Happy Birthday: Adelaide Festival Centre turns 50

The iconic Adelaide Festival Centre turns 50 today and they have rolled out the red carpet for a special celebratory concert tonight at Festival Theatre, with more festivities to come across the year.

It was 50 years ago to the day, on June 2, 1973, that Adelaide Festival Centre officially opened its doors with a concert performed to a full house in Festival Theatre. Prime Minister at the time, Gough Whitlam was in attendance to officially open Festival Theatre and declared “the Festival Theatre will be a great source of great pride to the people of South Australia and the City of Adelaide.… It will also, I believe be an inspiration to the whole of Australia.”

At the close of that very first performance, the crowd rose to deliver a rapturous standing ovation and to this day after 50 years of entertaining South Australians and visitors to our state, that applause and love of performance has continued at Adelaide Festival Centre.

Tonight 50 years later, South Australians will come together to celebrate with Adelaide Festival Centre 50th Anniversary Celebration Concert taking place on the Festival Theatre stage. With performances by an all-star South Australian line-up followed by an after-party celebration featuring cake, cocktails, retro menu items, live music, dancing, and DJ’s.

Libby O’Donovan

This special event hosted by Libby O’Donovan OAM, will showcase Adelaide Festival Centre’s five beloved festivals – DreamBIG Children’s Festival, Adelaide Cabaret Festival, OzAsia Festival, Adelaide Guitar Festival and OUR MOB. 

The concert will feature the talents of Adelaide Guitar Festival Artistic Director Slava Grigoryan, acclaimed cellist Sharon Grigoryan, First Nations singer/songwriter Katie Aspel, Helpmann Award winning cabaret artist Michael GriffithsCounterpoint Ensemble who wowed audiences in the 2022 line-up of the OzAsia Festival, Latin trumpet virtuoso Lazaro Numa and the South Australian Primary Schools Choir which this year celebrates its 20th anniversary.  This memorable program has been written and directed by South Australian performer and creative Johanna Allen.  

Adelaide Festival Centre CEO & Artistic Director Douglas Gautier AM: “I have been fortunate to have played a part in Adelaide Festival Centre’s first 50 years and look forward to celebrating this milestone Birthday tonight and at our upcoming events throughout the year.

“Throughout my career, this organisation and arts complex has always been a benchmark for me – in terms of the power of creative energy, and commitment of artists, and arts workers to give something positive and relevant back to their community. 

“We look forward to continue bringing live entertainment and arts to the people and visitors of South Australia in the years ahead.”

Festival Theatre Opening Night, 1973

The Hon. Anthony Albanese, MP, Prime Minister of Australia: “50 years ago, two great Labor leaders, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and SA Premier Don Dunstan, stood shoulder to shoulder and launched the first Arts Centre in Australia, Adelaide Festival Centre.  

“Both leaders were adamant believers in the power of culture to strengthen society and bringing us all together. Half a century on, my government believes and acts on the same convictions.

“Happy Birthday Adelaide Festival Centre, long may your curtains rise.”

Minister for Arts the Hon. Andrea Michaels MP: “Labor Premier Don Dunstan understood that art is a powerful way of connecting with each other and the world when he opened the first arts centre in Australia and now, 50 years later, I am thrilled to be celebrating this extraordinary milestone with a 50th anniversary concert.

“Featuring an all-star line-up of South Australian talent, this concert is a celebration of 50 years of innovative, thought-provoking and exciting performances. South Australians are rightly proud of our state’s legacy as the festival state with the Festival Centre at its heart.”

The Superjesus, The Gov Adelaide, 2021 Photo credit: Kerrie Geier

In addition to the concert, the Turn Up Your Radio exhibition which celebrates Adelaide’s music scene, opens tonight. The exhibition will feature music memorabilia including original handwritten song lyrics, costumes, instruments, photographs and gig posters from South Australia’s best-known musicians including SiaCold ChiselPaul KellyRuby Hunter, The AudreysLittle River BandThe SuperjesusHilltop Hoods and more. The exhibition also features photographs submitted by music lovers, amateur photographers, gig attendees and professional photographers. Turn Up Your Radio will be open to the public Thursdays and Saturdays from 10am to 3pm and during show times in Festival Theatre Galleries until August 12.  

