Did you know there once was a huge amphitheatre on Balmoral? Not only that but it may have been built as a viewing platform to watch Jesus walk on water!
Our beautiful locale has a unique and special character – much of it shaped by the wonderfully diverse history of the area. One of the surprisingly little-known features of our past is The Star Amphitheatre, which stood at the northern end of Balmoral. With many fascinating stories behind it, this remarkable Grecian Doric style building had so much more to it than common historical publications and accounts reveal.
Constructed in the 1920’s, the Amphitheatre was an open-air temple that stood three stories high with the stage towering a great 70 feet above the beach. There was also an inbuilt library, meeting halls, meditation rooms and tea rooms. The Star was quite a marvel, seating 2000 people and with standing room for another 1000. It was built by Mary Rocke, a retired doctor, who bought three adjacent blocks of land with a loan of £4000 and some ‘fundraising’.
An urban legend
There was no shortage of audiences interested in spiritualism in the 1920’s in Australia and particularly in Sydney. One urban legend around the Amphitheatre states that it was built for the second coming of Jesus Christ. Specifically it was to be used as a viewing platform to watch Him walk across the water between Sydney Heads. Some claim that many tickets were sold to gullible people who wanted a prime position – for the grand price of around £100. And a prime position it was, described as having ‘the best view from Balmoral Beach of the North Head of Sydney Harbour’. Little brass plaques were installed in the seats to mark seat purchases for the big event. It is rumoured that the cost of these seats contributed to Mary Rocke’s ‘fundraising’ for the building costs of the Amphitheatre.
Mary was said to be associated with The Order of the Star in the East. This was an international organization based in India from 1911 to 1927. It was established in order to prepare the world for the arrival of a messianic entity, so another version of the building’s history is that The Amphitheatre was designed to introduce this new “world teacher” who was to use it to preach to an audience. Unfortunately, the chosen teacher, Jiddu Krishnamurti, rejected the messiah role and only spoke at The Star on one occasion. One myth says that Krishnamurti met a girl on the ship on his way to Australia and got married soon after, starting his life with her instead.
A local family treasure
Over the years, many locals have recalled the significance of The Star Amphitheatre in their upbringing and childhood. Local Mosman resident Greg recalls his mother Barbara talking about her experiences there. “Mum would always look forward to family outings to the Amphitheatre. Private buses would take them there in Summer on Friday and Saturday nights, where they’d take a picnic, cushions and blankets and watch comedy shows and ballet. She also recalled it becoming a health retreat at one stage and seeing all these funny heads sticking out of the sand, as apparently being buried in the wet sand was all the rage for arthritis treatment.”
What became of the Star Amphitheatre?
In 1931, The Star Amphitheatre was sold to entrepreneur George (otherwise known as Humphrey) Bishop, where it was used for live performances, such as vaudeville, and it even hosted a mini golf course. Walter Kingsley, one of the well-known stars of the Amphitheatre, was a charismatic and impressive baritone, who starred in many productions. He was said to be friendly to the locals and possibly even a relative of owner Bishop. Audiences came specifically to see Walter, who was said to know how to involve the audience and make the entire experience a magical one, especially for the kids.
After Bishop’s reign, the Amphitheatre was then sold to the Catholic Church in 1936 when it fell into such a state of disrepair it was later demolished in 1951 before suburbanisation won yet again. The Amphitheatre was replaced by Stancliff Flats, a large block of 30 residences made of red brick.
It’s a shame such an entertainment hub no longer exists on our beautiful Balmoral, but what an amazing story of a building that was rumoured to be a place of worship, a health retreat, a mini golf course, a meditation haven – and of course a stop on Jesus’s itinerary. We’re sure the latter will come as no surprise to locals and fans of beautiful Balmoral.
Main image credit: The Amphitheatre, c. 1920s. (Mosman Library)