
1989    Merry Melodies
1990    Little Shop of Horrors
            See How They Run
1992    Macbeth
            A Hard God
1993    The Crucible
            Something’s Afoot
1994    Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf
            The Importance of Being Earnest
1995    Chicago
            Little Shop of Horrors
See How They Run
            An Inspector Calls
            Fiddler on the Roof
1996    Showboat
            Me and My Girl
            Bedroom Farce
            Red Hot and Cole
1997    The One Day of the Year
            Various reviews
1998    No No Nanette
            Meet Me in St Louis
1999    Call Me Madam
            The Children’s Hour
            Boeing Boeing

Acknowledgements and Note

Thank you to Betty Lind for photographs, mementos and information, and to Jackie Ansell for the introduction.

A post about Betty Lind is here.

This post has focused on the Roxy Theatre, at its two different sites in Hamilton, and Colin Chapman as the driving force behind NDAC. However, no story about the Roxy would be complete without touching on the larger story of NDAC. While we have sought to provide broader context, the account here is not a complete history of NDAC, or its performances and activities elsewhere in Newcastle, the Hunter and beyond.

[1]  NDAC Program notes ‘Ragged Ann,’ Roxy Theatre, Thursday 22 May 1969
[2] NDAC Souvenir Brochure to commemorate the opening of the Roxy Theatre, Hamilton. Friday 14 October 1955.
[3]  The Westpac Bank now occupies the site, at 99-101 Beaumont Street, Hamilton
[4] In personal records kept for historical walks she led around Hamilton, local historian Mavis Ebbott notes that the Bank of NSW built a small bank near George Gilbert’s shop before 1929. The Bank of NSW moved back to the site in 1972, rebuilding the present Westpac Bank. 
[5] Newcastle Morning Herald, 5 May 2013
[6] Personal communication from local historian Mavis Ebbott.
[7] NDAC Souvenir Brochure to commemorate the opening of the Roxy Theatre, Hamilton. Friday 14 October 1955. History of the NDAC. Matt Hayes.
[8]  Colin Chapman was in England 1956-1958.
[9] Information from an article by Colin Chapman in the ‘Ragged Ann’ program: Inspiration …to whom does it come? - From whence does it flow?
[10] From the program ‘Merry Melodies’, in the personal collection of Betty Lind
[11] This listing combines information provided by Betty Lind and found on It may not be complete, and does not include productions performed in venues other than the two Roxy Theatres, Hamilton.