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Bill Scott: On the Folk Centre

(BFHP Interview)

Bill: Actually there were a couple of coffee lounges that started in Sydney, but at that time in Queensland you couldn’t sing in a pub and there were no coffee lounges around at all. And when Pete Seeger came to Australia - this was around 1962 or 3 - he was going to Sydney and Melbourne, and there was a team of about 20 of us in Brisbane and we said, Well, why can’t Pete come up to Brisbane and do a concert for us here? We’d got to guarantee him some money, so we all put in twenty pounds each - which was a lot of money. We got in touch with Pete and he said, Yeah, yeah, I'll come up. So we hired the Stadium, the old Stadium, not the current one, which was tarted up about 30 years ago, and he actually performed in the Boxing Ring - in the middle. And we were very lucky in that we had a sell-out, which means we didn’t do our money and we were able to give Pete a really decent fee.

So we still had, I suppose, about two hundred and fifty quid, and we said, What’ll we do with this? Will we take our money back or what? And we said, No, we won’t, we’ll start our own coffee shop.

Stan was the moving spirit, and he discovered this sort of attic room in the Royal Geographical Society building in Ann Street. So he bought second hand tables and chairs and painted them black, and they got hessian and hung it on the walls and painted everything black. By expending our two hundred and fifty quid, we had a coffee shop! I was on the Committee, and I said, There’s only one thing, it’s got to be proper coffee, none of your damned instant stuff. And everybody said, Yeah, yeah. That’s great. So we started up there and it exploded really, and the bloke at the Royal Geographical Society said, We’ve got a big basement down there, why don’t you move down into the basement? So we did, and that’s where we eventually stayed for the next nine years I think - down there. We carried the decor and colour scheme down there - black! But it was a marvellous coffee shop.

We used to hire and pay a featured artist every weekend. We only used to open three nights a week - Friday, Saturday, Sunday nights. People like Don Henderson, Margaret Kitamura, and people like that. And, as well as that the resident group was the Wayfarers, which was Stan Arthur, Gary Tooth, Theo Bosch, and Bob Stewart. The four of them, they used to belt out everything from Israeli folk songs in Jewish and we used to get a lot of Irish from Stan, of course, and we had chess sets and draught sets. The good thing about the Folk Centre was at that time in Brisbane nothing happened on a Sunday night - and there were a lot of kids - University Students, and Student Nurses from up at the Holy Spirit Hospital on the Terrace, and kids from Teachers’ Training College - and they’d all be at a loose end on a Sunday night. They’d all be broke and they could come down to the Folk Centre - I think it c ost a shilling or two bob to get in - something like that. And you could get a big doorstep slice of bread with a tin of baked beans on top for about a shilling and a cup of coffee for sixpence and they used to come down and feed themselves. There were kids all over the place. Heinz baked beans on toast - very cheap. So it flourished.

People who went to the Folk Centre have never forgotten it. On several occasions middle aged ladies have come up and given me big hugs and blokes have come up and shaken me by the hand and said, I used to come down to the Folk Centre when I was a kid. Dave de Hugard was a Pharmaceutical student at the Uni - that’s when he started his interest in folk music, coming to the Centre.


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