94 George Street, Fitzroy

  • Architect: Unknown / Builder: Unknown
  • Built: Unknown
  • First owner: Unknown
  • Other owners: Burke

The following information is sourced from Janet Gaff, Fitzroy Historical Society, January 2006 Newsletter and she sourced the information from the reports in the Daily Telegraph, The Bulletin, Fitzroy City Press and the Mercury.

In November 1879, Mr. Joseph E. Burke celebrated the first year of operation of his dancing academy by organising a Ball. As the local paper reported, Mr Burke, ‘at the solicitation of a number of his pupils and friends’ determined to follow the example set by other educational establishments viz., inaugurating Annual Exhibitions’. The evening was hailed as a great success, and no doubt Mr. Burke was well pleased with his achievement.

In 1862 Joseph Burke had arrived in Melbourne as a six year old, aboard the Perekop, with his parents, brothers and sisters. The family moved into a house in Victoria Parade. Later they lived at 64 George st (now 94 George Street), which is where Joseph opened his school of dance and deportment. It was not long before Mr Burke’s Annual Ball, held in the Fitzroy Town Hall, became a fixture in the Fitzroy social calendar. In the first year or so, Joseph Burke undertook the catering, as well as acting as MC. However, by 1882, the catering was entrusted to Mr. Cooper, Zepelin’s Band provided the ‘latest music’ and all went ‘as merry as a marriage bell’, according to the enthusiastic newspaper reporter. The Mayor presented Joseph Burke with a writing desk on behalf of the pupils, then dancing continued until 4 am.

An image of the Fitzroy Town Hall Opening Ball sketched in ‘The Australian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil” on Sat 8 Aug 1874

Newspaper accounts of the Balls indulge in detailed descriptions of the decor of the hall – choice pot-plants, art silks, cane work. The dancers also presented a ‘brilliant appearance’, especially the ladies. The reporter was quite carried away: ‘the costumes were in nearly all cases exceedingly handsome … the wearers themselves, as samples of colonial
maidens, would compare favourably with any similar assembly in the world. Of the gentlemen it is scarcely necessary to speak, suffice it to say that they were made to match the ladies’. The names of the ladies present and descriptions of their costumes conclude the reports.

By 1887 the dancing school had become so popular that the residence in George St was too small for the classes. Joseph’s father had died, leaving him the provider for his mother and youngest sister. He bought a two-storey house, ‘Waverley’, on the comer of Gertrude and Little George Streets, and added a’commodious and lofty ballroom … luxuriously furnished, and lit by pretty gassliers’. Included in the new extension were ‘a fine refreshment room, ladies’ and gentlemen’s cloak rooms, and a large smoke room’. Although previous Balls had been held in the Town Hall, Joseph was a consummate self-publicist, and in 1887 two Balls were held, two days apart, in the new ballroom. The verdict was that the hall was the finest in the city, and ‘will, without doubt, meet with the patronage Mr Burke so much deserves’.

The last reported Ball was held in 1892 in the Town Hall. By then, the Mayor and the Councillors were regular attendees. The hall was filled with ‘devotees of the Terpsichorean art’, and the gallery crowded with spectators. Joseph Burke’s pupils performed intricate dances, such as the minuet and the Prince Imperial Quadrille. The dancers ‘reflected great credit on Mr Burke as tutor, the intricate steps and graceful figures and posturing being shown to the best advantage’. The onlookers, according to the reporter, were ‘fairly enraptured’.

While running his dance academy Joseph also worked as a clothing manufacturer. How long he continued to teach dancing and deportment is uncertain, but there is some evidence that his health and his business started to fail during the early part of the new century. He moved to Mitcham, where he died in 1937.

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