The Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust was established in September 1954 under the guidance of H. C. Nugget Coombs, Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, Sir Charles Moses General Manager, Australian Broadcasting Commission and John Douglas Pringle, Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald. It aimed to establish drama, opera and ballet companies nationally.
The Trust has nurtured and seen to independence many of Australia's most significant performing arts companies including Opera Australia and the Australian Ballet Foundation. The Trust also formed, maintained and administered two music Opera and Ballet orchestras, one each in Sydney and Melbourne, to accompany ballet and opera companies, and one smaller orchestra of Sydney freelance musicians named the Elizabethan Sinfonietta.
Following the establishment of the Australian Council for the Arts in 1968, it ceased to be a funding body for opera and ballet in 1970.
In 1974, Geoffrey Wynter Armstrong bequeathed a sum of money to the Trust to establish a memorial fund to be known as the Geoffrey Wynter Armstrong and Elizabeth Mary Martin Scholarship. The annual award is currently administered by Music & Opera Singers Trust Limited.
During the 1980s the Trust scaled back its operations and in the 1990s had a Sydney focus and operated a ticketing agency and organised theatre parties.
In 1990, the Trust went into provisional receivership and its operations were scaled back by its Administrator. Its arts promotion role passed to the Australian Council for the Arts (later the Australia Council). Management of The Trust was given back to the Directors in 1992.
In 2000, the Trust launched its international music scholarship program for Australian singers, musicians and conductors wishing to undertake overseas music study. This assists musicians, singers and conductors in all music genres in making a unique, original and valuable contribution to Australian culture.
Since 2000 there have been 107 music scholarships awarded with a total value of $1,337,559. Of these there have been 29 awards to singers for study in The Netherlands, UK, France, USA, Germany and Italy. Musicians have received awards for chamber music, orchestral and solo study in UK, Europe and USA. There are no restrictions on scholars applying for further assistance and it is the Trust's view that it should stand by and support, when practical, a scholars' musical development for life.
In 2004 the Trust purchased the Independent Theatre at North Sydney and undertook a major acoustical and heritage refurbishment of the venue. This initiative resulted in the production of a fine chamber music venue with an outstanding acoustic quality for both performers and audience. The Trust sold the Independent in 2013 to Wenona School who have continued the chamber music programs.