Prince Alfred Park, Sydney. Circa 1896

Skating in the park

Patineur Grotesque location identified
 Sally Jackson

In the public’s response to our call for help, Mark Matheson replied that the location was Prince Alfred Park in the South Sydney-Redfern area. Around 14 months ago, the public were asked to help identify the location of Australia’s earliest surviving film Patineur Grotesque (Sestier, Australia/France 1896) as both the film and its location were a mystery. While known documentation indicated the film was made in Melbourne there was a question mark over the exact spot. Now I am pleased to confirm it is NOT Melbourne but Sydney.

While available images showed mainly the Exhibition Building there was nothing conclusive. However, recently, Tony Martin-Jones found an image of Cleveland Street taken from Prince Alfred Park and — voila! — a perfect match. So I visited Prince Alfred Park to see for myself. Although the park has changed substantially the skyline we see in the film still exists. It was an emotional moment standing on the spot where the film was made! All thanks must go to Mark and to Tony for their generosity in sharing their knowledge with us. The image in question (above) is from the City of Sydney Archives and is a Christmas-New Year postcard of Cleveland Street between Pitt and Regent Streets.

The knowledge that the film was shot in Sydney has implications for the thinking on the date it was made. Previously thought to have pre-dated Melbourne Cup 1896 by just a few days to take the title as Australia’s earliest recorded moving image, this is now not certain.

But this is not the end of the story as it’s now possible to identify the rollerskater. Preliminary research indicates there were two skating rinks near Prince Alfred Park: the Elite Skating Rink on Elizabeth Street and the Redfern Palace Skating Rink at 185 Cleveland Street, corner of Walker Street. However, it is not clear if either was operating in 1896, the last mention found of each being 1890 and 1895 respectively. Skaters known to be working around this time were Fred Norris, Harry Williams, Harry Steele, Professor Bass, Professor Taylor and AG Agincourt. As Prince Alfred Park had no skating rink of its own, the person in the footage may have been practising their act or perhaps entertaining patrons visiting the Exhibition Buildings.

If the rollerskater is someone in your family or if you can shed any light on his identity, please let us know.