Ripponlea was the site of Australia’s first ever stand up comedy venue devoted entirely to political satire, which also holds the record for shortest-lived comedy venue, being shut down as the result of a fire that broke out during the second performer of the night’s act.
The name of the venue was the Mason’s Arms, a hotel on Glen Eira Road that hosted the comedy night. The event itself was named ‘Rip On Lee’ – Lee being the nickname of the Australian Labor Party member and at that time Leader of the Opposition, George Elmslie. Much of the alleged satire on display that night consisted of mocking Elmslie for losing the Premiership without ever formally gaining it in a complicated series of legal and political maneuverings in 1913. Since the people doing the mocking were pretty much the same people who were responsible for Elmslie’s loss, it was felt by many in the pub (which attracted a mixture of working class clientele from nearby Balaclava and a more affluent crowd from Elsternwick and Brighton) that the comedy was not particularly funny.
Despite this, the night remained mostly polite. The fire broke out only after a barmaid carrying a tray full of whiskey shots tripped, spilling the alcohol onto a man in the act of lighting his pipe. The whiskey ignited and splashed everywhere, and the pub was soon blazing merrily. Amazingly, there was no loss of life (although the pipe-smoking man was forced to abandon both his pipe and his coat, both of which were set alight) and the evacuation was characterised by a sentiment of goodwill and cooperation across class barriers.
Nonetheless, the night became known as “the Fire at the Ripponlea” (with the tradition of idiosyncratic spelling errors becoming accepted facts being observed), and the area itself soon wound up taking on the name, based largely on people’s misunderstanding of the name of the event.
Suburbs near Ripponlea: