Research: The Trocadero Sydney 1930s and 1940s

The Trocadero 1930s and 1940s

I am currently spending many hours researching for a historical fiction novel that I am writing. It is set in Sydney and spans the decades, starting in the 1930s. My father often reminisced about dancing in the 1950s at The Trocadero or as the locals called it, The Troc. It was referred to as a dance palace and restaurant, not a dance hall or club. The classy ‘Palais de Dance’ on George Street (now the site of the Hoyts Cinema) was the place to go to for a good night out. I really wanted this iconic piece of Sydney’s history to feature in my novel.

Troc 40s

My main character loves to dance and listen to music. She is a seamstress and makes beautiful clothing, when she can afford the fabric. So I needed to find out if The Trocadero opened before the fifties and if so what it was like during the forties and WW2. I discovered that it was built during the hard-hitting times of the 1930s. It’s astounding to think that in the midst of The Great Depression, at a cost of £150,000, a man named Jim Bendrodt opened its grand Art Deco doors on 3rd April, 1936. I can only imagine what it would have been like to wait for friends outside its unmistakable 1930’s facade. Walking into the foyer with its marble floors and polished granite walls would have instantly cast you into the world of modern grandeur. Large relief murals of famous dancers and fleur- de-lis carpet. Colours of scarlet and gold, all typical of the Art Deco style.

My research also revealed that The Trocadero was alive and well in the wartime years of the 1940s, catering to those in search of a good night as well as all the American servicemen who came to protect our shores. This was the era of swing and jazz. In the forties, this was the place to do the jitterbug, made so popular by those handsome yanks. It was where patrons could pay a small entry fee for hours of entertainment. Big names such as Artie Shaw appeared in 1943 with his American Navy Band. This was the time of the Big Bands and here you would swing to its very own, the All Girl Trocadero Band led by Frank Coughlin. (Take a look at the Australian Women’s History Forum blog post that describes one of the band members, Hilda Tansey:

In my novel, I have my main character ‘swinging’ with a man she just meets who later becomes her husband. She walks into The Trocadero with her two girlfriends, and is literally swept off her feet by Billy:

She listens to the music. One hand finds her lower back, the other flicks her out. The rhythms tell her what to do, how to move. Nellie follows his eyes, he angles in towards her and she leans in too. A little skip on the spot and the two of them clap in time, spin again before facing each other, clasping hands. Her hips swing and her fluted skirt swirls above her knees. His smile broadens. They gravitate towards the centre of the dance floor. Around she goes, hips in tempo with the music. He releases her hand completely and she twirls through the space around them. There are cheers from the gathering crowds. For those harmonious moments there is no war and Nellie feels like a star.


After all that swinging, jiving and jitterbugging it was time for a refreshment. There wasn’t  any alcohol served at The Trocadero until the sixties. Instead there was a milk bar and two refreshment bars selling non-alcoholic beverages and specialty sundaes!

The Trocadero’s history is an interesting and colourful one and I hope to take you there again, to  the fifties and sixties. But that’s another blog post. In the meantime, back to the forties and writing that novel.

4 thoughts on “Research: The Trocadero Sydney 1930s and 1940s

  1. My father Fred Switely (Schweickle ), the Dance Band Leader and Trumpeter at Luna Park, Sydney played over the years with Frank Coughlan, Buddy Rich, Don Burrows, Eroll Buddle, Bill Barlow, Jim Gussey, Don Parry and the blind pianist Julian Lee, to mention a few. Fred held his position at Luna Park for 16 years, a record for the time. Many a musician got his start with Fred. Fred had the band at Radio 2ue and played at many a venue from the 1920s until the 1970s. His band broadcast over 2ue playing popular dance numbers and a version of the Aeroplane Jelly song, even a jazz version. The version Fred played was the one in which you could hear the trumpet solo clearly. The Radio announcer was Fred Daley. Fred Schweickle was a traditionalist as a player. When Louis Armstrong visited the Sydney Musicians club, Fred was given the honour of sitting next to him. They talked about fishing and how Louis practised six hours a day.

    My brother Bill Schweickle said that Fred in his younger years used to play in a brass band at Lakemba with Frank Coughlan. The locals used to rib them saying they were wearing Salvation Army uniforms. After playing they had to take their uniforms off and change back into normal clothes.

    Bill’s wife Patricia Schweickle used to dance at the Trocadero on a Saturday night and said when Frank Coughlan played the Johnny Ray song Crying he would squeeze a flower on his coat which was a water pistol and if you got close you got wet.

    Although Fred and Frank played at the two main Sydney venues of the 1940s and 1950s, they were still great mates. Some musicians did move from one venue to the next or were drafted into the forces and replacements had to be found.

    Best Wishes,
    David Schweickle


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