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submitted by Vema Newspaper on 28.04.2005

Sourry & Coroneo: Pioneer film exhibitors

The Greek Australian Vema.
December, 2002

By Ann Coward

Until the. 1920s Greek-Australian film exhibitors operated as travelling picture show men, and/or leased local theatres. These the­atres, mostly open-air, were usually operated on a part-time basis. Peter Sourry and Alec Coroneo realised they could make a full-time living from film exhibiting if the town’s popu­lation was large enough, and so, in the early 1920s became owner operators of a hard-top picture theatre, the Arcadia, in Armidale (NSW).

Peter (Panayioti) Sourry was born on the island of Kythera (Cerigo), in the village of Agia Anastasia, in 1884. He arrived in Australia in 1900 and became a naturalised Australian in 1905. His uncle, Spiros Panaretos, was already living in Australia. After a brief time in Sydney, Peter went to Tingha, NSW, with his uncle, and took over a refreshment room. He then moved to lnverell (NSW), where he had a refreshment room and wine saloon,before returning to Greece in 1911, in order to find a wife.

While in Greece, he fought in the Balkan Wars and was award­ed two medals. In 1914 Peter came back to Australia, this time to settle with his new wife Mairika (nee, Coroneo), and stayed with his sister, Ekaterini, and brother-in-law in the town of Walcha, NSW.

Marika’s youngest sibling, Alec (Alexander), bad been brought to Australia. by an older brother in 1907, to join other family members in their cafe business in the New South Wales town of Glen lnnes. Alec was born on Kythera in the village of Pota­mos, and he was ten yeárs old when he arrived in Auslralia. The other brothers eventually returned to Greece, leaving Alec to run the business, and he and brother-in-law Peter Sourry went on to set up a business together in Glen lnnes, as fruiterers and cafe owners.

They sold their business interests in Glen Innes, never again to be involved in cafes or other food-related businesses, and moved to Armidale (in the New England region of NSW), tak­ing over the Arcadia Theatre at the beginning of the 1920's.

The Arcadia had earlier been an. open-air picture theatre, enclosed in 1913 and offered vaudeville acts under its previous owner, Mr E. Smythe. In Armidale, in the era of silent movies, Smythe had owned both the Arcadia and another theatre-cum-rink, the Olympia.

Peter Sourry and Alec Coroneo renovated the Arcadia Theatre extensively in 1925. The theatre building, which they owned, had its seating capacity increased from l,000 to about 1,400. Theatres were a matter of pride in countty towns and the local paper waxed lyrical about the Arcadia renovations, saying that in coniparison to other theatres int he country, it would now “probably eclipse the lot”.

Across the road from the Arcadia in Beardy Street, Peter’s brother, Sam Sourry, ran the White Rose Cafe. As well as cater­ing for the patrons of the theatre, the cafe was renowned for its confectionery, and the upstairs catering for wedding receptions. Both buildings still exist, but the Arcadia is now a hardware store, and the White Rose Cafe a furniture store.

Another brother, Jim Sourry, owned the White Rose Cafe in Uralla, while another, Anthony, later to own theatres in Bris­bane, ran the largest bakery in Armidale. A fourth brother, John, had returned to Greece.

In 1931 Alec and business partner Peter, who now had a famii­ly of five children (Effie, Charles, Andrew, Helen, and Betty), leased another theatre business in Armidale, the Capitol, which they were to equip to show talkies. Built in 1925, it was origi­nally called the Theatre Royal.
Films were switched between the Capitol and the Arcadia and the two partners ran both theatres until about 1936, when they
sold them to Jack Kouvelis, a Greek from the Peloponnesian town of Akrata. Today the Capitol building, still an impressive structure, houses a bargain store attached to shopping arcades.

After a brief semi-retirement period, both Peter Scurry and Alec Coroneo went on to purchase separate theatres. In 1939 Peter moved to Tenterfield, NSW, and operated the Lyric Theatre in equal partnership with son Charles, until 1946. (Charles had learnt aspects of the trade (sign-writing and projectionist) while working in Stan­thorpe, Queensland.) During the War there was a large army encampment out­side Tenterfield and the theatre was extremely successful. As Charles Sourry recalls, “every night was a Saturday night.”

In 1943 Alec, who had married Anastasia (nee Diacopoulos) in 1934 and had one child, Andrew, purchased the Civic The­atre in Scone. This theatre he eventually sold to his cousin, Theo Coroneo, in 1947. The Civic, which still operates as a picture theatre, has remained in the family ever since.

In that same year, 1947, Alec and Peter were to join up once again as partners, and, just as they bad done at the beginning of the 1920's, purchased a theatre from Mr E. Smythe. This time it was the well known Kings Theatre in the Sydney suburb of Rose Bay North. Peters' son Charles, who entered the business alongside father and uncle, was to sell his interests after several years.

Peter and Alec continued to run the Kings Theatre during the­ early years of television, eventually selling the business in 1958. Kings Theatre, a magnificent art deco heritage listed building, had been used to house a variety of businesses ever since, the latest being a groecery store and fruit market. It is soon to be extensively renovated, and will include a mixture of retail and commercial properties as well as luxury units.

Peter Sourry died in 1959 and Alec, in 1970. Of all their children, only one, Peter’s daughter Effie, was to continue in the business of film exhibition, with her husband Chris Sourris.

Kindly republished with the permission of the editor, Vema Newspaper, Sydney.

It would be interesting if persons living in the towns mentioned in this article could provide us with updated digital images of some of the businesses and buildings in those towns?

For further information on Sourry and Coroneo, refer to Kevin Corks' Ph.D thesis on the subject of Greek Cinema ownership in Australia, which has been reproduced chapter by chapter, at Photography Diaspora, subsection, Cafes, Shops & Cinemas.

You can also use the internal search engine, under Sourry, Coroneo, Inverell, Arcadia, etc - which will also elicit futher entries.

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