Sydney Theatre Company was formed in December 1978, following
the closure of The Old Tote Theatre Company the month before.
The then Premier, the Hon. Neville Wran, approached Elizabeth
Butcher who had been seconded from NIDA to administer the Old Tote,
and asked her to set up a new state theatre company, to perform in
the Drama Theatre of the Sydney Opera House.
Butcher established its legal identity and managerial structure,
and proposed the name, Sydney Theatre Company. With John Clark
(Director of NIDA) as the Artistic Adviser of the first season,
five theatre companies were invited to produce six plays to be
presented by STC as the 1979 Interim Season in the Drama
The first production, by The Paris Company, was A Cheery
Soul, by Patrick White, Australia's Nobel Laureate for
Literature, directed by Jim Sharman, featuring Robyn Nevin as Miss
In June 1979, Richard Wherrett, then one of Nimrod Theatre's
co-Artistic Directors, was appointed Artistic Director of STC to
plan and organise activities for the 1980 season. The first
STC-produced play was The Sunny South, 1 January 1980, by
George Darrell, with music by Terence Clarke, directed by Richard
Wherrett, assisted by John Gaden.
In its early years the company operated out of several rented
premises around the city, producing 38 productions in five separate
venues. Elizabeth Butcher, STC Administrator, was given the task of
finding one location that could house all the activities of the
company, and a theatre.
After an extensive search, Butcher had the vision to propose the
derelict Walsh Bay Wharf 4/5 as STC's new home, immediately
envisaging the capacity of the building to fulfil all requirements
of space, location and additional venue.
More than three years of obstacles budgetary and bureaucratic
overcome, on 12 September 1983, NSW Premier, the Hon. Neville Wran,
announced that the State Government had approved the expenditure of
$3.5 million dollars to finance the re-cycling project. The 60-year
old ironbark timber wharf warehouse built to load cargo onto ships
tied up alongside, was converted into premises suitable for
creating, producing, performing and enjoying theatre, without
sacrificing its historical integrity or context.
The Wharf was officially handed over to STC in a
plaque-unveiling ceremony on 13 December, 1984. In 1985, The
Wharf, by architects Vivian Fraser in association with NSW
Govt Architect JW Thomson, won the Sir John Sulman Medal awarded by
the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (NSW Chapter) for a
work of excellence in public and commercial architecture.
The first STC production in The Wharf Theatre (now Wharf 1), 17
January 1985, was Late Arrivals, by Pamela van Amstel,
directed by Wayne Harrison in his directorial debut. (Wayne
Harrison went on to become the second Artistic Director of the
company, in 1990.) The play was part of a season of one-act plays
called Shorts at the Wharf.
Since 1984, and the visionary adaptation and re-use of an
industrial site by Sydney Theatre Company, Walsh Bay has been
transformed into an arts precinct and residential area, which
continues to attract adjunct services.
Other performing arts companies and organisations now enjoy
premises at The Wharf, including Sydney Dance Company, Ausdance,
Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, Gondwana Choirs, Sydney Children's
Choir, The Song Company, Australian Theatre for Young People,
Regional Arts, Accessible Arts, Bangarra Dance Company.
Nearly a quarter of a century's
use later, The Wharf, by Vivian Fraser, in association with the NSW
Government Architect, was presented the RAIA 25 Year Award for
Enduring Architecture by the Institute.
Image from State Records NSW: NRS 9856, Glass negatives
[Maritime Services Board], Digital ID:
9856_2017_2017000219-Burns Philp wharf 7, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay,