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Minas Coroneo

Speech delivered by Professor Minas Coroneo

....at the book launch, of Moving Images and the Theatre, Scone, NSW, 17th August, 1997.

Author: Heather Ashford & Mary Woodlands
When Published: 1997
Publisher: Scone and Upper Hunter Historical Society
Available: (?!?)
Description: Paperback

It is a pleasure and indeed an honour to be here today, and my family and I are grateful to the Scone and Upper Hunter Historical Society for asking me to launch Heather Ashcroft’s wonderful book “Moving Images And The Theatre: The Shiralee..filming in The Upper Hunter... Scone’s Civic Theatre”.

Publication of the book marks 2 anniversaries - 16 August was the 40th anniversary of the Australasian premiere of “The Shiralee” and the 50th anniversary of my father’s taking over the licence of the Civic from Alec Coroneo, members of whose family are also here today. It has finally brought home to me an understanding of an image of my parents, my father in black tie, my mother in a sequined dress wearing long gloves photographed with a little girl who is not my sister. The little girl is carrying a posy of flowers which had been presented by Beverly Boniface. This photo occupied a prominent position in the manager’s office at the Civic Theatre and I really had not understood why. What did this have to do with the “The Shiralee” a word first recorded in the English language in 1892 and used for the third time in the title of D’Arcy Niland’s book published in 1955? I could see no swag or burden anywhere in the picture.

Growing up in Scone as the son of the cinema proprietors could not have been all that bad - indeed as it turns out I believe that I have had, thus far, a very fortunate life. From an early age until I left Scone at 16, I saw a lot of movies. This, before videos and some before television - most before the age of the gratuitous violence and debauchery that Hollywood now relies on to sell its product (however in the movie this morning, Peter Finch was handy with his fists and had an eye for the girls). I cannot be certain quite what this did to my psyche or to those of my brother and sister. However it is perhaps no accident that we all finished up in eye care - in optometry and ophthalmology. I had developed a fascination with light and lenses and ultimately sight and the eye - an organ considered to be at the pinnacle of evolution of sense organs.

In the last few weeks I have been trying to recollect my earliest memories of the Civic Theatre. Somehow I missed the premier of the Shiralee - I was after all, almost 4 years old - it denied me an early start to a career as a net worker. Where was I mum? It couldn’t have been much fun for the baby sitter either, given the accounts of what happened that night.

It turns out that I remember the cleaning up sessions in the mornings - and my introduction to rock and roll played on the theatres sound system - I think it was Bert Day or perhaps Brian Collison dancing with brooms to the tune of “rock around the clock.” As a boy growing up in Scone, my father saw to it that I was not idle and as a result I filled three positions designed to teach me the benefits of work. The best part of working in the Civic involved learning something about being a projectionist. My teachers were Stuart Burridge, Brian Collison and Bert Day - patient men who I imagine had to put up with the boss’s son. I entered the magical world of the projection box - film and sprockets and carbon arcs, changeovers, rewinding, joining film and looking out the window of the projection box onto Kelly Street at the hotted up cars of the local lairs. I learnt to make the Metro Goldwyn Mayer lion really roar by turning up the volume and frightening the living daylights out of the audience (although I missed my chance this morning). If things went wrong, the ultimate embarrassment of a black out occurred - and the derisive cry of “stick a penny in it” still rings in my ears when things go wrong. I have to admit that on occasion used this expression myself, much to the embarrassment of my wife. Yesterday, while going through some old film with Stuart, I felt like the boy in the movie “Cinema Paradiso”.

The book goes into the problems of an emergency power supply - I remember construction of the shed and delivery of a large diesel motor that must have replaced the tractor, which the book records as being used as an emergency generator.

Over the last few weeks I have realised that I know little about the early history of the Coroneo family in this district. Years ago on my first visit to the island of Kythera on which the family originated - I realised how being on the island felt like being in Australia - one road was lined with gum trees and oleanders. It must have felt like home. Certainly a lot of effort was put into our garden with olive and almond trees and other vegetation appropriate to a Mediterranean island in the Hunter Valley. Later on as an adult, I met Peter Hoban - Margaret Morris recalls that he grew flowers for the theatre, which I did not know - we visited his garden where he grew the most beautiful poppies.

