The Moonah Glaciarium

Advertisement for the Moonah Glaciarium, the first artificial open-air ice skating rink in the Southern Hemisphere
Photo courtesy National Library Of Australia

On October 24, 1950, three thousand people gathered in Moonah, Australia for the grand opening of a novel attraction: a rink hailed as the first artificial open-air ice skating rink in the Southern Hemisphere. 

At the Moonah Glaciarium's opening, Tasmania's longest-serving Premier Robert Cosgrove remarked that the tourist attraction had been "erected by Tasmanian courage, Tasmanian energy and Tasmanian money." As Australian Champions Gweneth Molony and Adrian Swan gave performances of solo and pairs skating, the people of Moonah marvelled at a sport many had never even seen before. 

Photograph of Australian Figure Skating Champion Gweneth Molony
Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine

The Moonah Glaciarium was the brainchild of a company called Tasmanian Glaciarium Ltd. Its technical advisor was a man named A.J. Flach, who had previously established seven artificial rinks in Europe. The Glaciarium's manager was Rowland Worsley, a former Tasmanian forestry minister. Ted Molony, who was affiliated with the Melbourne Glaciarium, served as an associate director. The Glaciarium was attached to a joinery works and timber mill on Main Road and its ice surface measured one hundred and eighty-five by eighty five-feet. It was open every day from eight in the morning to eleven at night.

Photograph of skaters at the Moonah Glaciarium in Tasmania
Photo courtesy National Library Of Australia

Over thirty-seven thousand patrons passed through the gates in the first three months that the Moonah Glaciarium was open. Though the influx of customers (fueled mostly by curiosity) certainly brought in money, the venue was largely funded by government loans and faced financial difficulties from the onset. 

Photograph of skaters at the Moonah Glaciarium in Tasmania
Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine

The weather was also a major issue. The first summer the Moonah Glaciarium was open, temperatures reached record highs. The scorching heat, which alternated with spells of rain, forced Rowland Worsley to get creative and find a solution to maintain the ice's quality. A letter from one Mr. Foster to Cyril Beastall, the editor of "Skating World" magazine, noted, "To protect the ice during the heat of summer days, light covers built from pine and impregnated Sisalcraft, fitted on sleigh-runners and assembled in sections, have been used. This arrangement keeps the ice in perfect condition at a very low cost in refrigeration power. Though temperatures of over eighty degrees have been experienced, no difficulties have been encountered."

Advertisement for the Moonah Glaciarium in Tasmania
Photo courtesy National Library Of Australia

Interest in skating in Tasmania flourished and a restaurant serving afternoon tea and supper was added to the Moonah Glaciarium. The people of Hobart invested nearly thirty thousand pounds in ice skates and The Friends' School established skating lessons for its students. In December of 1950, the first hockey game in Tasmania was held. Soon, speed skating races were organized and The Hobart Skating Club was formed. An instructor named Lois Henty was hired to teach the people of Tasmania the difference between a sit spin and a Salchow. At the Glaciarium's carnivals, skaters like Gweneth, Pat and Ted Molony, Nancy Hallam and Ann MacGillicuddy wowed audiences. The December 30, 1950 of "The Mercury" reported on one carnival thusly: "One of the highlights was the flying of a model plane from the ice for the first time in Australia. The plane was flown by Mr. R. Wilson of the Hobart Model Aero Club. Miss Jan Levis, of Hobart, won a prize for being 'the most attractive girl on the ice.'"

Headline about a fire at the Moonah Glaciarium in Tasmania

Photograph of fire damage at the Moonah Glaciarium in Tasmania
Photos courtesy National Library Of Australia

Though skating couldn't have been any more popular in Tasmania in 1952, things behind the scenes at the Moonah Glaciarium were far from rosy. The management were really struggling financially, with tens of thousands of pounds in government loans looming over the heads. Late at night on August 2, 1952, there was a fire in one of the Glaciarium's changing rooms. Oil in the adjacent machinery room excelerated the blaze and between ten and fifteen thousand pounds of damage was done. Then, around two in the morning on May 25, 1953, there was another fire in a locker room that caused a further three thousand pounds of damage. Dozens of pairs of skates went up in flames and the local police launched an investigation. By this time, the Glaciarium was already in liquidation. It was sold in the summer of 1953, renovated and converted to a square dance hall. Despite its short run, the Moonah Glaciarium's memory lingers today... a very unique footnote in figure skating history.

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