Pilbeam Theatre 40 years on

Published on 06 June 2019

Rockhampton Art Gallery

For 40 years, the Pilbeam Theatre has been at the forefront of this region’s performing arts and live entertainment, providing a venue for local, national and international shows.

It all began on 6 June 1979 when the venue was officially opened by the Governor General of Australia, Sir Zelman Cowen. Following the opening there were nine days of celebratory performances by local and touring companies including the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, Queensland Ballet, Rockhampton Little Theatre, Rockhampton Youth Orchestra, Rockhampton Brass and Pipe Bands and local dance schools.

The Council-owned and operated Pilbeam Theatre replaced the Municipal Theatre which stood on the site of the current Rockhampton Library. The Municipal Theatre provided a limited venue for performances since it opened in 1964 and by the mid 1970s it was becoming obvious that in order to attract large scale international entertainment acts, a new venue would need to be built. At the same time, other Councils in regional Queensland were planning similar-sized venues in their cities.

Local firm Neil McKendry Architects was engaged to design the building, which along with the Art Gallery, was built at a combined cost of $3.5 million, according to newspaper reports of the day.

Within the first few years of operation, the Pilbeam Theatre had hosted performances by international artists and shows including the Companie Philippe Genty, George and Mildred,  Ertha Kitt, Galapagos Duck, The Platters, Jon English, Peter Allen, The Rocky Horror Show, Spike Milligan, Charlie Pride, Dick Emery, Ronricco, Slim Dusty, The Black and White Minstrel Show and Harry Secombe. It also hosted regular performances by local groups including the Rockhampton Musical Union Choir, Rockhampton Little Theatre and Beverley Prange Academy of Dance.

The theatre continues to be a vibrant centre of the performing arts, with recent figures showing the box office sells more than 61,000 tickets annually with a value of more than $1.8 million.



In 1986, Rockhampton City Council produced Crocodile Creek – the first of many community musicals directed by a professional director, in this case, Baz Luhrman, and starring local performers. A total of 28 Council-produced musicals have been performed on the Pilbeam Theatre stage. Mary Poppins (2016) broke the Pilbeam Theatre’s attendance record by selling out all eight shows.


One of the most popular genres of production at the Pilbeam theatre over the years has been dance, which is probably not surprising when you consider how well served for dance schools Rockhampton is. The Pilbeam Theatre has hosted performances of local dance schools as well as national and international companies including Queensland Ballet, Dance North, Sydney Dance Company, the Australian Ballet and Expressions Dance Company.


Many notable performers both nationally and internationally had their start in a production at the Pilbeam Theatre. We can’t mention them all but suffice it to say that quite a few actors, directors, singers, musicians, dancers and technicians have taken a little bit of the Pilbeam Theatre with them when they have performed on the world stage!


The theatre isn’t just about touring shows – it’s also about the locals. The region has a fine tradition of excellence in performing arts with many local organisations regularly performing at the venue. Rockhampton Musical Union Choir was one of the first local organisations to perform at the theatre – a tradition that continues today. Other regular users have included the Rockhampton Eisteddfod, Rockhampton Little Theatre, Capricornia Players, Combined Schools Orchestra, Choral Festival, Rockhampton Youth Orchestra, a multitude of local dance schools, and more.


One of the most popular concert series at the Pilbeam Theatre has been Morning Melodies. It has been running for more than 30 years, bringing good quality but reasonably priced entertainment to seniors in a morning concert. Some of the performers in the early years of Morning Melodies included June Bronhill, Bobby Limb, Darryl Stewart, Vic Gordon, Moyra Briody and Billy Raymond. The acts have changed but Morning Melodies continues to entertain seniors.


We all need friends and the Pilbeam Theatre is no exception! The Friends of the Theatre Inc was established in the early 1990s. The Friends of the Theatre provide an invaluable service by volunteering their time in the bar and candy bar, programme selling and ushering.


It’s not just all about the arts…The Pilbeam Theatre has hosted a variety of events on its stage including conferences, car launches... and it’s even had cattle on stage as part of Beef 88!


The Pilbeam Theatre continues to be one of the busiest regional venues in the state. To see what is coming up, visit www.seeitlive.com.au


Next time you are at the Pilbeam Theatre, allow some time to have a look over the display. There’s video, programmes and other memorabilia and more!


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