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Dancing at the Troc!
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History

06 Oct 2020

History Image

Dancing at the Troc!

By Robin Grow - President, Australian Art Deco & Modernism Society

Today, Southbank is the centre of Melbourne’s cultural scene, anchored by the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) but also boasting concert halls and other venues dedicated to the arts.

But for many years the area around St Kilda Rd and City Road was a thriving centre of entertainment of a more populist variety, such as circus sites, ice-skating rinks and dance halls.

The oddly-shaped piece of land just south of Princes Bridge fronting onto St Kilda Rd, and bordered by Sturt St and City Rd, was highly-regarded as a centre of public entertainment and was leased from the Crown for the purposes of amusement and recreation.

The Green Mill dance hall was established in 1926, on the site formerly known as the Olympia Jazz Pavilion. It was an eccentrically designed hall, intended to look like a piece of Holland. Designed by William McCutcheon (of the prominent firm of Bates Smart and McCutcheon), it boasted a well-sprung dance floor, an elaborate (and expensive) lighting installation, waterfalls and starlit ceilings.

But things were tough in the years of the Depression and in 1933 it passed to new owners, who renamed it as the Forty Club. Once again it became immensely popular, regularly attracting large crowds of enthusiastic well-groomed and well turned-out dancers. Even when a large fire broke out in a warehouse on the other side of Sturt St in 1936, 1000 men and women danced the night away in ignorance of the fire and the fire brigade.

Based on its success, in 1938 the owners launched an ambitious plan to replace the existing Forty Club buildings at a cost of £50,000 with a new building including dance halls (on two floors), a picture theatre, and a broadcasting station. But in 1940, before plans could be finalised, much of the club was destroyed by a fire and a war-time shortage of materials and labour meant that it couldn’t be rebuilt.

A smaller version the club re-opened on the area that previously served as the entry foyer of the extensive site and was renamed as the Trocadero. On opening night, 3000 turned up. During WWII, “the Troc” became a highly popular site for local and US troops stationed in Melbourne. It was not without its share of dramas that kept its 20 bouncers busy – drunk customers, a girl stabbed multiple times by a jealous ex-boyfriend when dancing with another man, or disputes over dancing contests.

The area around the Troc was leased to many small businesses, mainly car repairs and panel-beaters. Regarded as unsafe, and subject to fires, they were an eyesore and were hardly an inspiring entrance to those entering the city from the south. Many asserted that the site should contain a building of “significance and dignity” and dreamed of the site as the location for an art gallery and cultural centre.

In the early 1950s the land was reclaimed as the site for the NGV. But that’s a story for another time! •

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