Skip to main content

History of Ballarat National Theatre Inc

In March 1938 the Mayor of Ballarat - Cr. J.H. Trekardo - chaired a public meeting at which the Bishop of Ballarat – Rt. Rev.W.H. Johnson – proposed the following motion:-

That this meeting of citizens of Ballarat affirms the desirability of forming a branch of the National Theatre movement in this city.

Two years earlier Miss. Gertrude Johnson OBE had formed 'The National Theatre Movement, Victoria' in Melbourne. At the instigation of Dame Nellie Melba she had gone off to train and work in Europe.

Indeed it was whilst appearing as Musetta to Melba's Mimi in the great diva's Old Vic Farewell that Gertrude saw the wonderful work being done by Lilian Baylis to form a national theatre and training school in the U.K. which encouraged her to decide to try and form a network of companies throughout Australia.

So the Ballarat National Theatre was to be the first of just such a network. Within a few years other branches followed in Heidelberg, Yallourn and Swan Hill. Sadly with the intervention of war the growth was halted and, although there are still amateur companies at some of these same localities none of them have sustained the continuity or included the National Concept.

The newly formed Ballarat company presented its first production, The Barretts of Wimpole Street, in June 1938 at the Alfred Hall. Other productions followed using a variety of different venues throughout the city and touring further afield.

In the early years one of the greatest handicaps for BNT was the absence of a suitable venue for rehearsals and productions. It wasn't until 1949 that the branch found its first permanent venue. This was in what was to become fondly known as The Little Theatre, in Camp Street. At it's official opening the Mayor – Cr. F.C. Wray – commended BNT for 'giving real public service, he went on to recall the meritorious work the company had done during the war raising many hundreds of pounds and entertaining the troops.

Sadly in 1984 the company had to move out of the Little theatre and was, once again, without a home for several years. During this period productions continued to be staged at a variety of venues around the city.

In 1988 the University converted the Old Courthouse at the SMB into a performing Arts Venue. BNT provided funds towards the costs for this conversion on the understanding that it would have a 'preferred' user status and first refusal for any periods when the venue was not required by the University. BNT has been presenting its annual seasons of productions at the Courthouse Theatre ever since.

In 2008 BNT not only celebrated its seventieth anniversary but also the twentieth anniversary of its first production at the Courthouse.

Periodically BNT is able to acknowledge that without the support of its sponsors, local groups, business's and individuals it would not have been able to continue its objective to present Productions for and by the Local Community.

In return BNT tries to acknowledge this debt to the community by offering private Charity, Fundraising and Corporate performances through which it has enabled local groups to raise many thousands of dollars to aid their chosen causes.

50 Golden Years

For the 50th Anniversary celebrations of BNT Past President Sonja Kinnersly compiled a history of the company. She has prepared a summary of this history.

This history is followed by a brief look forward to the following 25 years. A detailed history of these years will follow shortly.