My father I believe arrived here in 1922 and he appears in a photo in the 4th class of that year. I have searched in this photo for one Alex Ashford and am indebted to Heather for reminding me that it was Alex who taught my father to swear in “Australian”. I remember my father telling me that his older brother Con gave him a good hiding for this innovation. I have to say that my own education in Australian swearing was significantly advanced when I began training as an Eye Dr with Fred Hollows.

Over the years, I have come to realise that the Coroneos made brief appearances in a number of local publications. The earliest I could find was in Edith Potter’s “The Scone I Remember” (1981). She records “When the Coroneo Brothers, Con and Sam, opened their shop in Kelly Street many, many years ago, they burst upon a quiet and well-conducted scene with the sudden brilliance of an unexpected fireworks display at a very tame small-town Sunday School Picnic. The brothers fitted their shop with powerful lights that shone and sparkled everywhere, especially on the highly-coloured, glossy pictures of their native Mediterranean Coast decorating the walls and on the polished glass showcases displaying within exotic boxes of Turkish Delight, fancy sweets, chocolates wrapped in shining metal papers in gold, silver, red and emerald green patterned with roses, dots and stars in contrasting colours; packets of dried figs on which were pictures of sultans with luxuriant, curling, jet-black moustaches, thick shining hair crowned with splendid, bejewelled turbans; and on the counter, great glass jars, round-shaped with a large opening for the hands, holding sugar-coated almonds, assorted caramels, candies and liquorice allsorts charmingly displayed.

To my knowledge, in Scone, the Coroneos were the first of the shop-keepers of Mediterranean or Central European origin. They made a mighty impact on the town when they built their highly decorated shop and refreshment room in Kelly Street. It was a new type of shop selling a new type of goods. Who had ever been served with chipped potatoes accompanying their steak before? Where else could one buy very well-cooked fried fish in batter? Or ice-cream sodas, or Sundaes?”

Another event that may not be well known is that on the 22 May 1935 one of the first and largest meetings of an organisation known as AHEPA (Australian Hellenic Educational Progressive Association) occurred in Scone. The originators of AHEPA in Australia were Greek shopkeepers in NSW country towns. Its primary objective was “to revive and marshal
into active service for Australia the noblest attributes of Hellenism”. There is a photo taken at this meeting and I believe my father was there and took some notice of this aim.

Later (1986), in Leslie Poidevin’s book “Goodbye Doctor” describing life in Scone in the late 1940’s records...

“Scone, at this time and for many years later, had few outside entertainments. The ‘Civic’ picture theatre would have to be classed as number one. Films were shown six nights a week with two changes of programmes.......There is no doubt the ‘pictures’ gained our regular custom. Saturday night was pretty regular, Wednesday, if a specially good film was ‘on’. We often ridiculed our addiction, making disinterested noises, but ending up by going. The ‘doctors’ had reserved seats in the third row of the dress circle on the centre aisle. The floor in front of the first seat had a hole about one inch in diameter with a glass insert. Below this was an electric light globe, which, when switched on, would make a flash and so attract the one seated there. The doctors’ movements were always known. We were never off the phone. One flash of the light meant Walter (Pye) was needed down on the office phone, two flashes was my call. Sometimes the flash would only mean some phone advice, other times it meant a call away. Theo, the manager, would always know where the doctor had gone so the empty seat could be accounted for as the rest of the party left.

This call system was quite a modern innovation by Theo even though we hated to see the flash. It saved him walking up stairs and disturbing those around by talking (I looked for this hole yesterday but it appears to have been filled in). There were, of course, no carpets in picture theatres in those days, even in the dress circle. Neither was there any heating which meant that in winter, with Scone’s freezing temperatures, we went heavily clothed taking a rug and a hot water bag each.” So much for the efficiency of the heating and ventilating which the book records as having been installed by “Unit Air conditioners of Sydney”.

