Traditionally home to the Jagera and Turrbal people, the areas surrounding the southern bank of Brisbane River were originally known as 'Kurilpa' (place of rats). Upon settlement, the area became home to the infamous Moreton Bay Penal colony then to free settlers and squatters. South Bank's wharves were the busiest in Brisbane, bringing an ever changing and ethnically diverse population to the area. By the mid 1800's, South Bank was Brisbane's hub of culture and trading activity.
The Cremorne Theatre opened in 1911, on the corner of Melbourne Street and Stanley Quay. It was initially an open air theatre named the Cremorne Gardens, owned by John Neil McCallum, the father of noted Australian actor, John McCallum.
The Cremorne enjoyed its heyday from the 1920s onwards, presenting such legendary Australian performers as Roy Rene, Will Mahoney, George Wallace, Evie Hayes and the Cremorne Ballet Girls. The Cremorne continued to host the most popular vaudeville stars of the day, until it was destroyed by fire in 1954.
In the late 1960s the concept of a cultural centre, combining art gallery, museum, concert hall and theatre was first introduced. However it wasn't until 1974, with the impending loss of Her Majesty's Theatre, that the Queensland Government set the wheels in motion for what is now the Cultural Precinct, South Bank.
Brisbane architect Robin Gibson was commissioned for the ambitious project that would bring together a performing arts centre, art gallery, museum and library. When considering the design of what ultimately became QPAC, he mused:
The creative opportunity to provide such a home is a rare and onerous task of immense proportions to the architect. For it has to be a home which not only satisfies the rigorous demands of theatre presentations of both the past and the present, but also those of the unknown future.
It has to be a home where the audience, before performance, can contribute to the expectation and excitement of the event to be performed. The architecture, with its ever-changing levels and complexity and drama of the foyer spaces, will set the stage for such occasions. The wall, floors and ceilings, the rhythms and the seductive lighting caressing and articulating the subtlety of the materials, will all contribute to the symphony of architecture to create this backdrop.
It will be a true home which will not only satisfy the demands of the performing arts, but will also demand the contribution of artistic excellence by the performer, the performance and the audience.
Preliminary work began in 1976 and the Queensland Performing Arts Centre officially opened by His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent on 20 April 1985. Stage V of the Cultural Precinct project was the addition of QPAC's state-of-the-art 850 seat Playhouse at the southern end of the building which opened in September 1998 and completed Robin Gibson's original plan.
Since opening, more than 14 million tickets have been sold to events at QPAC and hundreds of thousands of people have participated in free events, workshops and outdoor performances.
More than 20,000 performances have taken place in the Centre's four venues, many featuring some of the world's most significant artists. Since opening, QPAC has hosted such diverse artists and companies as Lauren Bacall, Steven Berkoff, Peter Ustinov, Maggie Smith, Geoffrey Rush, Cyndi Lauper, Bille Brown, The Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, The Paris Opera Ballet, Bolshoi Ballet, National Theatre of Great Britain, Shirley MacLaine, Dylan Moran, Bolshoi Ballet, Debbie Reynolds, Dame Edna Everage, Ute Lemper, Rudolph Nureyev, Elvis Costello, Batsheva Dance Company, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Brian Wilson, Bill Bailey, Whoopi Goldberg, Betty Buckley and Michael Feinstein.
Many of the world's major musicals have been staged at QPAC including Cats, A Chorus Line, The Phantom of the Opera, CHICAGO, Mamma Mia!, The Boy From Oz, Dirty Dancing, We Will Rock You and Les Miserables.
QPAC regularly welcomes visiting performing arts companies from around the country including the Australian Ballet, Sydney Dance Company, Brandenburg Orchestra, Opera Australia, Bell Shakespeare, Bangarra Dance Theatre, Australian Chamber Orchestra and more. QPAC is also the performance home to four of Queensland's leading companies – Queensland Theatre Company, Queensland Symphony Orchestra, Queensland Ballet and Opera Queensland.