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Kevin Cork

Cinema as Place.

The case of picture theatres in a group of towns and villages in the Central West of New South Wales

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No. 49. 1995.

Supported and produced by the Department of Architecture, University of Sydney for People and Physical Environment Research.

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[The role of Kevin Cork, Professor Ross Thorne, and Kevin Tod, in preserving Greek and Kytherian "Cinema's", and cinematic history and heritage, has been extensively canvassed at kythera-family. Use any of the above names to search by name, via the internal search engine.

Kevin Corks Ph.d thesis on 66 Greek (mainly Kytherian) cinema owners in New South Wales has been placed on the web-site at Photography Diaspora, subsection, Cafes, Shops & Cinemas, en toto.

This paper, which according to Professor Ross Thorne, was Kevin Cork's best short article, is reproduced in full here.

It is important because it underlines the importance of the role of cinema in country New South Wales, in creating a sense of "place", "identity" and "community".

Further, the role of cinema-owner was a very prestigious one in country towns. In the small town of Gilgandra, where I grew up, I remember the two doctors, Gillespie and Barrett, and the two solictitors, Astill and Kelly, and Brookes, the owner of the Western Monarch Theatre, as the 5 most prominent men in the town.
The ownership of a cinema provided upwardly mobile "Kytherian's" - enhanced prestige, and hence greater integration into Australian society in the first half of the twentieth century.

This essay provides an insight into the manner in which the dynamic of cinema-ownership, and being the provider of the most important entertainment outlet in small country towns, "worked".

Thank you to the Cork family, and editor, Professor Ross Thorne, for permission to re-publish.

George Poulos, Adminitrator].


The case of picture theatres in a group of towns and villages in the Central West of New South Wales

Kevin J Cork
Australian Theatre Historical Society


The people of New South Wales took to motion pictures with fervour from the time they were first screened in 1896. For country people, the cinema fulfilled two roles - a place forsocial interaction and entertainment. With very few exceptions, attendance information has to be derived from taxable ad­missions. Except for the year 1921, official figures are not absolute since the thresholds of taxable ticket prices were periodically raised, thus allowing those sold to children and for front stalls or cheap seats in second run theatres, not to be officially recorded. [1] For example, in 1921 the taxable admissions in­cluded all tickets sold at all prices. In 1922 all tickets below one shilling (10 cents) were exempted from tax and in 1925 the threshold was further raised to two shillings and sixpence (25 cents). In Table 1 the drop in taxable admissions shown in 1930 and 1932 more reflect a large number of admissions being priced below the tax threshold than a drastic drop in attendance during the Depression. In the same way the sharp increase at 1945 indicates both a rise in seat prices, thus more seats falling within the taxable range, and a rise in cinema attendance that occurred during World War II.

More accurate attendance figures would be from exhibitors’ records but these are now quite rare for the inter-war period. However one such was found for the town of Parkes in 1938. [2} According to the document, annual attendance at the town’s sole cine­ma was 128,980. The official population of Parkes for that year was 6140, [3] which meant that everyone in the town went to the pictures on average 21 times. If the young, elderly and uninterested are deducted, then the 21 would increase.

TABLE 1. Picture Theatres and Taxable Admissions Related to Population of NSW

Cinema as Place. - Cork Table PLACE

Year..NSW-Total....NSW-No.of...NSW- Taxable......NSW-Population
..........No. of Pict ....Towns .........Admissions

(*) - the number drops drastically because the NSW Year Books from 1937 ceased to include all licensed public halls in the
figure. Hence, the number given refers only to permanent 35mm cinemas.(**.) The tax ended in 1954.

Sources: NSW Year Books 1913 to 1916.

If the attendance at Parkes reflects the general interest for the state’s population in going to the pictures in the late 1930s, the annual attendance for New South Wales would be in the vicinity of 60 million, with only about one quarter to one fifth of the seats sold attracting entertainment tax.

Why did so many people go to the pictures? Little has been done in Australia to answer this question. Diane Collins suggested ‘s.. a particular film “; ".. a little enjoyable escapism", "..to kill a few hours”, ".....to entertain some guests...", , and “Each person had private reasons for being there that resist near categorisation.” [4] Elwyn Spratt proposed that a night at the pictures was a ‘... get-together in an atmo­sphere of low-hum gossip that was not stilled until the lowering of the lights brought three hours of escapism to the screen.” [5] Reflecting on the pre­1950's, Donald Home claimed that

Since in the suburban shopping centres every­thing shut down at six o ‘clock, the packed suburban cinemas were the main opportunity for the people from a suburb to gather together and look at each other ... Other than these, the suburbs provided no sense of community [6]

Collins failed to consider the psychology of ‘place’ and the social aspect of ‘going to the pictures’. The other two writers came closer to the truth. Qualitative research undertaken by the author supports the idea that the environment (i.e. the ‘place’) was what attracted people to cinemas. David Canter argued that places held strong significance for people. They ".. represent in the most concrete fashion the great mixture of associations, actions and emotions which contribute to our conceptions of ourselves. “Further­more, “The concept of self... is an integral aspect of the psychology of place.” [7] This would appear to be the case for the people within the research area within a radius of 24 miles around the hamlet of Nelungaloo, NSW, who attended the pictures before television.

