Brown’s Mart dates back to 1885 when it had the distinction of being one of the few privately owned commercial buildings constructed of local stone, rather than corrugated iron. It was built by Vaiben Louis Solomon (1853-1908) in 1885 and was originally known as “Solomon’s Mart”.
The next owner’s name became associated with the building for more than a hundred years: Victor Vowles Brown (1841-1910) took over the building in September 1887 and established the Port Darwin Mercantile and Agency Co. Brown’s Mart, as it was later known, housed the offices of the Eastern and Australian Steam ship Company, North Australian Lloyds and the Northern Territory Mining Exchange.
Brown’s Mart sustained considerable damage in the 1897 cyclone, losing its roof and most of a sidewall, but was rebuilt and leased out to a local bank.
During World War II the armed forces used the building, vacating it in July 1952 when the Crown Law Office moved in until the mid 1960s. Subsequent tenants included the NT Police.
The Darwin Theatre Group, who proposed its use as a community theatre, instigated Brown’s Mart’s final transformation.
In October 1971, a Board of Trustees was appointed to manage this new role: Ken Conway (Chairman), Lyn Serventy, Lawrence Ah Toy, Grant Tambling, Christopher Nathanael, Peter Spillett and Ken Waters.
Our Theatre Precinct
Rehearsals and theatre workshops were held in the Mart from early 1972 and members of the Apex Club and the Arts Council helped to prepare it for the first public performance.
In November 1972, architect Peter Dermoudy, subsequently a Chair of the Trust, was commissioned to design a new theatre layout and administration block. Stage one of the administration building had just been completed with the much-appreciated air-conditioning, when Cyclone Tracy hit in 1974.
In January 1976, the Darwin Reconstruction Commission set funds aside for protective work on historic buildings including Brown’s Mart, and the Mart received a National Estate grant towards its restoration. The first production in the restored theatre took place in July 1976. Darwin Theatre Group’s revue ‘No Show’, detailed the revival of a fictional amateur theatre company following the near destruction of its theatre despite the bureaucratic aftermath of disaster!
Opened in August 1977, the administration block, including a rehearsal space, was built separately to house Brown’s Mart staff and designed to harmonise with the style of the original Mart.
In March 1978 retractable, tiered seating was installed, funded from Government, corporate support and community contributions. These efforts were co-ordinated by the “The Friends of Brown’s Mart” and in the same month, the Mart was nominated for listing on the Register of the National Estate.
In July 1979 a separate organisation, Brown’s Mart Community Arts Project Inc, was formed to be responsible for the community arts, multi-arts and arts development work formally auspice by the Trust.
In June 1985, Darwin City Council handed over a portion of Civic Square, which adjoins the Mart to the Brown’s Mart precinct. This gift enabled the extension of the courtyard and an eight-metre addition to the administration building.
In 1995 extensive paving of the courtyard area enabled the Mart to play host, more effectively, to a large number of outdoor events.
Into the Future
Following a Sculpture in the Park event, initiated by the Trustees of Brown’s Mart, Darwin City Council, moved to create a master plan for the development of Civic Park as a venue for public art and arts activities.
In late 2009, following a report by the Anzarts Institute on the state of theatre and performance in the Northern Territory, a Producing hub was established at Brown’s Mart. The review had noted that: Brown’s Mart has played an iconic role across the arts in Darwin. The venue alone is a key factor in future theatre development in the city and by extension, the Top End.
Today, a dedicated team of professionals, overseen by a voluntary Board of Management, manages the precinct. With their combined support, the Brown’s Mart precinct is re-establishing itself as Darwin’s venue of choice for presenting high quality, locally produced theatre in a welcoming, vibrant and intimate theatre environment.
Brown’s Mart’s producing arm will continue to serve the Darwin artistic community in offering critical and strategic artistic support during creative development, rehearsal, production and touring.
Its ultimate vision is to bring together people of diverse backgrounds to share their stories and cultural traditions through live performance.