In 1964, The Beatles gave Brisbane a thrill unlike anything this city had experienced before – or since.
Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston generated plenty of excitement when they filmed scenes from Thor: Ragnarok in Brisbane recently, but even their arrival paled in comparison to the reception The Beatles received in 1964.
This was the biggest band in the history of the world, at the height of Beatlemania, setting up shop in the heart of Brisbane for two days and playing four shows at the old Festival Hall.
Toowoomba resident and Beatles researcher Jeffrey Black has been a fan of The Fab Four since the day he walked into Palings record store in Queen Street and bought a copy of Paperback Writer, the first single he ever purchased.
For those of you born after 2000, the concept of ‘singles’ — or, for that matter, buying music at all — might be difficult to explain.
Suffice to say, Jeff has been a Beatles fan for a long, long time, and though he didn’t personally experience the pandemonium surrounding their Australian visit, he has since become a leading expert on that legendary tour of June 1964.
“There were 5,000 people at the airport at midnight to greet them,” Jeff says. “The radio stations, especially in Brisbane, had whipped up a lot of enthusiasm. Lennons Hotel, on the corner of Queen and George Streets, was under siege for two days.”
The madness of their arrival at the airport led to six girls being treated by ambulance workers — two for hysteria, and four for fainting.
But not everyone was excited to see the band.
One unruly group of youths actually threw eggs at the group upon their arrival. 40 years later, in 2004, Jeff was able to identify one of the young egg throwers – who were all attending the University of Queensland at the time – as maverick politican Bob Katter.
“Bob said he did it as an ‘intellectual response’ to the popularity of manufactured pop stars,” Jeff remembers. “I think Bob was at a bit of a stretch to even come up with those big words. But my opinion about why he was there, and it’s only my opinion, is that at midnight on that Thursday night in Brisbane, a really good place to meet girls would have been at The Beatles’ arrival.
“At the time, the Brisbane Telegraph newspaper decided to print the story of how disappointed The Beatles were that this egg throwing had happened, and asked for the egg throwers to come to Lennons Hotel and explain to The Beatles why they did it.
“All of a sudden, a group of people turn up at Lennons the following afternoon and gained access to The Beatles, and apologised on behalf of the University of Queensland. But they weren’t the egg throwers! Then a message comes up to The Beatles’ suite that there’s another group of people down there who were the egg throwers. So now you had four Beatles, half a dozen non-egg-throwers, and half a dozen egg throwers in a room.
“Bob Katter was part of the group that came to apologise. John Lennon was so disappointed by what had happened, he actually told them, ‘Now every time we go out in public, some idiot’s going to try to do us harm’.”
In the long term, Lennon’s admonishment proved tragically prophetic. In the short term, it meant he didn’t feel comfortable leaving Lennons Hotel (named, believe it or not, after unrelated hotelier John Lennon) while the group were in Brisbane.
“The bottom line was, hotel rooms became prisons for The Beatles,” Jeff says. “They couldn’t go out. John and Ringo were so distressed that these eggs had been thrown at them that they vowed they would not be leaving their hotel room except to go to the concerts.
“Because they didn’t get out terribly much, they were very disappointed that they didn’t see Australia. They’d been continually told about the outback, the beautiful beaches, the mountains, the Barrier Reef, and all they saw were hotel rooms. But on the first afternoon they were in Brisbane, Australia came to them.
“Firstly, they invited some Aboriginal people to come to their rooms because they wanted to talk to them about their experiences. They actually hauled three Aboriginal girls off the street who were living in Warwick at the time, and brought them up to the suite and just talked to them about their culture.
“Then Patricia Melke, a ranger from David Fleay Wildlife Park on the Gold Coast, brought a baby possum, a joey, a baby dingo and a koala to The Beatles’ suite, so they at least got to cuddle some native animals. They even named the baby dingo after Ringo, so it became Ringo the Dingo. Ringo lived a long and happy life, along with a female dingo at Fleay’s named Elvis.
“Later that evening, they invited a fellow named Darby McCarthy to the suite. Darby was a very famous jockey, and a proud Aboriginal man from Toowoomba. He still lives in Toowoomba. He was celebrating downstairs at Lennons because he had just won the Stradbroke Handicap. So he was invited up to party with The Beatles.”
While John and Ringo stayed home, Paul and George decided to explore.
“Paul and George, who did want to go out and see some of Australia, arranged to travel in two MGB sports cars, with Paul in one and George in the other, along with local security guards who knew the roads and could take them wherever they wanted to go.
“They pointed themselves in the direction of the Gold Coast, turned off at Tamborine Village, went up Tamborine Mountain to the Curtis Falls, and walked into the Curtis Falls, where George took a photograph that’s actually in his autobiography. Then they came back from the Falls, jumped in their cars and headed off to lunch at the old Eagle Heights hotel, which had an unspoilt view of the Gold Coast.
“Then they jumped in their MGs and drove to Broadbeach. They rolled up their jeans, walked out and got their feet wet. George said that, in all his life, he had never seen such long stretches of sandy white beaches. In fact, I looked at the weather report for that day, and it was a bright and sunny day on the Gold Coast.
“Then they raced back to Brisbane just in time for the 6 o’clock show.”
With all this talk about Beatlemania, it’s easy to forget that The Beatles were actually here to do a job. The band played four shows in two nights at Festival Hall, each set clocking in at a brisk 30 minutes long.
“All of the people I’ve spoken to have said two things about the show,” Jeff says. “Firstly, there was a lot of screaming. Secondly, they said they could hear The Beatles quite clearly in the old Festival Hall, which is long gone now.
“They were on a bit of a high at the concerts because they were being so well received by Brisbane audiences. They had a good feeling about Brisbane. It was also the last destination of the tour, of course, and the tour had gone particularly well.
“Everybody I’ve spoken to says The Beatles did a great job in Brisbane.”
Academy Award winner Ron Howard’s excellent documentary feature film about The Beatles’ phenomenal early career, The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years, opens in cinemas nationally from September 16.