As long ago as 1938 Ricketsofl said, on management of theatres, “The sole purpose of theatre operation is to make money.” [8]Accordingly, from the early days of film exhibition, cinema operators attempted to entice people inside by means of attractive facades and interiors and showy advertising displays. At first there was just a lobby recess off the street leading in­to the auditorium but, by the rnid-1920s there were intermediate foyers creating a sequence of experi­ences from the street to sitting watching the screen. [9] William Routt has described the buildings con­structed for film screenings as “a series of thresholds designed to encourage the translation of people from outside to inside." [10] He explained this by a pseudo flow diagram of footpath to vestibule, vestibule to ticket box, ticket box to stair, stair to auditorium entrance, auditorium entrance to seat. It is a place “all outside” - ‘facing away from its interior”. There can be no half way in or out despite its “plethora of thresholds". Eventually, cinema audiences focus on the screen, and the screen on the individual. Routt labelled 1920s’ cinema architecture, a ‘fairyland” - “a public expression of collective dreaming ” [11] and lamented that, in more recent times, there was nothing of “architectural excitement in the cinema “. The building’s exterior, having become merely “a screen to house its screens”, [12] has given rise to the idea of “in the film” replacing the earlier concept of “in the cinema”.

Until relatively recent times, “these buildings did not fit the elite view of architecture” [13] and were not con­sidered architecturally important. According to Ross Thorne, some architects have labelled them as “pastiches” or, simply, “non-architecture" [14].... ignor­ing what Canter described as the “need to identify the initial objectives or goals for the creation of the place”. [15] They dismissed them out of hand. [16] According to Thorne, American theatre architects (and, by default, Australian theatre architects) from the 1910's to the 1930's "... argued their case on psychological grounds and evaluated their success through patronage.” He concluded that cinema architects of old possessed “a sensitivity to the nature of an environment, and proceeded to communicate to the patron a strong sense of place.” [17]

It is this sense of place, associated with the built environment, that affects us, although many people are not consciously aware of it. Marvin Carlson, has stated that it is within a theatre building that “the experience of the audience assembled to share in the creation of the total event” [18] takes place. Tony Hiss says that we react both consciously and uncon­sciously to those environments in which we live and work. [19] For him, places give forth messages to people and we should change our way of looking at places in order to experience them with a deeper appreciation. Often, it was not until they had vanished that we regretted having lost them.

In 1975, Collins wrote that “The picture theatre rep­resented the most concrete and pemanent product of the motion picture industry.” [20] Her choice of the word “permanent” is ironic since she was writing at the dawn of a new era for cinema buildings - the multiplex. The single screen cinemas that still existed by 1975 were in their death throes and were taking their sense of place with them as they were being reduced to rubble. To Maggie Valentine, the multi­plexes had lost ‘community’.

One of the most important qualities provided by the motion picture theatre, but missing in the
multiplex... was the sense of community ... They were watching the same movie at the same time and breaking for intermission at the same point
...The sharing of joy and sorrows added to and was reinforced by the grandeur of the space. [21]

As the theatre building has become incorporated into other buildings (e.g. shopping complexes), it has lost its identity, both architecturally and as a landmark, and has ceased to make a statement of its own. Its ‘place’ within a community has altered, socially and architecturally. William Ittelson claimed that “The environment surrounds, enfolds, engulfs, and no thing and no one can be isolated and identified as standing outside of and apart from, it.” [22] The re­search, that is reported below, questioned people who used to attend the pictures in pre-television days. The results indicate that there was a lot more to going to the pictures than just to see a film. It appears that the event was dominated by the sense of place that the cinema created for itself within the minds of its patrons.


