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    South Australia - Sport

    Roller and Ice Skating

    Also see Adelaide - Entertainment and the Arts - Miscellany - Skating

    Roller Skating

    (Taken from Geoffrey H. Manning's A Colonial Experience)


    In the French Patent Office there is recorded under the date of 12 November 1819, and credited to one Pettibled, a device involving the principle of the roller skate. About the same time an Englishman named Tyers invented a skate with five narrow wheels in a single row, so arranged that but two of them were on the floor at the same time.

    The next skate was made in 1828 and patented in France while, in 1849, another was brought before the public, being first exhibited at the Paris Opera. The next year one Sidmon produced a somewhat different style of roller in London. None of these, however, served to attract more than passing notice.

    It was reserved for an American, James L. Plimpton, to perfect the roller-skate, to develop a system of rinks and to obtain the patronage of the best classes of society. He patented his invention in the USA in 1863 and in England two years later. The sport, in the course of time, came to be known as 'Rinking'.

    Rinking in South Australia

    Coppin's skating rink was opened in Hines Assembly Room in Adelaide on 21 May 1868 where 'a moderately good attendance' had 'to undergo the fixing of a pair of false soles' which had under them two pairs of small wooden wheels. The scene was described as 'decidedly a novel one' and most participants agreed that it was a 'capital exercise'.

    Such was the popularity of this new pastime in some quarters, in July 1868 a dozen gentlemen interested in the formation of a skating rink, the venue of which was to be the Town Hall, met at the Gresham Hotel, with J.L. Ebsworth in the chair. A committee was elected comprising Messrs G.M. Turnbull, W. McMinn, Moles, C. Young, S. Schank and H. Stodart. After lengthy negotiations they were debarred the use of the hall because upon trial the floor was unsuited for the purpose. They then applied for a lease of the Exhibition Building but were denied that venue following government intervention.

    A reminiscent report in 1888 said:

    By 1878 a new wave of enthusiasm hit Adelaide when Peter Bastard, son of the enterprising lessee of the city baths, had the northern side of his premises floored with kauri pine. When completed it measured 75 by 25 feet with extra space around the rink covered with Indian matting upon which seating was provided for interested spectators.

    In June 1878, the craze for skating on wheels having taken a firm hold on many Adelaideans, Mr H.J. Rice opened a rink in Bent Street. The floor was made of 'white cement' and covered a little in excess of 2,000 square feet; two neat and comfortable dressing rooms were provided, between which a boarded promenade was provided for onlookers. 'Football matches' were played on the rink and patronage was such that, in 1879, the proprietor decorated the walls with paintings representing skating in other countries and kindred subjects.

    The 'craze' waned in the early 1880s, but was revived in 1887 when a private club engaged the Saint Peter's Town Hall for rinking purposes while, in June 1887, the City Baths proprietor converted portion of his premises for prospective patronage during the winter months.

    By mid-1888, an enterprising American, A.N. Ridgley, had opened the Columbia Elite Roller Skating Rink in the Exhibition Building on North Terrace, with a seating accommodation for upwards of 3,000 patrons and a rink measuring 195 by 95 feet. The rental for the premises was 30 pounds a week for twenty weeks from 1 May 1888. At this time rinks were also operating in both Norwood and Port Adelaide.

    Its opening prompted some of the local 'wowsers' to raise objections to ladies being permitted entry without a male escort and one of the ilk suggested that, if the proprietor complied, the 'objectionable female element would be excluded' thereby conveying 'a very wholesome and much-needed lesson to the daughters of South Australia.'

    One aggrieved 'Daughter of SA' took umbrage and said:

    The Columbia Rink took fifty carpenters to lay the floor and upon completion was described as 'a masterpiece of joiners' skills'. The skate room boasted 2,000 pairs of American skates - sixteen varieties to choose from - and twenty youths were employed to attend to them while a large corps of 'gentlemanly attaches' instructed beginners and a band supplied music. Experts skimmed round on the wooden-wheeled variety, but beginners used brass wheels to get a better grip.

    A special event in aid of St Matthew's parsonage at Norwood was conducted in July 1888 and among the performers were a number of little sailor boys from the hulk Fitzjames who 'executed a military march and gymnastic exercises with a preciseness...'

    The next revival of rinking came in August 1893 when Syme and Sison (lessees) and Messrs Hamilton and Morris (managers) opened at 190 Pirie Street which 'had been transferred into a spacious rink' measuring 110 by 35 feet. In 1904 a Perth resident, E.G. Webb, leased the Exhibition Building for four months from 1 May, when he advised that 'over 3,000 pairs of skates' had been acquired and that 'expert roller skaters from Melbourne' were to be engaged to act as instructors; this venue, known as 'Webb's Olympia', was opened by the Lord Mayor, Lewis Cohen, on 13 April 1904.

