Built in 1857 and originally called the Terminus Hotel, this once graceful and superior hotel would eventually become one of the most infamous punk venues in Melbourne. Renamed The George Hotel in 1868, the hotel housed temporary and permanent tenants who were eager to soak up the cheery and bright St Kilda beachside atmosphere. However, with the financial ruin that the Great Depression brought in 1930 and the influx of American soldiers that WW2 brought in 1942, the face of St Kilda began to change. Drinking, dancing and sex became the norm as the park across the road from the George became one of the favourite sites in Melbourne for prostitution.  A once fashionable and elegant suburb had now become a tawdry and downright criminal one.

In 1958 The George received a facelift, and a cocktail bar called ‘The Birdcage’ was built in the hotel foyer. The hotel also had its now famous crystal chandelier installed, while its beautiful mosaic tiled floor disappeared under grey carpet. The dining room was now called the ‘Crystal Room’ while the sprung wooden dancefloor became host to dances like the Twist and the Cha-cha-cha. By 1968 St Kilda’s reputation continued to deteriorate to the point where it was considered a risk to travel there. In 1976 another attempt to create a new image, along with a name change, was thrust onto The George Hotel. This time it was to become the Seaview Hotel and its new owners were former president of the Richmond Football club Graeme Richmond and ex-policeman Kevin (‘Tod’) Shelton.

Enter Punk: 'The Ballroom' (as it was commonly referred to) was Melbourne’s equivalent of New York’s CBGBs. It was run by a succession of Melbourne alternative music promoters from 1978 to 1987, starting with Dolores San Miguel, and later by Laurie Richards, founder of the Tiger Lounge in Richmond and the Jump Club in Fitzroy. Dolores took charge of booking bands at The Ballroom in August 1978, dubbing a small side room that was located upstairs as the Wintergarden Room' (it had previously been called the ‘Blue Room’).

The opening night consisted of JAB, who had relocated from Adelaide, while the next official gig, 1 month later, saw The Boys Next Door headlining to a sell-out audience. The monthly success of these gigs meant that Dolores was eventually given the keys to the main ballroom and on New Year’s Eve 19781000 people turned up to the venue, catching both herself and Graeme Richmond unawares. Stuffing money into their pockets and underwear, the two had to send out for pizza to satisfy the Liquor Control Act’s law of supplying ‘supper’ with the sale of alcohol after 6pm. This law meant that all kinds of ‘food’ ranging from Strasbourg on white bread with soggy lettuce and tomatoe sauce, to hot chips, dim sims and BBQ shapes were served up to the hungry and unfussy audience who were either too drunk or too high on drugs, such as pseudoephedrine and Mandrax, to care.

Monthly gigs soon became weekly events, but the success that Dolores had created soon caught the attention of another entrepreneur, Laurie Richards, who was able to attract popular interstate and international acts. He took over the venue in February 1979 and renamed it the ‘Crystal Ballroom’ because of the venue's ornate ballroom and chandeliers. 

The venue had two levels where bands played. People walked in from the street through the glass doors and could either walk up big marble staircase and go to the main ballroom or mingle under the chandeliers in the foyer. Here they could either have a drink at the ‘Birdcage Bar’ or watch the action from the main room on close-circuit TVs in the back bar. The ‘Snakepit’, which was the public bar downstairs, was a place that no one from the Ballroom crowd went into. It was a blood bath where mainly Aboriginals, Maoris, prostitutes and drug dealers drank.

Art students mixed with punk bands who mixed with electro bands, and everyone got on with everyone else.  It was a real community with everyone being there for the love of music and fashion. Although the crowd of young people could be tough and edgy, there was rarely any heavy violence and no police arrests. If there were any fights it would get taken care of very quickly either by the Maori bouncer or Graeme Richmond himself who would take the troublemaker into the lane outside, and headbutt them. Also, during this time, a number of one-off ‘Crystal Ballroom Records’ were manufactured by Keith and Helena Glass's Missing Link and given away at certain gigs. 

The Crystal Ballroom operated under that name until 10 January 1981, even though Dolores returned in April 1980 to run weeknight gigs in what she christened the ‘Paradise Lounge’ on the ground floor. The second wave of ‘Little Bands’ also played regular gigs during this period. Nigel Rennard (who was at the time working for Nucleus Creative Entertainment) co-ran the Crystal Ballroom with Dolores until a falling out in September 1981, whereby Dolores vacated her position. Rennard renamed the venue the ‘Seaview Ballroom’ and ran it until the end of 1983. Dolores returned to the venue in 1984 and ran it until 1986 before the hotel was closed for business in 1987due to its many transgressions in liquor licensing as well as a general state of decrepitness.