The problem or aim was to find out the cinema-going experience in "normal" country towns in New South Wales with an emphasis on the audience relation­ship to the setting. It was decided to seek informa­tion on the frequency of attendance, who in the community attended, the reasons for attending, how they attended (transport and dressing, etc), and general anecdotes and stories that they remembered of going to the pictures. Because it might have been difficult through a sample survey to find the (elderly) population segment who had attended picture thea­tres in the 1920s to the 1950s, it was decided to seek out these people through organisations, personal contacts, and individuals who would have been like­ly to be involved in cinema attendance, and could be researched qualitatively through focus groups, inter­views and, where interviews were impossible, by correspondence. Former members of the audience would be brought together in groups while former cinema managers, and former projectionists, etc could be interviewed.

A target area was selected in the central west of the state which typically contained largeish (for Aus­tralia) towns (Forbes and Parkes), small towns (Trundle and Bogan Gate) and villages (Alectown, Cookainidgera, Gunningbland, Bedgerebong) and the village that was the hub of the circle that en­compassed these places, Nelungaloo. All except the last have had some type or types of cinema enter­prises operating at some time in the past. The re­search area was roughly a circle about 50 miles in diameter thus allowing ease of travel and organi­sation of group sessions and interviews.

Four focus groups were organised in Parkes and Forbes. Groups were arranged through the senior citizen groups in both towns and ranged in number from six to ten in each group. Elite interviews and correspondence were obtained in Parkes, Forbes, Trundle, Bedgerebong, Gunmngbland and Bogan Gate. These included replies to letters placed in local newspapers, chance meetings and individuals whose names were passed on by word-of-mouth. Among these were several former theatre managers and their wives, and former employees. From both groups and individual interviews/correspondents the opinions, attitudes and recollections of forty people were eli­cited. Although Stewart and Shamdasani suggested that it would be “inappropriate to generalize far beyond the members of the focus groups” [23], evidence from other areas in Australia appear to indicate rea­sonable generalization for New South Wales, in particular, and towns in other areas of at least similar climate and where similar types of cinema buildings were constructed [24].

The focus groups and most of the interviews were recorded. They were transcribed and, together with the correspondence, the data content analysed. Six categories of information emerged from the data derived from former audience members; and a subsequent test focus group outside the research area resulted in the same categories. These were atten­dance, audience, motive, preparations, recollections and perceptions.


The results of the qualitative research are set out under the six categories derived from the data. A seventh sub-heading, “Evidence from Theatre Operators”, provides data from interviews with former managers of theatres and their wives and employees that confirm much of what the audience members had said.


Some participants said that they almost never attended because of farm commitments. Infrequent attendees had a variety of reasons that included attending only when mother went, not having enough money, attending during courting days. The majority of the people interviewed claimed that they attended the pictures (before television) at least once a week.
One person went to “whatever was on”.[25] A Forbes’ lady said that she had played piano at the open-air Strand Theatre until she turned nineteen when she resigned. She preferred “to sit up the back” with boyfriends. Those who attended on Saturdays spoke enthusiastically. “Went every Saturday afternoon”; “Why, Saturday!”; “Sat’dee outing”; “Saturday treat..." ...went religiously to the matinee"; ".. we would always attend the Saturday Matinees”; "[always] packed Saturday matinees and nights". “.


About half of the participants interviewed attended with their families (either as children or as adults). One family went into town at Christmas to do late night shopping, "... stayed in with the kids and went to the pictures, and lucky we could do it once a year." A number simply used the word “we” which, from its context, could be taken to mean ‘family’. For exam­ple, “We lived out in the country - Dad would take us in ... ‘The pictures were described by one person as a ‘family type of entertainment”. Another said, “But we all went. “A quick evening meal then off into town to the pictures (although ‘father never went”) was another’s recollection. An elderly correspondent re­marked that in the silent picture days at Bogan Gate, the novelty of going to the pictures was in no way lessened because one accompanied one’s parents. For some, there were ways around this. Mum upstairs and the children downstairs was mentioned by two people. As one girl acquired boyfriends, Mum still sat upstairs while the girl and her partner sat down­stairs. Also remarked upon was that the front stalls were cheaper for a family.

What did people do with little ones? “Wherever one went we all went ... My mum would wheel the pram and dad the stroller with my two year old brother -we would spread out up the long road to town...". Children usually accompanied their parents. Babies were nursed inside the theatre and were taken out if they became noisy. [26] It was not unusual for children to be left asleep in cars parked outside. “Sometimes police would interrupt the film to say a child was crying in a car... " [27] Another person mentioned that “No-one ever paid for child-minding, which was done by a relative or family friend and if people had young children they usually stayed at home.” The same lady went on to recall "....many people took the whole family to the movies ... Parents watched their own children....... Any disturbance would be quickly dealt with by the owner of the cinema...”

