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Friday, 28 November 2014

The Palais in its Heyday




This week's Sepia Saturday photograph was taken at the Grace Bros Ball, which was held at the Palais Royal in Sydney in 1933. I thought that instead of showing photos of other pageants or parades, it might be interesting to have a look at both Grace Bros and the Palais building itself.

 Grace Bros was an iconic department store, founded in Sydney in 1885 by two brothers, Joseph and Albert Grace. There is quite a bit of information about the store's history on Wikipedia, and a photo from of the flagship store in the suburb of Broadway. The Grace Bros chain was taken over by the Victorian Myer group in 1983, and all the stores were re-branded in 2004. There's quite a lot of rivalry between the States of New South Wales and Victoria, and the NSW residents were not too happy about the Myer takeover. The Grace brothers also started a removals business in 1911 and this still operates under the name Grace Removals.

I've also included several other photos from the Powerhouse Collection, showing more scenes from the 1933 pageant, plus a newspaper report of the event. The British sitcom "Are You Being Served" wasn't written with the Australian store in mind, but it could have been. We shopped in Grace Bros stores for many years, both in Canberra and Sydney, and the standard of service was never all that wonderful, and these days at the Myer stores it's practically non-existent.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia






Report on the Grace Bros Ball, in the Sydney Morning Herald , 25 October 1933. Trove web site.

The Ball had been an annual event for some years, and an earlier report from 1926 referred to the fancy sets representing various sections of the firm's activities, and that the firm would contribute pound for pound to the amount raised to benefit the Children's Hospital. Another report from the Sunday Times of 15 September 1929, snipped below, refers to what was expected to 'present a scene of scintillating gorgeousness' at that year's Grace Bros. Ball.



So what and where was the Palais Royale (or Royal)?  Otherwise known as the Royal Hall of Industries, it still exists as part of what were formerly the Sydney Showgrounds, where the annual Royal Easter Show was held up until 1996, when the show moved to a new location. You can read all about its history and see photos here on the Centennial Parklands web site, but in summary the building was opened in 1913 and at that time was the largest exhibition hall in the Southern Hemisphere. According to that site, it has had various uses, including as a morgue during the 1919 Influenza epidemic, but when not in use for the annual Show in the 1920s and 30s, it became known as the Palais Royale and was the venue for many dances and balls. Here's an extract from the above web site.

"During the Great Depression of the 1930s the building was used as a boxing venue.
In December 1937, James Charles Bendrodt, a Canadian-born roller-skater and restaurateur (among other famous and infamous roles), formed a company to transform thePalais Royal into the opulent Ice Skating Palais which featured Canadian figure-skating and ice-hockey stars. He renamed this business – the Ice Palais. However this was a relatively short-lived venture.
In 1939, at the outbreak of World War II, the army took it over and used the building as the AIF District Accounts Office.

Becoming a children’s favourite…

More recently, the Royal Hall of Industries has become the stuff of childhood memories in its role as the “Showbag Pavilion” at the annual Royal Easter Shows at Moore Park.

And now, returned to an event and exhibition extravaganza…

Currently the Royal Hall of Industries is managed by Playbill Venues, and plays host to many spectacular events such as The Marie Claire Awards, the annual Mardi Gras Party and several festivals such as MasterChef Live and Stereosonic."



Of these many different uses, the one that has the most significance for me is the Showbag Pavilion. We lived in Sydney for 25 years, and attended the Easter Show with the family on a number of occasions over that time. I don't have a lot of photos, but I certainly remember the melee inside the Showbag Pavilion, which sad to say was the primary destination for our children, despite our efforts to interest them in the many livestock exhibitions and displays. Here are some photos of our visits.

This was our first visit, pre-children, in 1977.  We were very impressed with the large produce exhibits shown here. The various State districts would compete to create the best display.

In April 1982 my mother came from Canberra to visit us over Easter, and we took her to the Show. I really can't imagine now why I thought this would be a good idea, considering that the arrival of our second child was imminent, but I survived, and here we are afterwards in what looks like Centennial Park, with our daughter Claire exhibiting a show bag on each arm.  I think back then they were reasonably good value. Our son was born one week later.

Elsewhere in the Showgrounds wood chopping competitions were always watched with great interest, at least by the adults in the crowd, as shown here in this set of photos, which come from a 1991 visit. You can see one of the other showground buildings in the back ground, although it is not the Royal Hall of Industries.





A 1991 photo of a section of the  district produce displays.

But show bags were what our children were really after, and here is our other daughter Laura aged 4 in 1991, proudly displaying her spoils, of a bag and a Strawberry Shortcake doll on a stick. I think we only allowed them to buy one bag and they only had a certain amount to spend, so they took forever to wander around the hall deciding what they would most like to have. When they compared the contents at home, regrets at having bought the wrong bag were often expressed!  The Showbag Pavilion, formerly the Palais Royal is behind Laura, although of course the exterior is totally hidden by luridly lit stalls, such as those laughing clowns shown here.

So that's my tenuous connection to the Palais Royale. No doubt you will find other more direct takes on this week's prompt photograph on display at Sepia Saturday # 256


ps. Here are a couple of advertisements for Grace Bros the department store in the 1980s , plus an amusing one for their cleaning company.







The cleaning advert even came with  the added enticement of  a chance to win a trip to the USA!


13 comments:

  1. What a great read. Thanks for this. I love the use of the word "gorgeousness" in the newspaper article. I have a friend in Melbourne who likes to use that word occasionally - mostly because it sounds so silly I think.

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  3. Lots of fair maidens in awesome costumes in your post! Well done!

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  4. I enjoyed your different take on the theme with the history of Grace Brothers, especially the old photographs.

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  5. I wish I know more about the showbags and what was in them. I don't think we have anything like that here. At the state fair you can get free bags and collect free things to put in them.

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    1. Basically a lot of rubbish, but you can read more about them here: http://www.eastershow.com.au/showbags/index.aspx

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  6. 1933 was a tough year for a lot of people because of the Depression but it looks like the staff entertained themselves and each other royally.

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  7. The old Grace Bros. photos were great; and Strawberry Shortcake on a stick? That's a new one on me. Strawberry Shortcake was big stuff when my daughters were young & I'm glad to see her making a recent comeback! Your daughter's adorable, by the way!

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  8. I never imagined there was real Grace Brothers until I found this prompt picture and I wondered if someone would give it a mention, The doll on a stick reminds me of a tradition at my childhood fair - Cock on a Stick! A beautiful candy cockerel made into a lollipop.

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  9. It was great to read your expansion of the Grace Bros theme. Surprised to hear you thought the service pre-Myer not up to scratch. I thought poor service was a more modern phenomena. Very interesting.

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  10. Great photos and history. The grand days of department stores have gone but recently there have been several television series that celebrate them. I suppose every nation has a classic store name that remains in the collective memory.

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  11. I like lumberjack events, but those guys standing on a "diving board" are NUTS!

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    1. Well they have to progressively wedge in their standing boards to get up to the top so that they can chop off the first section, and then they jump down board by board - they don't dive off the top :-)

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