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The Adelaide Glaciarium

At the turn of the century, Hindley Street in Adelaide, Australia played host to a busy shopping center and the popular Theatre Royal, which showcased the first Lumière moving pictures in the country. The street's businesses were serviceable by a tram car, which travelled from nearby King William Street up to the hills or down to the sea coast. In 1899, another of the street's attractions, the Cyclorama was razed to the ground by fire. It was on the site of this Cyclorama that Henry Newman Reid set to work building a novelty never before seen down under... the first ice rink in the Southern Hemisphere.

The Adelaide Glaciarium was modelled after Prince's Skating Club in London and the Pôle-Nord rink in Paris. The circular building boasted a rink that was one hundred and fifteen by eighty-four feet, with a bandstand and maypole in the middle of the ice. A non-conductive floor and piping were installed and a Hercules refrigeration system at the Adelaide Ice Works (managed by Reid) pumped brine from Light Square - a quarter of a mile away - to the rink. The Glaciarium adjoined the Coffee Palace and was across the street from the Sharples Bros. Printers. In advance of the rink's opening, the May 27, 1904 issue of the "Kapunda Herald" raved, "There will, of course, be absolutely no dust, and the skating conditions will be exhilarating, and in most respects similar to those to be had in the cold regions of the world."

It was standing room only when two thousand, five hundred people showed up on the rink's opening night in early September of 1904, after receiving invitations by post. Considering the capacity was just under six hundred, the place was packed to say the very least. Member of Parliament John Darling Jr. declared the rink officially open on that day, although the owner allowed "a few persons who either had experience in ice skating or were proficient on rollers" a sneak peek the weekend prior.

Newspaper accounts from the Glaciarium's opening night reflected what you may expect... that many Australians didn't know what to do with themselves the first time they skated on ice. One man, who knocked down five or six people on his fourth fall, sat on the ice completely lost until someone yelled, "Get up! Or you'll freeze to the ice." Several women held up others while they stopped to eexamine the ice and one Aussie excitedly proclaimed to reporters, "It's glorious  - but - Great Scot - it's cold!" Another columnist noted, "The number of elderly men skating was quite a feature, and they were the only ones who attempted fancy figures. Maybe they looked back on boyhoods spent in the mother country and were renewing their youth on the ice."

In September of 1904, "The Register" reported, "Between 300 and 400 people can occupy the floor at the same time, and still have ample room in which to skate. Under the south-eastern gallery, a refreshment room has been built, and in other parts of the building retiring rooms for ladies and gentleman have been prepared. In fact, everything likely to add to the comfort of patrons has been done, regardless of expense. At the western end of the hall, which is festooned with long streams of gay-coloured chiffon, a mirror 45 ft. by 8 ft. has been erected, and offers a bewildering effect as the gliding forms of the skaters flash in reflection across its surface. Arrangements have been whereby in the hottest part of the summer, or at any other time, the ice surface can be thawed off, a false floor placed over the pipes, and the building used as a concert hall... Splendid seating accommodation has been provided for 2,000 people, exclusive of those on the rink. Six electric Flume lamps of 2,000 candle power have been placed inside the main hall and two similar illuminants outside the main building. Numerous smaller lights have been distributed in the refreshment and other rooms, and the workshop in which the skates are stored and sharpened... Judging by the enthusiasm... and the ease with which the skaters acquired the knack of balancing themselves, the ice rink will be an unqualified success."

Costumed skater at a skating carnival at the Adelaide Glaciarium. Photo courtesy National Library Of Australia.

What made the Adelaide Glaciarium so different from the early rinks in England and France was the fact that it didn't just cater to rich white people. Men and women of all classes and colours took to the ice... and almost all were equally inexperienced and thus, in the same boat. The Glaciarium had three sessions daily - morning, afternoon and evening - and skates could be rented for as little as one shilling.

Photo courtesy National Library Of Australia

The Adelaide Glaciarium's first manager was John Caldwell, an accomplished roller skater. He, along with several attendants, helped beginner skaters as best as they could. In February of 1905, Walter William Brewer came to town. Billed as "Professor Brewer, a scientific skater from the famous London Princess Rink", Brewer was hired as the club's head instructor and gave an endless series of nightly exhibitions as soon as he arrived in town to get the Aussies excited about skating. He also demonstrated cross-cuts, brackets, loops, rockers, counters, spread eagles, paragraph loops and spins during the club's sessions, and tried to engage the skaters by getting them to copy him. One account from "The Advertiser" of one of his first performances in Adelaide noted, "The feature of the evening was an exhibition of fancy skating by Professor Brewer, who comes to Australia with excellent credentials. He proved that he is a skater whose equal has never been seen in Australia on an ice rink, and was loudly applauded for his dextrous and interesting exhibition, which reached a climax when he turned a complete somersault while going at full speed."

Costumed skaters at a carnival at the Adelaide Glaciarium, 1905. Photo courtesy State Library Of South Australia

The seeds Walter William Brewer sewed in attempts to interest the citizens in Adelaide paved the way for the club's first carnival on April 12, 1905. The ice was packed with skaters in formal wear and fancy dress, many of whom tried to mimic Brewer's 'fancy figures'. Nearly two thousand spectators - again, over capacity - looked on as Mayor Theodore Bruce presented prizes for Best Fancy Dress Costume, Most Original Costume, Most Sustained Character and Most Grotesque Character. Some of the costumes included an American Indian, Little Red Riding Hood, a Scotchman in a kilt, a Samoan belle... and a man in a wedding dress who went by the drag name Ada Crossley. Brewer gave a much-raved-about exhibition during the intermission.

Photos courtesy National Library Of Australia

Not long after, the Adelaide Skating Club was formed, with W.J. Gunson presiding. The club had weekly private sessions on Monday evenings, and Walter William Brewer served as the club's Head Instructor. It was on those Monday night sessions that the residents of Adelaide would have received their first formal instruction in figure skating. In the years that followed, carnivals became the Glaciarium's chief attraction.

West's Picture Theatre and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra's Grainger Studio - future incarnations of the Adelaide Glaciarium. Photos courtesy State Library Of South Australia, The Historical Society Of South Australia

Encouraged by the success of the Adelaide Glaciarium, Henry Newman Reid opened the Melbourne Glaciarium in 1905 and sold his shares in the Adelaide venture to his business partners Sir Colin Stewart and William Booker in 1906. Unfortunately, business slowed down after Reid's departure and the Glaciarium closed on June 30, 1907. The venue later became a roller rink, a vaudeville house, theatre, Chinese restaurant, disco, cinema and nightclub. Today it plays host to the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Though the Adelaide Glaciarium was short-lived, its success helped generate interest in figure skating down under and was the catalyst to the opening of similar Glaciariums throughout Australia.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":