Bring the Library to your lounge room with the On Stage virtual tour!

Press 'Play' to start exploring. If you need assistance, instructions for navigating the tour can be found below.

To navigate the tour, press the 'Play' button in the centre of the screen and then use the arrow keys on your keyboard, click or drag your mouse, or click on the white circles on the Gallery floor to move around the Gallery.

Clicking the purple circles on the exhibited objects will bring up an image of the item. Clicking on the green circles brings up the image captions and a link to the digitised item on Trove, where available.

If you need further assistance, more information can be found by clicking the 'Help' button in the bottom right-hand corner of the virtual tour screen.

Let us know what you thought of the virtual tour by using our User Feedback form.

Read about the exhibition  

The world of On Stage

From all walks, many have stepped onto the stage. Dancers, bands, and comedians. Lagerphone players too. In a way, the history of Australian performing arts is the story of us. From all walks of life, many live on forever. Some known to the sweet tooth, and voices ageless to time. Now in theatres, opera houses, and big days out.

The National Library of Australia is proud to present On Stage; a spotlight on Australian performing arts. Step into the limelight onsite or online.

On Stage and costume design

Speaker 1: A costume can be transformative, a staple inspiring a lifelong passion like the classic ballet tutu, or it can stretch the imagination, adding to the story, bringing to life a character. A costume might signal the hero or provide audiences with an early warning on who the villain might be. Take the work of costume designer Kristian Fredrikson as an example. When designing costumes for The Revenger's Tragedy, Fredrikson foreshadowed the dark themes in the play. Keen eyes might even be able to guess the face of the villainous Duke from the... oops, no spoilers. Over the course of his creative career, Fredrikson also designed costumes for the ballet, Swan Lake, several times. Because of course costume design for the performing arts is not only a creative challenge, but a technical one.

Kristian Fredrikson: You know what's happening to the body, you know what stress and what strain is being put. You know where the difficulties of fabric lie.

Speaker 1: Dress up and look a little closer at the world of costume design when you visit On Stage: Spotlight on Our Performing Arts at the National Library of Australia.

Women Leaders

Australia has a rich history of trendsetting women who have blessed the stage. Whether born in Australia or abroad, many broke down barriers that can still be felt today.

Take Lola Montez, for example. Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, better known for her stage name, Lola, became famous as a Spanish dancer, courtesan and mistress of King Ludwig the First of Bavaria during the 1840s. Due to the public's increasing distaste for her increased political power, Lola fled for sojourns across the world before setting foot on Australian shores in June, 1855.

It was the height of the Australian gold rush and Lola's scandalous spider dance was an instant hit with prospectors, many showering her with gold nuggets. However, after her legendary first performance at the Theatre Royal in Melbourne, the Argus described the performance as utterly subversive to all ideas of public morality. A bit harsh for showing some leg, no? Not one to take criticism lightly, Lola earned further notoriety when she publicly rebutted a negative review of her performance in the Ballarat Times by whipping the paper's editor in the street. A pioneer of body positivity and a rebel to the constrictive moral ideals of the time, Lola was true to her expression of self and the art of dance.

Another glass ceiling shattering woman is the marvelous Winifred Atwell. Born in 1914 in Trinidad and Tobago, Winfred rose to fame as a ragtime pianist. During the 1940s, while touring the UK, she became the first black person to have a number one hit in the UK singles charts. Arriving in Australia in 1955, Winfred was treated with equal celebrity. She toured the infamous Tivoli Circuit. Keenly aware of prejudice and injustice, she was outspoken about racism towards First Nations people in Australia and even initially held reservations about visiting. Today, she's remembered as one of history's most exquisite piano players, noted by Elton John as one of his greatest idols when learning to play piano.

Step back in time and discover more Australian performing arts stories with On Stage: Spotlight on Australian Performing Arts, on site and online.


In showbiz, the choice in venue can make the difference between a triumph and a flop. January 16th, 1796, saw the opening of the theatre in Sydney on Windmill Row in The Rocks area, Australia's first purpose-built theatre location.

In the words of Lieutenant-Governor David Collins, it was constructed by 'some of the more decent class of prisoner'. The first commercial theatre to be built in Australia was the Theatre Royal, opened in 1833 by Barnett Levey. Located on George Street, the Royal was Sydney's only theatre until 1838, costing two to five shillings for a seat. Early productions included 'The Irishman in London' and 'Richard III'. Unfortunately, the Royal has had an unlucky history, suffering fires in 1840 and 1892.

Most notably, from 1882 to 1976, the Theatre Royal's third iteration was leased by the J.C. Williamson Company, showcasing nearly all of their major productions and featuring stars like Sir Robert Helpmann, Anna Pavlova, and Dame Nellie Melba. To learn about Australia's rich theatrical history, explore our current exhibition On Stage, onsite and online.