Also on display from June 2 is a one-of-a-kind couture gown by Paolo Sebastian specially designed and created to celebrate Adelaide Festival Centre’s 50th Anniversary.  As a lasting tribute, the gown will become a cherished addition to Adelaide Festival Centre’s beloved Performing Arts Collection, which was established in 1979 by Premier Don Dunstan with the aim to preserve, record and display the significant contributions artists have made on stage and behind-the-scenes. Since its inception, the Performing Arts Collection has evolved to become one of the most important and comprehensive performing arts collections in Australia and comprises over 100,000 objects.

As part of our festivities this year, visitors to Adelaide Festival Centre can purchase a wonderful selection of celebratory souvenirs.  These include, brooches specially commissioned by JamFactory, a jigsaw puzzle, t-shirts, tote bags, coffee table books and special 50th anniversary wines. These items and more can be purchased during show times at Adelaide Festival Centre.

The 50th anniversary celebrations don’t just stop tonight, there will be special events continuing throughout the year. Next up will be Adelaide Cabaret Festival and its nod to the 50th festivities with the return of an all-star line-up of nine Artistic Directors, The Cabaret Collective – Julia HoltDavid Campbell and Lisa CampbellKate CeberanoEddie PerfectAli McGregorJulia ZemiroAlan Cumming and Tina Arena. Each have put their special stamp on the program, bringing back some cabaret classics and presenting new and emerging artists. Many will perform at the already sold-out opening night The 2023 Variety Gala, and some have their very own shows as part of the stellar line-up.

Did you know?

  • Adelaide Festival Centre was the first capital city arts centre to open in Australia, preceding Sydney Opera House and Arts Centre Melbourne.
  • With a design by architect John Morphett approved, construction on Australia’s first multi-purpose arts centre commenced in 1970 and took almost three years to complete.
  • The program for the Festival Theatre’s gala opening concert on June 2, 1973, featured Richard MealeFanfare, Beethoven: Fidelio Act Two, Scene 1 and Beethoven: Ninth Symphony. Conducting the South Australian Symphony orchestra was Laidslav Slovak.
  • Officials in attendance on June 2, 1973 – Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, South Australian Premier, Don Dunstan, Governor of South Australia, Sir Mark Oliphant and Lord Mayor of Adelaide, Robert Porter.
  • The Festival Theatre had been created for the people of South Australia – two weeks prior to the opening night 40,000 South Australians inspected the theatre in a single day. The queue stretched from King William Road to North Terrace.
  • Today, Adelaide Festival Centre hosts more than 1,100 performances and events every year and welcomes one million visitors and over 70,000 children, students, teachers, and their families attend the Adelaide Festival Centre every year.
  • Adelaide Festival Centre features Festival Theatre, Dunstan Playhouse, Space Theatre, Children’s Artspace, Festival Theatre Galleries, Star Kitchen and Bar and owns and operates Her Majesty’s Theatre which recently underwent a stunning redevelopment.
  • Adelaide Festival Centre has a special 50th anniversary podcast. The First 50 podcast hosted by Adelaide’s very own cabaret icon Libby O’Donovan features a monthly episode exploring the careers of artists who have graced the stages of Adelaide Festival Centre, starting with South Australia’s own Robyn Archer. All episodes are available to listen to here or on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.  Other episodes feature didgeridoo virtuoso William Barton, Australian music icon Kate Ceberano and musical theatre royalty Todd McKenney and Rhonda Burchmore who fondly remember starting their careers at Adelaide Festival Centre in the 80s. The podcast is presented and produced by Adelaide Festival Centre and local agency Solstice Podcasting.

More on Adelaide Festival Centre’s history here

Don’t miss out on the Adelaide Festival Centre 50th Anniversary Celebration Concert Friday 2 June 2023 at 7.00pm. Final tickets on sale now at adelaidefestivalcentre.com.au 

Adelaide Cabaret Festival

9 – 24 June 2023


  • Staff Writer

    Made up of a small, tight knit team of writers and contributors who are passionate about all things FIFTY+ and the New Age. We love Adelaide and wider South Australia and sharing with you all of the l...


We would like to acknowledge the Kaurna people as the custodians of the lands and waters of the Adelaide region.

FIFTY+SA © 2024. All Rights Reserved. 


Join the New Age

Get the latest events, news, reviews and exclusive competitions sent straight to your inbox.  Never miss a beat!