Some people attended with parts of their family. Five mentioned that they went to the pictures with siblings (brothers or sisters). One lady eagerly awaited the arrival of “... my brother [who] was in the Air Force and he’d come home and shout us to the pictures
because Mum couldn’t afford to give us too much money". Another recalled that “We had some boy neighbours who went religiously to the matinee.” Another response said that she, her three brothers and two sisters "...would go into the pictures - we always walked the three miles of rough dirt road". Three said that they attended with their spouses. Two ladies went with their husbands, both having gone with boy­friends previously. One man "....went to the theatre with my wife when we were first married at least once a week". [28]
It was not unusual for people to attend the pictures with friends. “Young people tended to go on Friday night... “. Another recalled, “When we were young we would leave our home about three miles away and on Saturday morning we would call at various friends and we would all go to the matinee.“ Other comments included "....being young louts, [we] went with mates”; "...with your friends". Others stated that, as the development from childhood to adulthood took place, so friends gave way to boy and girl friends. "....had boyfriends - developed on from that”; “As you got older, you went with boyfriends”; “A crowd of us always went together. When you were going out with your’~boyfriends you sat upstairs”; “Courting days”; “Girls with boyfriends liked sitting up the back”.

As not one response indicated attending by oneself, it could be deduced that the interviewees looked upon going to the pictures in pre-television days as a social event, one that required company. [29] This being with company could only have enhanced the experience and the place of the cinema in people’s minds.


If a lot of people attended on a regular basis, and if people attended with others, the question remains ‘Why did they go?’ For many, it was simply an outing [30] with social overtones. “At Christmas - late night Saturday shopping - stayed in with the kids and went to the pictures"; “Sat ‘dee outing”; “We enjoyed the outing”; “A night out with your friends’s “A meeting place for friends.”

For others, it was for the entertainment. But, if one accepts that the word ‘entertainment’ means diver­sion, recreation, amusement, (i.e. a special occasion), then the whole activity of going to the pictures, including preparations, participation and aftertime, added to the sense of occasion. “Rare treat - Saturday treat”; “Went with friends - entertainment”; “Some­thing you always looked forward to”; “Only type of main entertainment in those days “; “Yes, you ‘d look forward all week”; “Highlight of the week was the Sat’day afternoon pictures”; “There was a magic about it.” One Bogan Gate resident wrote that the reason for attending the pictures was, “..in silent picture days, possibly the novelty of it all.” For a Trundle resident, “In the winter that sixteen mile trip to town and back was afreezing experience - perhaps this indicates how important ‘the pictures’ were.”

To a much lesser degree than ‘outing’ and ‘enter­tainment’, some said they went to see specific types of films (e.g. cowboys, serials, cartoons). One needs to ask if this implied all cowboy films, etc, regardless of the title and star. Four people said that they went for the filmls: “... [went especially to see] a good picture “; “... went to see the pictures “; “1f I liked a movie, I’d go and see it”; “If you liked the programme you’d go.”

A few said that there was little else to do in the country: “There was virtually nothing else for the young children to do"; “Nowhere else to go’? ; “Only place allowed to go”; “Nothing else to do besides some dances"; “Night time....no place else to go except pictures.” Parkes, Forbes and Trundle news­papers showed balls, dances, social evenings, card parties, annual shows, church bazaars and a range of sporting events available on an irregular basis. What should be remembered about the people who said that there was ?nothing else to do is that they did have a choice to attend or not. Was it, subconsciously, the desire for social interaction that brought them to the pictures? Could this have been the sense of place that the cinema had created for itself within this rural area?


Before they could go, people had to prepare. The first was personal appearance. [31] From what was said, today’s standards fall far short of yesterday’s. Only one lady claimed that she went in “ordinary clothes”. For the others, it was “Best clothes “; “Best clobber”; ‘s.. got dressed up”; “Gloves, not hat”; “Special occasion - get dressed up”; “Oh yes. Sunday best”; “Always tried to wear a suit”; “Dressed up to go to the pictures in Forbes - slacks, tie. Was expected. “; “People dressed up when they went to the pictures. Another response encapsulates the notion of a sense of occasion. “It was a chance for all to dress up, to be special, somewhere to go with your friend or boyfriend ... One always dressed up and felt good.” Humorously, one lady described herself as a “Flash lookin’ tart!” Another commented that girls did not wear trousers, jeans and “that sort of thing".“.

