Remembering Cloudland: 40 years since the demolition of a Brisbane performing arts icon

At 4am on 7 November 1982, the Deen Brothers undertook what has arguably become the most controversial Brisbane demolitions project in the last century. Despite its listing on the National Trust of Australia, public calls for preservation, and a lack of official permits, the original Cloudland Ballroom was erased from the city skyline. This demolition marked the end of over 40 years of dances, debutantes, concerts and even exams held within the colonnades of Cloudland, and the destruction of a much-beloved Queensland landmark.  

Though the rubble has long since been cleared, the sadness and betrayal felt by the generations who lived, laughed, and danced away their nights on its signature soft-wooded floors is still carried on in the present day, forty years later. 

Aerial view of Brisbane showing Newstead and Bulimba, 1954. Cloudland Dance Hall in Bowen Hills is the building with a large arched part in the foreground of the photograph.

31955 Ralph Martin photographs of Brisbane, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image number: 31955-0001-0001.

Entrance to the Cloudland Ballroom, Bowen Hills, Brisbane, 1946. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Negative number: 61681.

Cloudland, as it eventually came to be known, faced an uncertain beginning.  

Plagued by construction delays and reportedly union in-fighting, Cloudland's completion was delayed until after the commencement of World War Two. Flagging attendance was only exacerbated by the wartime atmosphere, and the newly constructed Cloudland and its optimistic 'Luna Park' entertainment infrastructure was closed within 6 months of opening, the owner disappearing without a trace. It remained uninhabited until 1942, when the US military requisitioned it for use as "Camp Luna Park". Other nearby houses were also requisitioned for use as photographic production laboratories and other reconnaissance purposes.  

In an effort to maintain post-war relations and instill goodwill, the US military restored the iconic tongue-and-groove, spring-mounted flooring, repainted the interior, and returned all pre-war furnishings to their rightful places.  

Interior view of Cloudland ballroom, Bowen Hills, ca. 1950. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Negative number: 83083.

 

Dances and spectators at a Debutante Ball held at Cloudland Ballroom in Brisbane. 31557, W A Jones & Co photographs, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image number: 31557-0001-0123.

 

Post-war, the space was reinvigorated with a lively programme of old-style and new popular styles of music, supplied by both local and international acts.  The bandstand, with its iconic art-deco inspired music podiums and distinctive semi-circle archway, was frequently graced by some of the largest names in entertainment.  

In the 1950s, it played host to the likes of Buddy Holly; in the 1960s, the Bee Gees brought audiences to rock and bounce on the dancefloors; and throughout the 1970s Australian talent such as AC/DC, Cold Chisel, Icehouse, Australian Crawl, and the Go Betweens made the stage their home.  

Billo Smith's Dance Band performing at the Cloudland Dance Hall in Bowen Hills, Queensland, ca. 1949. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Negative number: 2645.

Princess Alexandra of Kent with a koala at Cloudland Ballroom, 1959. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Negative number: 193563.

Jimmy Barnes and Ian Moss performing at a Cold Chisel concert at Cloudland in Brisbane on 19 July 1980. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image number: 33263-0001-0006.

Jimmy Barnes fronting Cold Chisel at Cloudland in Brisbane on 19 July 1980. 33263, Alan Grills photographs of touring bands, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. 

Despite its lauded and sometimes tumultuous history, and its iconic silhouette within the Brisbane landscape, Cloudland would not survive the Bjelke-Petersen era of Queensland politics. Despite numerous calls to preserve the ageing ballroom, the building was deemed a hazard and wiped from existence to make way for apartment buildings. 

However, the legacy of Cloudland looms large in the cultural mindset of Brisbanites and the Australian Arts industry as a whole. Cloudland has inspired songs and musical theatre productions. Perhaps most indicative of its significance is its presence on the world-wide "List of Destroyed Heritage" on Wikipedia. 

 As we approach the 40th anniversary of Cloudland's demise, we seek to celebrate its rambunctious, raucous, and inspirational history through our collections.  If you have any significant material relating to Cloudland and would like to donate it to our John Oxley Library collection, please contact qldmemory@slq.qld.gov.au. 

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