The trade magazine “Australasian Exhibitor” of 5/8/48 (page 4) features Scone’s Civic Theatre. Len Wade records... “The Civic Theatre is an all-round credit to its management; thoroughly renovated 10 months ago, its exterior and interior boast a new face, it is air-conditioned and floral decorations include 18 vases tastefully placed at vantage points. Usherettes are smartly uniformed, well groomed and the essence of good service to the patrons. Theo’s belief in advertising is reflected in the many avenues he utilises to marked advantage: eight display boards in front of the theatre feature exchange and domestic posters with strong representations also in picked positions throughout the town. Fifteen hundred dodgers are distributed in theatre and around town; local “Scone Advertiser” carries the theatre advertisements. Theo also advertisers special programmes over Radio 2HK, Scone. Revivals are shown on the special Bargain Nights. Theo pays a monthly visit to Sydney to arrange programmes for his show, looks after the box-office when at Scone. Theo is a returned soldier with 31/2 years’ service.”

I was quite touched by some of the recollections in the memories section of the book. I knew Ray Clay as my teacher in 3A in 1962. I had no idea of his involvement with the theatre but years later he gave advice on which subjects I chose in high school. By finding out that I did not need to study Latin to gain entrance into Medical school, he saved me from boarding school and delayed the family’s departure from Scone. I did not know of Fred Winter’s early career as a “lolly boy” or his later career as an actor.

I remember my father as an optimist - unfortunately I did not inherit this quality. On 22 (Wednesday) September 1954 (just before my first birthday) there was a fire at the Civic.
The show went on within 2-3 days. There are photos of this event, with Scone firemen in brass helmets scaling the walls - I remember the stage end of the theatre was damaged and years later when I discovered how to get in behind the screen found beams of charred timber still there. A photo of my father standing in the ruins shows no evidence of defeat.

He had spent time in the ambulance corps in the Northern Territory during WWII. The best bedtime stories were of this time in his life. There was the cook nicknamed “Tiny” who weighed 20 stone - for years whenever we acquired large man-eating dogs, they were all called “Tiny”. During this time he developed a healthy scepticism about the medical profession... particularly the surgeons who he saw in action. He did not want his children to become doctors, he thought that civil engineering would be better.. perhaps based on his experiences during the war and the construction of Glenbawn Dam. He tried subtle and perhaps not so subtle dissuasion - I spent a vacation working at the Aberdeen abattoirs. I enjoyed it and finished up as a surgeon.

In the last few weeks I have made attempts to obtain a big screen 35mm copy of the Shiralee - ever one for rituals, I felt some obligation that the movie should be rescreened in the Civic. There is now no copy in Australia - I believe that this demonstrates a significant inadequacy of the National Film and Sound Archives. The newsreel made at the time of the premier of “The Shiralee” (which was blacked out when first shown, by a power failure, relieved by the emergency generator) I thought had vanished but a short section has been saved by Stuart Burrage and a few frames were shown this morning. Tony Kato of Reel Movies, kindly made available the 16mm copy we were able to show today and I am grateful to him for his efforts. Sue Andrews made the Civic available at very short notice for this morning’s screening.

After all this time Ealing and Metro Goldwyn Mayer have ceased to exist, Peter Finch and D’Arcy Niland have passed on and even Dana Wilson seems to have vanished from the scene. Almost against the odds the Civic, one of the last Crick and Furse cinemas still in active service, survives. I am indebted to Kevin Cork for information on the Civic and art deco theatres.

Heather’s book provides valuable documentation of movie making in this area and it will be interesting to see how many of these movies are still available. I am glad that the Civic’s history has been recorded for posterity.

A few years ago I came across a book (“Screening History”, Andre Deutsch 1992) by the famous American man of letters Gore Vidal who, as it turns out, was involved in the movie business in the early days of Hollywood. I was taken by his opening lines that read. “As I now move, graciously, I hope, toward the door marked Exit (he is now quite elderly), it occurs to me that the only thing I ever really liked to do was to go to the movies. Naturally Sex and Art always took precedence over the cinema. Unfortunately, neither ever proved to be as dependable as the filtering of present light through that moving strip of celluloid which projects past images and voices onto a screen. Thus in a seemingly simple process, screening history.”

Well, today we have been involved in screening a small piece of Australia’s history and with the publication of Heather Ashford’s book, there has been a recording of a piece of Scone’s history. I believe that my family have been fortunate in playing a part in this story through our involvement with the Civic Theatre. We were lucky to have settled here and well before the days of political correctness and the fashionable notion of multiculturalism know we were amongst friends.

I wish Heather every success with the book and The Scone and Upper Hunter Historical Society continued success in their endeavours. Again on behalf of my family, I thank you for inviting us here today to share in this event with you.

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