    Fun was the keynote and the management had a slick slogan: 'Why live and be miserable when you can live and be happy by visiting Olympia - two hours fun for sixpence.' The promoters organised monster masquerade carnivals, when everyone on the floor had to wear fancy or evening dress.

    For one carnival the Olympia brought a really unique attraction to Adelaide. Billed as 'Five baby incubators, greatest scientific advancement for saving infant life.' It came direct from the World's Fair, St Louis, USA. A leading Adelaide maternity home supplied three babies and two attendant nurses to demonstrate these machines.

    On a Saturday night, spectators could watch 300 to 400 skaters moving on whirring wheels in an unending procession. A set programme was often arranged and this gave all classes of skaters an opportunity to have the floor for a period.

    Its demise was hastened by the coming of the silent movies, when a company erected a canvas theatre opposite the Exhibition Building to seat 3,000 people; its new American projecting machine was the best in the city. The new movies quickly captured the enthusiasm of the public and, although other skating rinks operated for a few years longer, the old Columbia had to close down permanently.

    General Notes

    Information on Mr Coppin's skating rink is in the Observer,
    23 May 1868, page 3f; also see
    4 and 25 July 1868, pages 5d and 5b,
    1 August 1868, page 4a.

    A poem entitled "Wrinkles on Rinking" is in The Lantern,
    23 September 1876, page 12a;
    also see The Adelaide Punch,
    27 April 1878, pages 13 and 14.

    "A Rinking Drama" is in the Observer,
    19 October 1878, page 4g.

    Information on the Bent Street rink is in the Chronicle,
    10 August 1878, page 3e (supp.).

    Upon the closure of the Exhibition in the building was leased as a roller-skating rink - for its opening and comments from some strait-laced citizens and others see Observer,
    20 April 1878, page 7f,
    25 and 27 April 1888, pages 6h and 6g,
    1, 3 and 5 May 1888, pages 7a, 6d and 7c,
    18 May 1878, page 11d,
    22 and 29 June 1878, pages 11e and 3e; also see
    29 June 1887, page 7f,
    28 August 1888, page 6h,
    4 and 22 September 1888, pages 6g and 6d,
    15 October 1888, page 3h,
    24 August 1893, page 6g; also see
    26 March 1888, page 3d,
    29 May 1888, page 6b,
    3 September 1888, page 6e; also see
    3 and 10 December 1888, pages 3d and 3f,
    31 December 1888, page 4a,
    19 August 1893, page 6e,
    30 April 1894, page 4b.

    A poem is in The Lantern,
    16 June 1888, page 17.

    Information on rinking is in the Express,
    30 May 1888, page 6e,
    6 July 1888, page 2e,
    1 September 1888, page 2f.

    Roller skating for the world's championship is reported in the Observer,
    8 December 1888, page 19a;
    photographs are in The Critic,
    4 May 1904, page 29,
    8 June 1904.
    A revival of roller skating is discussed in the Express,
    8 and 14 April 1904, pages 4f and 4c,
    Register on
    18 May 1904, page 6a; also see
    8 April 1904, page 4e.

    A proposed ice skating rink is discussed in the Advertiser,
    3 June 1904, page 6e,
    a proposed glaciarium in the Register,
    3 June 1904, page 3e; also see
    14 September 1904, page 4h,
    19 September 1904, page 6e,
    31 May 1905, page 2d.

    "On Ice and Kauri - A Skating Season" is in the Advertiser,
    5 June 1905, page 8f.
    Photographs are in the Chronicle,
    12 August 1905, page 13c,
    19 June 1909, page 31; also see
    5 April 1906, page 2d. Register,
    20 February 1907, page 6g.

    A hockey match on an ice skating rink is reported in the Express,
    5 and 12 July 1905, pages 2d and 2d,
    14 August 1905, page 6e.

    A hockey match on an ice skating rink is reported in the Express,
    5 and 12 July 1905, pages 2d and 2d,

    14 August 1905, page 6e,
    The Critic,
    31 May 1905, page 13 (photographs).

    A poem titled "The Lay of the Romantic Skater" is in The Critic,
    2 August 1905, page 6.

    Information on the Glaciarium is in the Register,
    7 December 1907, page 3g.
    Photographs of the glaciarium are in The Critic,
    24 May 1905, page 6,
    9 August 1905, pages 8 and 9.

    Information on the Olympia roller skating rink is in the Register,
    23 December 1907, page 10d;
    also see 2 March 1908, page 9c.

    A cartoon on skating is in The Critic,
    22 July 1908, page 6.

    The opening of the Elite Roller Skating Rink is reported in the Register,
    1 May 1909, page 6d.

    "Outdoor Skating" is in the Register,
    11 March 1911, page 14h.

    Information on the Pirie Street rink is in the Advertiser,
    6 May 1922, page 9e.

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