For six people, transport preparations were necessary because they lived on farms. "....sixteen miles by car to Trundle on a Friday nightfor the pictures” seemed not unusual. Another family relied on their father or a neighbour. A horse-drawn sulky was used until a car was purchased. [32] Distance was not seen as a barrier to going to the pictures. “People from miles around usually came”; “We walked the three miles of rough dirt road [to Parkes].” Picture buses ran around the outskirts of Parkes and Forbes, bringing people to the pictures on Friday and Saturday nights. “When we lived up the top of the hill [in Parkes], there used to be a bus service.” As there were no regular bus services in either town, this inducement to attend was provided by respective theatre managements.

Patience was needed to cope with lengthy ticket queues. “Big queue across the foyer to get in.” and “Queued up out onto the footpath.” Some respon­dents, especially those on the farms, reserved seats, but not everyone did this. “All you did was you walked in, got your ticket...”

Two others mentioned: “Used to save up bottles, etc to get money to go in". “We never had a lot of money so as we grew older - we’d all go picking up cordial bottles from around the town - we’d collect old wool from dead sheep and sell it to the wool-buyer, or gather old newspapers from the neighbours and sell them to the butcher or the chip and fish shops.”


Some interviewees were aware of specific archi­tectural and decorating details of their local picture theatres. Others had attended but remembered little. Considering the length of time that has passed, it was surprising how many objective details could be re­called. The pre-1925 Parkes Princess Theatre: “The back part was cut off and they had seats there”; “ticket box in the middle”; “used to open the back doors in summer time to let fresh air in “; pretty rough inside - cream or white outside and same inside”. The second Parkes Picture Palace had a “very rough board floor” and “the seats were all remov­able because they used to hold balls there”. The coloured lights strung outside the Parkes Broadway “made it look nice”, although there were “no carpets on the floor”. However, “the back seats were very good - better than thefront stalls". . Trundle’s Weston Star Theatre was remembered after its 1938 refur­bishment because the place received “new curtains covering the screen".. “White curtains” and “com­fortable chairs” were remembered at the Forbes Strand.

Eleven responses mentioned theatre staff, including:
“Someone playing the piano”; “Manager - [wore a] suit”; “No buy boys in Parkes. Had them in Forbes"; “Several theatres had orchestras. The band used to play outside the theatre from about 7.30 to 8 o’clock - that was at the Princess.”; the manager always dressed up in "...suit and bow tie - -a black bow tie, dark suit.”

Memories of what it was like inside were varied and included: “Always noisy the ones that sat down­stairs”; “I remember friends from the farms - rich in those days - would sit upstairs “; “We would sit as close as possible to the front as that was the ‘in’ place”; “Seats were uncomfortable and it was freezing in winter. The first three rows on each side up the front were of a lesser quality and the kids sat there. “; "....those upstairs thought they were better”. Interval at Trundle "...gave people a chance to talk in groups. No air-conditioning so went outside.”

Once the show had finished, people did not always go straight home. Some stayed in order to extend the evening by snacking at the local cafe or buying hot pies or chips to eat on the way home.


A sense of place was established in the minds of many people with regards to the picture venues, and the descriptions of such vary from person to person. For some, the descriptions depend on particular pat­terns of behaviour associated with places. Canter [33] claimed that "...some places may be more speci­fically described than others. If we think, for a moment, in terms of the behaviour we would expect in a place ... then some places ... have relatively speciflc behaviour patterns associated with them.” Picture theatre venues established particular expec­tations in their patrons regarding dress and be­haviour. It was said above that the staff in Parkes never allowed anyone to be troublesome. Another said, “You didn ‘t go there just to make a nuisance of yourself.” The Forbes’ staff were “... well-respected.”

“Environments ... are not and cannot be passively observed; they provide the arena for action." The environments created by architects, decorators and exhibitors attempted to suggest that being at the pictures was somewhere special. They were, in fact, ‘Suggestive Atmospheres’, creating a certain am­bience which did not go unnoticed. For example, the reopening of the former Broadway at Parkes after extensive remodelling to become the Century in 1951 brought forth this response: “When the new one opened up and was glamorous, we all went there.” The word ‘glamorous’ suggests so much - alluring, attractive, dazzling, stimulating, thrilling. One person commented, “It was wonderful ... Those days were wonderful and life seemed so carefree. I too am sad that our Century Theatre will have to be demolished.” [35] What is suggested here is that the theatre building was responsible for many of those memories. Other responses included: “Excitement”; “My memories of the Parkes picture theatre was one of class”; “There were so many exciting points about the theatre.”

One response commented on the position of the Parkes Broadway Theatre. “Broadway Theatre - up near the Broadway Hotel. That was ‘The Broadway’ [36] up that way. “ Add to this the sense of occasion created in the mind of someone else. “One always dressed up and felt good.” Another wrote, “My life as a young girl was set around the picture theatre [at Parkes].”

In Trundle, the local cinema was “the social hub of the town for evening entertainment”. People dressed up and looked forward to meeting others, regardless of what was being screened. Going to the pictures was of major importance to them in pre-television days. [37]

In the minds of the interviewees, their picture thea­tres are still alive. A 55-year-old resident of Parkes summed it up.

It was a chance for all to dress up, to be special, somewhere to go with your friend or boyfriend. I only experienced that towards the end -actually I sat in front of this boy I’d met once before ... This man is now my darling husband of nearly 34 years. [38]

Evidence from Theatre Operators

The second part of the qualitative research involved interviewing former theatre managers, their wives and theatre employees, few of whom, unfortunately, are still alive from the pre-television days of cinema.

The material gathered from this second group supported the comments made by the former patrons. One Forbes’ manager said, “It didn’t matter what film, basically. Always had a full house.” His wife added that the theatres were the “hub in town” and that it was “wonderful the way that the managers and staff looked after their patrons in those days.” At Parkes, with the post-World War II influx of migrants, the Century Theatre employed a young lady as usherette who could speak several languages in order that patrons with English difficulties would feel comfortable.

In Forbes, "...owing to the distance to be travelled” by some of the families, bookings were common­place. But these were not limited solely to farmers. When the theatre was unattended, the telephone was switched to the manager’s home so that bookings could be made. “The managers and staff looked after their patrons in those days..", recalled one wife. Young people would be minded by theatre staff if they were left for matinees and “parents were given no cause for worry." Although people dressed up for the pictures, especially on Friday and Saturday nights, there seemed to be no distinction between those who sat upstairs and those who sat downstairs.

Respect was shown to theatre staff and the manager was “virtually known to everyone in town.” The role of the manager’s wife was clear: “To ensure that the Manager was well-presented.” This was part of helping to maintain the sense of occasion associated
with going to the pictures and maintain the ‘place’ of the cinema in the minds of its patrons. A former cashier remarked that the theatres in Forbes were “well-run” and theatre staff were “well-respected”. The same lady saw her job (which commenced in mid-morning and ended in mid-evening, six days a week) as primarily a public relations’ one. Social life for theatre staff was limited. Two people (a former manager and the widow of another) mentioned that though they provided a social outing for townsfolk, they, themselves, went without. “The 33 years of my marriage were very fulfilling but sadly as the wife of a very dedicated and conscientious manager our social life together was almost non-existent.”

In Trundle (where pictures were screened twice a week), one of the last exhibitors said that going to the pictures “was afamily affair”. Attendance in pre­television times was invariably good. “Saturdays always saw full houses while Fridays’ houses were always good.”


The study of going to the pictures in the selected group of towns in the central west of New South Wales was undertaken through qualitative research by focus groups, interviews and correspondence, with some forty middle-aged to elderly residents. Six categories associated with going to the pictures were identified from the analysis of the transcripts of the tape recordings and correspondence. Although the results appeared to be similar across the participants from individual towns, thus indicating generalisation across similar towns (of varying sizes) housing similar populations, another town in the same regions was used to test whether the results could be genera­lised across similar populations. A small focus group of elderly residents was set up in the town of Wellington. From the responses from the members of the group the same six categories, found for the principal research towns, were again identified. One elderly lady summed up what going to the pictures was like in pre-television days at the Macquarie Theatre in Wellington:

"I can always remember the wonderful feeling of excitement that I’ve never ever got again as you go in that door and up those stairs with the carpet. It’s unforgettable. There was an aura and to me the only other time lever got a feeling of an aura like that was in a wonderful cathedral. It had an aura about it, y’know. There was the soft music and, as I say, the glamorous person downstairs. Everyone all dressed up. It was an exciting period to go to the pictures". [39]

Unlike oral histories of individuals which may concentrate on the particular individual experience drawn out through different sets of questions for different people, and where the interviewees may be selected for some unique quality, occupation or fame, [40] this study systematically addressed a piloted predetermined set of issues from members of a number of communities, the only provision being that the participants were old enough to remember going to the pictures before television. Accordingly, the results show a robustness that allows the con­clusion to be made that cinema venues or settings for the showing of films in pre-television times possessed a strong sense of place to members of many communities across Australia. Such places provided an important form of entertainment for most people; they provided the setting for a rare to weekly event to which people eagerly looked for­ward; they provided a sense of occasion which had what seem to be essential social overtones. That is, irrespective of the aesthetic qualities of the settings they possessed strong social significance and played important roles, both socially and in physical form within the urban fabric. The following comments from the participants in the research project sum-manse the importance of these roles:

‘"It was a sort of meeting place for everybody -your friends who went there - if you didn’t go with them, you’d meet them there - you’d nearly always sit in the same row.” (Parkes);
“Everybody seemed to go there.” (Parkes);
“The theatre building is still standing ... sad, as it holds memories of a bygone era.” (Trundle); “The pictures were extremely important in the social life of the community.” (Trundle);
“Going to the pictures in Trundle was a big social event.” (Trundle);
“[The] theatre was the focal point of the town.” (Forbes);
“Sort of hub in town ... Seen as an occasion." (Forbes).


1. Official Year Book of New South Wales (1926/27) Sydney, NSW Government Printer, p.245 and 1936/37 p.223.

2. Statutory Declaration by D.W. Watt, Assistant Secretary of Western Cinemas, dated 15.9.1939. NSW State Archives - Chief Secretary’s Dept: Theatres and Public Halls files - Box 10/53071 File T1222 Parkes Picture Palace. The declara­tion provided a complete list of screening dates and admissions for 1938.

3. ibid. The figure quoted for 1939 was stated to have come from Department of Statistics.

4. Collins, D. (1987) Hollywood Down Under. Australians at the Movies: 1896 to the Present Day. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, p.34.

5. Spratt, E. (1962) “Fade-out of the Cinemas”, article in The Sun-Herald. (Day, month and page unknown.) Copy of article in possession of wrtter.

6. Home, D. (1973) The Australian People: Bio­graphy of a Nation. Sydney: Angus and Robert­son, p.232. From 1916, NSW hotels closed at 6pm until a referendum in 1954 altered this and the infamous ‘six o’clock swill’ finished on 31 January 1955. Hence, for nearly forty years, with the exception of the occasional dance at a local hall, the picture theatre was the ‘light’ that drew the ‘moths’ each week.

7. Canter, D. (1977) The Psychology of Place. London: The Architectural Press, p.179.

8. Ricketson Jnr., F.H. (1938) The Management of Motion Picture Theatres. New York: McGraw-Hill, p.6~

9. Perhaps that is why today we look upon the State Theatre in Sydney as worthy of preservation but have ignored less-decorated theatre buildings of the 1930s and 1940s even if these are just as socially significant.

10. Routt,.W.D. (1988) “The Glass House - Film and Architecture. Part 1”. Filmviews, 33, 137, Spring, pp.32-35.

11. It would be reasonable to include cinema architecture of the 1930s/1940s as well.

12. Cinema complexes of the late 1980s/1990s have attempted to create a sense of occasion even though the architecture is different and less decorated than the older pre-television, single screen cinemas. However there have been some poor quality complexes erected.

13. Thorne, R. (1981) “State Theatre”, Architecture Australia, 70, 3, July, p.41.

14. Thorne, R. (1988) “The Environmental Psy­chology of Theatres and Movie Palaces”, in D. Canter, et.al. (eds.) Environmental Perspectives, Ethnoscapes Series, Aldershot, UK: Avebury, p.167.

15. Canter, D. op. cit., p.164.

16. Now that people are much more interested in heritage value, these buildings are being acknowledged but, for most of them, it is too late.

17. Thorne, R. (1988) op. cit., p.183.

18. Carlson, M (1992) Places of Performance:
The Semiotics of Theatre Architecture. Cornell University Press, USA, 2nd printing, p.2.

19. Hiss, T. (1990) The Experience of Place. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, p.24.

20. Collins, D. (1975) Cinema and Society in Australia 1 920-39. Ph.D. Thesis (unpublished), University of Sydney, p.383.

21. Valentine, M. (1994) The Show Starts on the Sidewalk. New Haven: Yale University Press. p.184.

22. Ittelson, W.H. (1973) Environment and Cogni­tion. New York: Seminar Press, p.12.

23. Stewart, D.W. and Shamdasani, P.M. (1990)
Focus Groups. Theory and Practice. Applied Social Research Methods Series Vol. 20
Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, p.20.

24. Similar evidence, both anecdotal and from oral history interviews, was presented by a number of dele.g.ates to the conference “Going to the Pictures”, University of Sydney, 26-29 June 1995.

25. This response was not followed-up but the writer is inclined to take the meaning to be that the person attended the pictures on a regular basis regardless of what films were being screened.

26. None of the theatres within the subject area had a crying room, a facility associated with the classier cinemas of Sydney suburbs.

27. This was corroborated by Mrs J. Townsend whose husband managed the Parkes Broadway/ Century Theatre. In the case of Parkes, the parents left a message with theatre staff and, if a parent was required to attend to a child who was in one of the cars outside, a slide was put onto the screen during the picture.

28. Since these three people had already said that, as children, they had attended the pictures with family members, it was interesting to note the progression of attending the pictures from child­hood into marriage.

29. This may not be the case after the introduction of television and could be further investigated. If television is an entertainment that can be enjoyed on one’s own, has this affected the way people attend the cinema?

30. The thesaurus gives ‘expedition’ and ‘excur­sion’ as words of similar meaning to ‘outing’.

31. It was also mentioned that people ‘dressed-up’ ‘in order to go into town to shop, to go to church, and for other occasions. However, since the topic is about going to the pictures, this activity was not necessarily always associated with those other activities that required ‘dressing-up’. The writer can well-remember his own parents and grandmother when they went to the pictures. They always ‘dressed-up’ and this occurred as much for the local suburban cinema as it did for the special trips to Sydney to shop and attend the pictures.

32. According to P Spearritt, by 1939, only one in four Australian families possessed a motor car. (Spearritt, P. (1987) “Cars for the People” in A. Curthoys, A.W. Martin and T. Rowse (eds.) Australians from 1939. Sydney: Fairfax, Syme and Associates, p. 119.)

33. Canter, D. op. cit., p. 35.

34. Ittelson, W.H. op.cit., p. 14.

35. The demolition took place, after many months of waiting, in August 1994.

36. ‘The Broadway’ is the name given to the western end of the main street, Clarinda Street.

37. Chance interview 20 January 1994 with two ladies parked outside the theatre, eating ice-creams. They said that they were both in their late forties and they willingly shared their memories.

38. Letter to the writer from Mrs R. Mill, Parkes, 25 January 1994.

39. The Macquarie Theatre at Wellington, built in
1938, was the only theatre in that town to have a dress circle (an upstairs). The “glamorous person downstairs” was either, the manageress Mrs Gertrude Warton, in her evening gown, or one of the smartly-attired usherettes. A number of those interviewed at Wellington mentioned that they preferred to sit upstairs because of the better seats, the warmth in winter and the greater sense of occasion. Nothing was mentioned about feeling more superior to those in the Stalls!

40. For example, O’Brien, M. and Eyles, A. (eds.) (1993) Enter the Dream-House: Memories of Cinemas in South London from the Twenties to the Sixties. London: Museum of the Moving Image.


Canter, D. (1977) Psychology of Place. London: The Architectural Press.

Carlson, M. (1992) Places of Entertainment: The Semiotics of Theatre Architecture. USA: Cornell University Press.

Collins, D. (1987) Hollywood Down Under. Australians at the Movies 1896 to the Present Day. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.

Collins, D. (1975) Cinema and Society in Australia 1920-39. Ph.D. Thesis (unpublished), University of

Hiss, T. (1990) The Experience of Place. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Horne, D. (1973) The Australian People: Biography of a Nation. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.

Ittleson, W.H. (1973). Environment and Cognition. New York: Seminar Press.

NSW State Archives - Chief Secretary’s Dept; Theatres and Public Halls files - Box 10/5307 1 File T1222, Parkes Picture Palace.

O’Brien, M. and Eyles, A. (eds.) (1993) Enter the Dream-House: Memories of Cinemas in South London from the Twenties to the Sixties. London: Museum of the Moving Image.

Official Year Books of New South Wales (1913 to 1963). Sydney: NSW Government Printer.

Ricketson Jnr., R.H. (1938) The Management of Motion Picture Theatres. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Routt, W.D. (1988) “The Glass House - Film and Architecture. Part 1”, Filmviews, 33, 137, Spring.

Spearitt, P. (1987) “Cars for the People” in A. Curthoys, A.W. Martin and T. Rowse (eds.) Australians from 1939. Sydney: Fairfax, Syme and Associates.

Spratt, E. (1962) “Fade-out of the Cinemas”, The Sun-Herald.

Stewart, D.W. and Shamdasani, P.M. (1990) Focus Groups. Theory and Practice. Applied Social Research Methods Series Vol. 20. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Thorne, R. (1981) “State Theatre” in Architecture Australia, 70, 3, July.

Thorne, R. (1988) “The Environmental Psychology of Theatres and Movie Palaces”, in D. Canter, et.al. (eds.) Environmental Perspectives, Ethnoscapes Series, Aldershot, UK: Avebury, p. 167.

Valentine, M. (1994) The Show Starts on the Sidewallc New Haven: Yale University Press.


The cover photograph for this issue of People and Physical Environment Reserach, is a public hall that was used for showing pictures in the village of Gunningbland.

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