Over its tenure The Ballroom was home to a host of local, interstate and international punk, post-punk and hardcore punk bands including: The Boys Next Door, The Editions, Models, Mi-Sex, Popgun Men, Primitive Calculators, La Femme, JAB, Tch Tch Tch, Essendon Airport, Wrecked Jets, Serious Young Insects, The Ears, Piano Piano, International Exiles, Equal Local, Jetsonnes, Marching Girls, News, Little Murders, The Models, The Birthday Party, Plays with Marionettes, Corporate Body, Depression, Vicious Circle, Psychotic Maniacs, I Spit on your Gravy, Permanent Damage, End Result, Death Sentence, Spring Plains, Olympic Sideburns, Mental Hellth, Venom P. Stinger, Tombstone Hands, Gas Babies, Hunters and Collectors, The Scientists, The Go-Betweens, The Church, The Saints, The Reels, The Triffids, Laughing Clowns, Simple Minds, The Cure, Magazine, The Members, XTC, The Residents, Snakefinger, Split Enz, Mi-Sex, Midnight Oil, XL Capris, Icehouse, The Saints, The Angels, INXS, Hunters & Collectors, The Church, Iggy Pop, The Human League, The Fall, Dead Kennedy's and many more.

Click HERE for a list of gigs at The Ballroom.

Click on the PDF below to read memories about The Ballroom by people who were there...
The Ballroom (Crystal - Seaview).pdf The Ballroom (Crystal - Seaview).pdf
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Click on the PDFs below to read more about the Crystal ballroom, Promoter Laurie Richards and Manager Graeme Richmond.

Laurie Richards Article SMH.pdf Laurie Richards Article SMH.pdf
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Type : pdf
Click on any image below to view
Click on any image below to view
Images:
  • Main Image - Handwritten note by Eben Durrant, c.1985 - Source: Marina Perkovich
  • Background Image - Crystal Ballroom flier, 1979 - Source: Timothy Hughes
  • The Ballroom, 1977 - 1986 - Sources: Dolores San Miguel, Kellye Richards, Port Phillip City Collection, national Library of Australia, Jeff Busby, Paul Lindsay, Marina Perkovich, Mylene Mars, Fred Negro, Timothy Hughes, Andy Turner, Nic Chancellor, Jaques Kosky, Liz River, Paul Conroy, Debbie Nettleingham, Greg Fordham, Smeer, Carole Pico, Stef Egan, Robyn McLellan, From the Archives, Discogs
Quotes:
  • Gillian Upton, Dolores San Miguel, Lisa Dethridge, Rob Wellington, Cherry Ripe, Ashley Crawford, Chris McAuliffe, Roland and Crusader, Sam Sejavka, Ash Wednesday, Bruce Milne, Chane Chane, Paul Lindsay, Kev Lobotomi, Fred Negro, Warwick Brown, Vikki Riley, Tina Phillips -
  • Sources:  Upton, Gillian (2001). The George: St Kilda Life and Times, p.108: Venus Bay Books, RRRFM article, Rowland S. Howard website, St Kilda Music Walking Tour, Punk Journey 
  • San Miguel, Dolores (2011). The Ballroom, Melbourne Books
  • McAuliffe, Chris (1997) Let's Talk About Art: Art and Punk in Melbourne. Art and Australia, Vol 34 No 4, pp. 502-512.
  • Riley, Vikki (1992). An extract from Death Rockers of the World Unite! Melbourne 1978-80 – Punk or no Punk rock! An essay from Pop to Punk to Postmodernism: Popular music and Australian culture from the 1960s to the 1990s (Edited by Philip Hayward): Allen & Unwin.
  • A Love Affair (Rekindled) by Tina Phillips – an extract from St Kilda Village Strip Fest (2013)
PDF:
  • TAGG articles, 1979 - Source: Mick Pacholli 
  • Graeme Richmond article, The Sun, 1984, Source: Required
  • Text by Laurie Richards, 2000 - Source: Laurie Richards
  • 'Maverick promoter gave many bands a break' - Sydney Morning Herald, 2014 - Written by Jen Jewel Brown 
Videos:
  • Punkline - A short Avant film about the Crystal Ballroom, St Kilda, 1980. Produced and directed by Sue Davis and Tony Stevens - Source: YouTube
  • Music Around Us - New Wave, 1/4, 1980 - A video made by the ABC about New Wave music in Australia - features the Crystal Ballroom in St Kilda - Source: YouTube
  • The Editions, 'Nuns and Priests'(at the Ballroom), 1980 - Source: YouTube
  • The Birthday Party, 'Junkyard', live at the Crystal Ballroom, 1982 - Source: YouTube
Websites: