from harry rickards to the end of the pier

Harry Rickards ran away from home when he was 16, and started a career as a comic singer in music halls. In 1878 he divorced his first wife who was English and married Australian acrobat and trapeze artist Katie Angel.


At the turn of the century, Rickards had a virtual monopoly on variety theatre in Australia. He had driven out his smaller rivals and had a chain of theatres around the country. They included the Tivoli Theatres in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide Tivoli and the Palace Gardens in Perth.

He brought the cream of variety artists to Australia: acrobats, ventriloquists, instrumentalists, impersonators, singers and animal acts, including the legendary Marie Lloyd, Little Tich, Houdini, the quasi-Chinese conjuror Chung Ling Soo and Paul Cinquevalli, the unrivalled juggler.

Tivoli performer

He had a keen sense of humour, which must have helped him in both his career as an artist and as a manager. A story was told of how Harry and a friend got into a ‘rough up’ with two cabbies who took them to court over the incident.

Were you the worse for liquor?” asked the magistrate “Your worship ” answered Harry Rickards “throughout a long, and if I may say it, successful career, I have never let drink interfere with business. We had a drink after we had finished with these men.”

The Tivoli Theatres were still going strong in the 1950s.

The main attractions were an amazing array of old comics, jugglers and fire-eaters, plus the Tivoli Lovelies. The shows would open with a rather raucous overture from the orchestra. The curtain would go up and there would be the dancing girls, the Tivoli Lovelies, in a fantastic line-up.

Beryl, one of the Tivoli dancers

GEORGIA NELLIN: I joined the Tivoli Ballet in 1944 and ended up leaving in 1947 to get married.

WOMAN 1: I started in pantomime and then I went into the Ballet in 1948.

WOMAN 2: I started about ’44 and I left in ’47 to get married.

WOMAN 3: I joined the Tivoli in 1949 in the show, ‘Starry Nights’.

WOMAN 4: I stayed there until 1947 and, much to my sorrow, got married twice and had a dozen children.

One of the Tivoli dancers was Judith Lingard who married into the Kerby family, owners of the famous St Kilda Pier kiosk.

The scientist and the Tivoli dancer

Colin Kerby was a strong swimmer in his day, a lucky thing for the more than 200 people he plucked from the waters surrounding St Kilda Pier over 53 years. As Kerby would dive into the sea to retrieve its almost-victims, his wife Judy would dash into the kiosk for a bottle of Pine-o-cleen; a quick gargle was Colin’s preferred method of disinfecting his mouth after performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Colin’s father Noble Kerby had acquired the lease for the kiosk from the Victorian government in 1939.


“There was a tough local cop called Geiger who came out onto the pier and had an issue to take up with Noble about some yachts that were tied up at an area of the pier, which Noble felt was his territory.

“Colin was listening to them this day and heard a voice shouting, ‘You’re under arrest!’ Only it was his father speaking to the cop. Noble continued with, ‘And I hope to Christ you resist arrest so I can take you to the police station and give you a hiding on the way!’

As his son recalled it, Noble then led the police officer down the pier to the officer’s own paddy wagon, and drove him to the police station. There, he marched the officer to the front desk and announced that he was charging him with disrupting the peace and resisting arrest.

Two weeks later a formidable looking policeman came marching up the pier and apologised to Noble saying, ‘As you can imagine, it’s not very good for our image if a citizen arrests a policeman. We’re going to have him disciplined’. The officer was duly sent to the bush, never to return to St Kilda police station.

During World War II an outdoor dance floor on the northern side of the pavilion became a drawcard for American GIs staying in the area, as well as many locals. Dances were held on Sunday nights with a live band performing.

The ladies would sew button eyes on their panties so that when they spun around their frocks would come up and they’d have these eyes returning the gaze of the GIs,” Colin recalled. “They would dance the jitterbug until all hours.”

He caused a scandal in 1951 when he sold homemade beer containing more than the regulation 2 per cent alcohol – 7.4 per cent to be exact. “It was in the headlines for a week,” Mr Kerby said. “There were drunks on the pier on a Sunday and the Salvation Army was upset.”

Sadly, the 99 year old kiosk burned down in 2003. A faithful reproduction has since been built upon the site, but no beer is served on the premises.


Published in: on May 3, 2010 at 8:04 am  Comments (36)  
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36 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I like ‘Noble’ as a name.

    • Me too. It sounds so regal and true.

  2. Haha I love how Noble arrested the cop. You really do serve up such tasty morsels

    • Australia is full of larrikins

  3. Interesting story nursie. I think I will sew buttons on my undies…just in case.

    • Now that would be photo-worthy

      • Ha! FYI, I once tried to sew button-eyes on my panties.

        But then I realized I wasn’t wearing any!

        (BTW, that joke is way funnier if you’re like, five.)

      • It’s still funny for those of us who are over 45 😉

  4. comic singer is a profession? well, maybe i shouldn’t give up on my singing just yet…

    • Weird Al has made quite a living out of comedic singing

  5. Wow – 7.4 per cent alcohol! With one beer I would have made a cheap date. With two, I’d have made an easy date…

    • …and this is why I can rarely have more than two glasses of anything alcoholic 😦

  6. Rickards had a virtual monopoly…

    The Bill Gates of his day!

    The reproduction looks like just that. A cheap-o copy. Too much neon.

    • I still love the windows

  7. Something seems to be wrong with the browser…page cant load properly….hmmm….will have to come back later then

    Hope all is well at the Gimrack


    • All is well here darlin’

  8. I was at the St Kilda Festival in 92. I swear the temperature went from an agreeable 25 degrees to about 40 degrees in 10 minutes flat. The guy on the PA told us to all go and stand in the sea.

    nursemyra – I think you might be interested in this website – an incredible archive of old cinema newsreel footage.

  9. Did the dancer have two husbands and 12 children while still dancing. That would have been a sight.

    • A rather messy sight

  10. Button eyes? All they really had to do was remove their knickers and then the abyss would stare back.

  11. You have to love a man who can upset the Salvation Army AND still turn a profit with his beer.

  12. For some reason these stories reminded me of Donald Draper. I can’t wait for Mad Men to come back on.

    I used to drink a beer that was 6.9 percent right here in Spain. And it went down fairly smooth.

    • 6.9??? That would have me stone cold out on the floor

  13. I’ll see if I can pull off that whole “No, it is you who are under arrest” reversal the next time I’m being hassled by the law. I might want to build up my taser tolerance beforehand though.

  14. Fantastic post, Nurse Myra! I do love the building before the fire. I feel I should’ve joined the Navy . . . they have so much fun.

    • It’s not all home brew and skittles in the navy Dan

  15. That’s it I guess I am moving to Australia now

    • Melbourne or Sydney?

  16. I can only imagine what would happen to someone that tried to a citizens arrest of a police officer nowadays.

    No beer served? That’s a downer.

  17. I’ll be in St Kilda next week! Think I’ll go have a can-can dance of my own along the pier…and then a recovery Martini, hold the pine-o-cleen.

  18. He arrested a cop? Awesome!

  19. Gargling with pine-o-clean and downing 7.4 strength beers – thats so hard core!

  20. I was an exchange student to Belgium … beers up to 14° alcohol. Managed to drink the boys under the table when i got back – with no ill effects. Not great for having an all nighter when the date hits the floor first 😉 Maybe I should’ve tried pine-o-clean at the time 😉

    I’m obviously getting old Nursie – two glasses of wine and I’m anyone’s now 😉

  21. […] Nurse Myra’s blog has some great pictures of the dancing in the St Kilda Pier Pavilion, but has much of the same text as was included in The Age. […]

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