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Life Upon the Wicked Stage

May 16, 2013

Showboat burns WN 2 Nov 38

Nightclubs, it seems, always burn down – even when they float on water. I wrote earlier about the second Dixieland Cabaret, situated at the northern end of Point Chevalier. Ashes to ashes. Another early example was the Showboat, which was a floating nightclub active at Mechanics Bay in the mid1930s, after an earlier career as a coal-carrier called Columbia. In January 1937, the Australian Music Maker’s Auckland columnist reported:

Big doings at the Showboat. It should be explained to those who don’t know, that the Showboat is an old hulk which has been transformed into a floating cabaret and is moored to a wharf on the Auckland waterfront. Consternation reined one Saturday morning hen someone discovered that the boat had sunk! It was found that vandals had been at work and had bored holes in the hull beneath the water lines, and the boat was well and truly on the bottom. The entire lower dance floor was submerged to a depth of three or four feet, and the cabaret has already lost two weeks’ business. It is difficult to understand why people should amuse themselves by boring holes into the Showboat. Depriving musicians and other members of the staff of employment is not so amusing at all.

Lots of musicians had a night out at the Showboat recently (before the hole-boring incident) and a good time was had by all. Chips Healy, complete with cigar, was much in evidence doing some impromptu baton-swinging, and also causing amusement to the crowd and consternation to the lady friend, by tearing up pound notes. And Trevor Eady didn’t mind, either.

According to Jim Warren, there were rumours among musicians that it was a rival nightclub owner who organised the sinking, but he was sceptical. In June that year the AMM reported that the Showboat was back in action. But a year later – as this photo from the Weekly News shows – its usefulness over, the vessel was towed out to Rangitoto Island see and set on fire. The photo is from the Auckland City Library’s online collection of heritage images; its reference number is: Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19381102-44-2.

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