The first known theatre in Australia was in a converted tile shed in Brickfields, Parramatta, not far from the infant penal settlement of Sydney in 1793-4.
The best known of Australia’s early theatres, however, was built by the former convict baker, Robert Sidaway, and appears to have been located near a windmill at the Rocks, in view of the expanse of Sydney harbour and the clutter of convict dwellings nearby. Sidaway’s theatre opened for business on 16 January 1796. It allowed patrons to pay for a ticket to the gallery not in one shilling coins, but an equivalent quantity of flour, or spirits, or meat. The English press had a hearty laugh at this when it found out:
‘According to a French journalist, admissions to the Theatre at Botany Bay are paid for either in money or eatables. For a leg of mutton you have free access to any place before the curtain, and if you add Caper Sauce you may take in a friend’ (Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, 24.9.1798).
In spite of the sarcasm, this practice was sometimes to be found in England’s smaller country theatres, including one in which the manager was paid in nothing but fish. Can you just imagine the brouhaha of bartering, the earnest pleas, the clouds of flour and stink of fish scales, and the frustrated crowds milling at the gallery door?
Source: Robert Jordan, The Convict Theatres of Early Australia, 1788-1840 (Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press, 2003), 37