The Prince of Wales Hotel, AKA The Prince or POW was opened as a guesthouse in 1862, but its reputation as one of Melbourne’s grandest hotels did not come about until its rebuilding in 1936. The Prince of Wales was very popular amongst American soldiers stationed in Melbourne during the Second World War – an officer’s club was established there to cater to the many officers from Base Section Four Headquarters in Port Melbourne. The presence of the Americans attracted a large number of Australian women eager to engage with these exotic newcomers whose style and manner was far more desirable than that of the local men. It therefore gained a reputation as a venue for "meeting and mating".

In 1977 ex-policeman Ross McVean became the Manager of The Prince and not long afterwards two gay entrepreneurs, Doug Lucas and Jan Hillier, approached him about starting up a new night. McVean doubted their claim that a drag show could fill the pub's entire first floor, including the main showroom, a long dimly lit piano bar, and the Regal Room, a tiny side room off the Piano Bar.  But Pokeys, ended up being held every Sunday night for 14 years with no less than 1000 people in attendance each time, while Pennies, a lesbian disco which was held every alternate Saturday night, attracted around 500 people. The Prince was truly a pivotal meeting place for Melbourne’s gay population

PBSFM / Polyester Management and Promotion: 

In 1979 independent radio station 3PBSFM placed an ad in a newspaper saying they were looking for premises to broadcast from. Brian Ballantyne, then owner of the Prince of Wales, offered them the rooms out the back of the hotel for free. PBS then set about building two studios, a lounge area and a small office at the back of the PrinceThe first broadcast from the new premises was on December 21, 1979.  At this point PBS was transmitting at 107.7FM, and the broadcast range was limited. 'Soul Shakedown' parties were held at the Prince of Wales to raise money to buy a new transmitter, with bands like Asylum, The Hypnotics and Mental as Anything playing. Regular PBS benefits were held at the Prince to raise much needed funds for the radio station, even after the station relocated to the Ritz Mansions, at 171 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda in 1984.

By 1982 musician and cartoonist Fred Negro was not only designing handbills and posters for the Prince, but he had also started booking bands in the Regal Room, or as he called it the ‘Illegal Room’. Not only did his band The Editions play there every Saturday night, but he also booked other local punk bands including The Virgins and Bootboys. In 1983 Negro had been busted for drawing and selling obscene handbills and had to go to court. However, he won the court case, thus setting a "freedom of expression" precedent for all Australian cartoonists.

Band promoter Paul Elliott also had an office upstairs at The Prince where he ran Polyester Management and Promotionmanaging bands The Wet Ones and I Spit on Your Gravy, as well as booking gigs for bands such as Shower Scene from Psycho, Depression, The Bum Steers, Feral Dinosaurs, Young Offenders and Grong Grong. Elliott had a major hand in the success of the now infamous ‘Thursday Crawl’booking many of the bands

The Thursday Crawl: 

In 1983 Ross McVean bought the Prince from Brian Ballantyne and went from being manager to becoming the new owner. In 1984 McVean and Graeme Richmond from The Ballroom came up with a weekly event that Fred Negro dubbed the ‘Thursday Crawl’. (He even wrote a song about it for I Spit on Your Gravy's first album 'St Kilda's Alright'.) Becoming somewhat of an institution, the Thursday Crawl consisted of 3-4 (mostly hardcore punk) bands each playing at both the Prince and The Ballroom, with free entry and cheap beer/cider. If the band at one venue wasn’t any good, then the punters left that venue for the other one and vice versa – thus there was a steady flow of punks walking up and down Fitzroy Street every Thursday night seeing free bands and drinking cheap beer. These Thursday nights were certainly the highlight of many young Punk’s lives.

End of an era: 

McVean sold The Prince in 1989. He got an offer he couldn’t refuse and went on to run The Tote Hotel in Collingwood. During his 12 year tenure a myriad of local and interstate punk and post-punk bands played at the Prince of Wales Hotel including Go-Betweens, Venom P.Stinger, Sacred Cowboys, Bum Steers, Corpse Grinders, Gas Babies, Tombstone Hands, Murder Murder Suicide, Psychotic Maniacs, Depression, Permanent Damage, I Spit on Your Gravy, Civil Dissident, Shower Scene from Psycho, Good and Evil, Lubricated Goat, Exploding White Mice, The Wet Ones, The Hard Ons, Vicious Circle, Painters and Dockers, The Editions, Celibate Rifles, Died Pretty, Cosmic Psychos, Arctic Circles, Perdition, Human Waste, Seminal Rats, Arm the Insane, The Extremes, New Christs, The Zorros, Slushpuppies, The Brady Bunch Lawn Mower Massacre, X, Olympic Sideburns, Wreckery and many many more…

Click HERE for a list of gigs at the Prince of Wales Hotel.
Click on the PDF below to read memories about the POW by people who were there...
Prince of Wales Hotel.pdf Prince of Wales Hotel.pdf
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Type : pdf
Click the play button below to listen to an ABC podcast on the POW.

Pennies, Pokeys, Punks and the Prince.mp3

Click on any image below to view
Flier artwork by Fred Negro
  • Main Image - POW flier, 1984 - Source: Fred Negro
  • Background Image - Illegal Room flier, 1982 - Source: Fred Negro
  • Prince of Wales Hotel - Sources: State Library of Victoria, Australian Queer Archives, PBSFM, Fred Negro, Paul Elliott. Flier artwork by Fred Negro. 
  • Fred Negro - Source: St Kilda Music Walking Tours
  • Ross McVean - Source: Punk Journey
  • 'Thursday Crawl' by I Spit on your Gravy, 1984 - Source: Fred Negro