Roll Up, Roll Up!

Rotating Entertainments at Broken Hill

The son of one of the earliest Ukrainian Jewish migrants to Broken Hill, Ralph Krantz (1879-1948) was a central figure in the town’s entertainment industry in the mid-1920s. He bought the Crystal Theatre and roller skating rink in 1924, adding a glittering jewel to his empire’s crown in 1926 – a dance and supper club that could accommodate 1000 pleasure seekers.

The Crystal Theatre’s vaudeville shows and its neighbouring skating rink, which doubled as an open-air cinema, were favorite entertainment venues in Broken Hill from the late 1880s and the Palais de Danse quickly became a hot spot for lovers of both jazz and old-time dancing, attracting 500 guests on its opening night.

The Palais boasted an orchestra dais and an indoor dance floor with room for 300 dancers, changing rooms and eight lounges. Ralph spared no expense on the exotic décor, commissioning a scenic painter from Adelaide to decorate the locally made fibrous asbestos walls with panels featuring New Zealand scenery and flowers. It was ultra-modern for its time and The Barrier Miner noted the ‘pleasing effects’ of the electric lighting,

The Palais was thriving until Ralph had a disagreement with the Musician’s Union over pay rates and the club was boycotted. His time at the helm was short-lived, and Crystal Theatres Ltd went into liquidation in 1927. The three businesses were sold to local men, Peter Coochiroff and Ernie Johns in 1930 and became known as Crystal Theatre Amusements.

The new owners had a focus on the skating rink, which ran over winter. Skate hire was available (a pair of the adjustable skates are pictured), inter-state teams played roller-hockey and specialty skating act, the Rolling Rollos entertained the patrons. In summer the rink was packed up and taken on tour with agricultural fairs around New England and in its place was a funfair, complete with a merry-go-round, and games of chance.

Hundreds of The Barrier Miner photographer James Wooler’s glass negatives have been preserved and scanned by The Outback Archives. His photographs offer an insight into the leisure activities of working class people, the open-air cinema and street frontage of the skating rink C1909 are both featured in the gallery.