Select Page

Radio station 2CH’s children’s Christmas party, Trocadero 1936, State Library of New South Wales

There’s been a lot of talk about Sydney’s night life lately so I thought I’d look at one of the city’s most popular venues between 1936 and the late 1960s. The Trocadero on George Street was Sydney’s most glamorous dance hall and played host to a range of VIPs, including the Queen. I spoke to Mitch about it on 2SER Breakfast this morning.

The Trocadero was an art deco style dance hall located on George Street on the site that is now Event Cinemas. It opened on 3 April 1936 during a time where the city was still recovering from the Great Depression and so the Trocadero represented an exciting, glamorous haven for Sydneysiders.

The building itself was striking and included a floodlit tower of Hawkesbury River sandstone and an entrance vestibule with marble floors and polished granite walls. It cost £150,000 (over $13 million) to build, its shell-shaped bandstand included coloured lights and it could seat 2,000 people.

The ABC broadcasted live from the ‘Troc’, as it became known, every Monday and Thursday, and the arrival of American servicemen during World War II increased the demand for the latest in swing and jazz. The famous American jazz musician, composer and bandleader Artie Shaw and his American Navy Band appeared at the Troc in 1943. This American presence caused friction between Australian and US soldiers. One report noted that as fighting broke out, the band played the patriotic American march ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever’ until the police arrived.

Costume cavalcade at Artists' Ball at the Trocadero 6 November 1953, The Australian Women's Weekly, National Library of Australia via Trove

Costume cavalcade at Artists’ Ball at the Trocadero 6 November 1953, The Australian Women’s Weekly, National Library of Australia via Trove

The Troc also hosted awards nights, trade exhibitions, fashion shows and even the early Miss Australia finals. But there were also some of the rowdier events, such as the University of Sydney student balls, which on one occasion saw revellers set the decorations on fire while the band simply ‘played on’.

The annual Artists’ Balls were also colourful, and drew artists and their models, including many cross-dressers. One cross-dresser shocked Sydneysiders dressed as a tram conductress. The person in question not only travelled by tram along George Street, but collected fares from passengers along the way. In another incident, the RSPCA was called after one reveller wore as a headdress a bird’s nest with a live chicken strapped in!

From the 1950s, the Troc saw some of its more famous guests including Queen Elizabeth II who attended a luncheon held in her honour. The Queen Mother was also a guest in 1958, and later US President Lyndon B Johnson and Prince Charles. By the mid-1950s popular dances at the Troc were the quickstep, the foxtrot, the waltz and the tango. Eventually rock and roll made its mark, and many young revellers became more interested in other venues across the city.

The Troc closed its doors on 5 February 1971 and was demolished to make way for the new Hoyts theatre complex, now Event Cinemas. In the 35 years it operated, it is estimated over a million people danced at the Troc.

Listen to my segment at 2SER radio and read the original article at the Dictionary of Sydney. For other interesting segments, see my Dictionary of Sydney project post and visit the Dictionary of Sydney blog.