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Sixty years on, we recall when Beatlemania hit Australia

Source: National Film and Sound Archive

Sixty years ago this week, The Beatles embarked on a tour that redefined popular culture in Australia.

The iconic British group spent almost three weeks in Australia and New Zealand, playing 32 concerts in eight cities.

After touching down in Sydney on June 11, 1964, the Fab Four were met with unprecedented crowds in Adelaide to start the tour.

A new book to be launched this week reveals how that memorable start to the tour almost didn’t happen.

When The Beatles touched down in Adelaide on June 12, 1964, for the first concert of their Australian tour a young fan Jan Gardner was among the first to greet them.

The 14-year-old suffered from a lung condition and her friend Jill, who worked at the airport, decided to organise a special treat to cheer her up.

Standing among journalists and photographers on the tarmac at Adelaide Airport, Jan snapped around half a dozen photos of the ‘lads from Liverpool’ as they descended from the plane.

Jan’s story is one of the numerous colourful anecdotes peppered throughout When We Was Fab: Inside The Beatles Australian Tour 1964 (2024) by Greg Armstrong and Andy Neill, which recounts The Beatles’ first and only tour of Australia and New Zealand.

The new book will be launched next week as part of the 60th anniversary celebrations of the ground-breaking tour.

“Jan was standing right there on the tarmac. When The Beatles came out of the rear of the plane, [John] Lennon, as he was coming down the steps said; ‘You look too young to be a photographer’, and she snapped seven or so photographs of The Beatles as they alighted from the plane,” Greg tells CityMag.

“Now Jan is going to be at the Adelaide Town Hall for the book launch with her husband and son on the 12th, and we’re putting Jan in the front row.”

When We Was Fab tells the story of the tour chronologically, from “the spark early in 1963 when there were the beginnings of the possibility of The Beatles coming to Australia, right through to after The Beatles were ended and the legacy thereafter,” says Armstrong.

Beatles

The Beatles played played 32 concerts across Australia and NZ. Photo: Supplied.

Armstrong, who has a background in record management for businesses, says he began collecting Beatles-related material following the death of John Lennon in 1980.

“I really started to amass, over the years, a very healthy video collection of The Beatles, having traded with people and stuff, and The Beatles’ Australian tour really stuck out to me,” he said.

“I started to specialise in the Australian tour because I was so very interested in learning about it.

“A friend of mine who really loved The Beatles would always ask me; ‘Oh, tell me, what have you discovered now? Oh, Greg, that’s fascinating – you’ve really got to put this in writing’.”

After he was put in touch with fellow Beatles fan Andy Neill, who has written books on British bands The Who and The Faces, the two decided to embark on a book.

“[Neill] has amassed a treasure trove of information, but felt that it wasn’t enough for a new book on The Beatles in New Zealand on its own because there had been another book. But he felt like a bigger book needed to be done,” Armstrong said.

The narrative-driven book is based on archival material and interviews with more than 100 key players involved in the tour, including promoters, publicists, fans and radio personalities.

Almost didn’t happen

Armstrong said the chapter on Adelaide, which chronicles the saga caused by the city not being included on the original itinerary and the stunning reception The Beatles received on arrival, is the equal largest in the book.

“The realisation by the people of Adelaide that they were not coming there was a shock,” he said.

Armstrong said Adelaide radio announcer Bob Francis decided to take matters into his own hands, calling for the public to sign a petition that quickly amassed 80,000 signatures.

“They were gathered by everybody out on the street. Kids, mums and dads on vast rolls of paper, toilet rolls – you name it,” says Greg.

“Adelaide wanted The Beatles, and Bob Francis wasn’t going to take it lying down.”

Following the uproar, Melbourne promoter Kenn Brodziak wrote to The Beatles manager Brian Epstein, who agreed to add an extra two days to the tour.

But that was not the end of the story.

The Adelaide leg of the tour was almost cancelled when the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society of South Australia demanded £440 per night to hire Centennial Hall instead of the usual amount of £60.

Bob Francis was up in arms and listeners followed his instructions to lobby the society.

“This is where John Martin and Ron Tremaine really kicked it up, and that’s where John Martin’s decided that they will fund the whole thing,” Greg says.

Unmatched reception

However, it was the unmatched reception The Beatles received on arrival that most South Australians remember.

More than 300,000 people lined the streets from the airport to Adelaide Town Hall to catch a glimpse of “the Fab Four” (minus Ringo who was sick at the time), making it the biggest Beatles crowd anywhere in the world.

Adelaide’s official population in 1964 is estimated at less that 670,000.

Beatles

The Adelaide leg of the tour very nearly didn’t happen. Photo: Supplied

“Everybody knew that when The Beatles came from the airport, they would parade in a car travelling slowly down Anzac Highway into the city, and everyone knew they could come out of their homes or come out of their shops,” says Greg.

“Some of the schools let their kids out with their teachers and stood on the side of the road for the length of the entire motorcade route because it was published in the newspapers exactly when and where they would be.

“In 1964, [The Beatles] swept into Australia and really heralded the decade open, declared the 1960s open in Australia.

“They changed music in the Sixties and culturally they made it possible for kids to own something.”

The Beatles were greeted by the Lord Mayor before travelling to their accommodation at the now-demolished South Australian Hotel on North Terrace. Picture: supplied

This article first appeared in City Mag. Read the original here.

Topics: Books, Music
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