The Beatles touched down in Australia 60 years ago — our culture was never the same

In the early 1960s, Australia was still besotted by 50s American rock’n’roll and surf music.

Young music lovers would stomp and twist across dance floors the country over, and artists like Jerry Lee Lewis, Ricky Nelson and Bobby Rydell played packed houses around the country.

But the world’s musical landscape was changing, thanks to four young men from Liverpool. And one meeting in July 1963 made sure that Australia would not be left out.

One big choice: The Beatles, or Gerry and the Pacemakers?

Kenn Brodziak had barely even heard of The Beatles when he sat down with the band’s representatives to discuss bringing them to Australia.

The Australian concert promoter — who had cut his teeth in theatre before booking tours for the likes of Dave Brubeck, Gene Krupa, and Lonnie Donnegan — had partnered with Dick Lean of Stadiums Limited, who owned most of the country’s large capital city venues. Lean wanted Brodziak to bring something fresh and vibrant to Australia to tap into a younger market.

“It was at Dick Lean’s insistence that Kenn look for something for the kids,” says Greg Armstrong, co-author of the new book When We Was Fab: Inside the Beatles Australasian Tour 1964.

“When Kenn went overseas looking for acts, he wasn’t looking for The Beatles. He didn’t know about them.

“But he had been clued into their existence by an agent in London by the name of Cyril Berlin.

“He wrote to Ken, putting forward new ideas of different artists that are bubbling through in the UK, and he mentioned The Beatles. That was the first time Kenn Brodziak had heard of them.”

Berlin’s letter, which is one of many key pieces of correspondence reprinted in Armstrong and Andy Neill’s book, is effusive. Something big was happening with this band and Cyril Berlin knew it.

“I don’t think I have ever in all my years in the business, seen such scenes of enthusiasm by the youngsters, who were quite ecstatic, and also the acclamation of grown-ups,” his letter reads.

“Up til now, I have had an open mind on this group, but after seeing them at work and meeting them personally, I have not the slightest doubt that this is the most exciting and interesting group this country has ever had and will undoubtedly become internationally famous.

black and white photo of band The Beatles receiving gifts from a teenage girl who is a fan
Susette Belle, 16, president of The Beatles Club of Australia, gives gifts to The Beatles in Melbourne.(Getty: Bettmann Archive)

“There really has never been anything quite like their phenomenal success in this country and you can rest assured that they will steadily become more popular in Australasia and be quite sensational, if and when they play there.”

Brodziak thought little of Berlin’s suggestion. He had a London visit planned in the coming months and they could discuss new acts, whoever they might be, at that point.

“When Ken arrived in London, it wouldn’t have taken him very long if he opened the newspapers or had his ear on the radio to hear that The Beatles were big business in the UK,” Armstrong says.

“They were on the radio all the time with their radio programs on the BBC. Newspapers were starting to bubble through with a lot of hype, and The Beatles were starting to make a big noise.”

In what seems like a stroke of very good fortune, Brodziak met up with a promoter named Arthur Howes, who offered him a list of names featuring artists available to tour.

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YOUTUBEThe Beatles arrive in Brisbane

“The list of names included Gerry and the Pacemakers and The Beatles,” Armstrong says.

“He knew the name The Beatles, but he didn’t know anything about them. He said, ‘Well, I can’t take them all, but I’ll get back to you’.”

He put a call through to Dick Lean back at home, who had even less idea of who The Beatles were than Brodziak. He did, however, know how he could do some quick market research.

“Key to that decision making was Bruce Stewart, Dick Lean’s friend,” Armstrong tells.

“He was a young DJ on 3DB radio, and he knew about The Beatles.”

He was also booking charity concerts at Melbourne’s Festival Hall, which were popular with teenage music fans. So, Lean put him to work.

“Dick asked Bruce to ask the kids in the audience at this Sunday charity event,” Armstrong explains. “He literally went out and asked the audience, ‘Who would you like to see come out to Australia?’.

“He gave the two names and there was a little bit more applause for The Beatles. He basically went back and recommended The Beatles, Dick agreed, called Kenn back, and a verbal agreement was made to book to The Beatles to come to Australia.”

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