Renowned writer, producer and director Baz Luhrmann (yellow shirt) at the Pilbeam Theatre for Crocodile Creek in 1986.
Renowned writer, producer and director Baz Luhrmann (yellow shirt) at the Pilbeam Theatre for Crocodile Creek in 1986. Pilbeam Theatre

40 YEARS: Baz Luhrmann among the many big names at Pilbeam

SLIM DUSTY, Peter Allen, George and Mildred, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe were among the first performances hosted at the Pilbeam Theatre in the early years.

Rockhampton's Pilbeam Theatre was officially opened by then Governor-General Sir Zelman Cowen on June 6, 1979, and this week celebrates its 40th birthday.

It was named after former Rockhampton mayor Rex Pilbeam, who envisioned the theatre as the grand building it is.


Pilbeam Theatre was named after former long-serving Rockhampton mayor Rex Pibleam, pictured with his wife Barbara.
Pilbeam Theatre was named after former long-serving Rockhampton mayor Rex Pibleam, pictured with his wife Barbara. Contributed

The opening was quite a momentous time in Rockhampton's history with nine days of celebratory performances by local and touring companies including the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, Queensland Ballet, Rockhampton Little Theatre, Rockhampton Youth Orchestra, Rockhampton Brass and Pipe Bands and local dance schools.

Cr Rose Swadling unveiled a display to commemorate the anniversary and said in the years immediately before the theatre was built, Rockhampton had been crying out for an international standard venue.

"The Municipal Theatre, which The Pilbeam Theatre replaced, was great for its time but it became increasingly obvious that, in order to attract large scale international acts, a new venue would need to be built," Cr Swadling said.

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"I can never thank Mr Pilbeam enough for his vision, what he has been able to achieve and the legacy that has been left."

Within the first few years of operation, The Pilbeam Theatre had hosted performances by international artists and shows including the Compagnie Philippe Genty, George and Mildred, Ertha Kitt, Galapagos Duck, The Platters, Jon English, Peter Allen, The Rocky Horror Show, Spike Milligan, Charlie Pride, Dick Emery, Ronricco, Slim Dusty, The Black and White Minstrel Show and Harry Secombe.

It hosted regular performances by local groups including the Rockhampton Musical Union Choir, Rockhampton Little Theatre and Beverley Prange Academy of Dance

Baz Luhrmann directed community musical, Crocodile Creek at the theatre in 1986.

In more recent years, the stage has been graced by Tina Arena, Guy Sebastian, Angus and Julia Stone, Kasey Chambers, Jimmy Barnes, Xavier Rudd, Lee Kernaghan, Melinda Schneider, Beccy Cole, Paul Kelly, Adam Harvey, Troy Cassar-Daley, Graeme Connors and comedians Carl Barron., Kitty Flanagan, Dave Hughes and Kevin Bloody Wilson.

Auditions have also been held there for reality talent television shows, Australian Idol and X Factor as well as the ABC's Q&A program in 2014.


"Hundreds of thousands of people have enjoyed a diverse range of performances here at The Pilbeam Theatre over the years, from ballet to stand-up comedy and rock and roll to New York performance art," Cr Swadling said.

There have been many performers who started out as young children on stage for eisteddfods only to come back and perform in their own right years down the track.

Cr Swadling's own fondest memories lie in the annual eisteddfods, watching her grandchildren light up the theatre.

"There are children who wouldn't say boo to a goose and they go up on the stage and you see these young people come alive," she said.

"I always get goosebumps watching children for the first time."

Friends of the Theatre's Karen Capon noted the incredible shows she has seen over her years and the dedication from the staff.

Her biggest brush with fame was with Aussie rock legend, Jimmy Barnes who was a "very, very nice man".

"I spent five minutes with him as he was signing autographs and he was lovely."

Life member since 1966 of the Rockhampton Little Theatre, Lenore Lindsay, remembers when The Pilbeam Theatre was built.

Rex Pilbeam was insistent the theatre would be a community theatre and the first show was a combined Musical Union, Chamber Music Society and Rockhampton Little Theatre production - Razzle Dazzle.

Over the years, the theatre group was involved with numerous productions.

In 1988 there was even cattle on stage for the first ever Beef Expo.

Ms Lindsay's favourite memory is with Jacki Weaver and her touring show of the Red Hot Lovers.

They had quite the after party in the theatre bar afterwards.

The Pilbeam Theatre has a display of photos to celebrate 40 years. The display is open during regular business hours and in conjunction with performances. See more photos of Pilbeam Theatre in future editions or if you have any would like to share please email

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