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Photos > Cafes, Shops & Cinemas > Saraton Theatre, Grafton, NSW, Australia - Looking to the stage - the World Heritage stage?

Photos > Cafes, Shops & Cinemas

submitted by George Poulos on 14.06.2004

Saraton Theatre, Grafton, NSW, Australia - Looking to the stage - the World Heritage stage?

Saraton Theatre, Grafton, NSW, Australia - Looking to the stage - the World Heritage stage?
Copyright (2002) National Trust


Approved and entered 24th November 1999

GRAFTON Saraton Theatre
95 Prince Street

OWNER: Notaras Bros Pty Ltd c/- Mr Angelo Notaras PO Box 513 Rozelle NSW 2039

LESSEE: Irene Notaras PO Box 82 Woollahra NSW 2025

LGA: Grafton City Council
PO Box 24
Grafton NSW 2460

AUTHOR: L. Murray

PROPONENT: Graham Quint, Senior Conservation Officer
National Trust of Australia (NSW)


Baynes, Dana (1999) "Shaky Saraton: Council clears way for demise", The Daily Examiner - Grafton, 20 April 1999.

Baynes, Dana (1999) "Saraton saved", The Daily Examiner - Grafton, 18 May 1999.

Thorne, Ross, Les Tod & Kevin Cork (1983) Theatres and Cinemas In NSW. Stage 2 - Investigation of types of new uses for which theatre buildings have been successfully adapted. Sydney: Heritage Council of New South Wales

Thorne, Ross, Les Tod & Kevin Cork (1996) Movie Theatre Heritage Register for New South Wales 18,96-1996, Sydney: Department of Architecture, University of Sydney. A National Estate Project for the Heritage Office (NSW) and the Australian Heritage Commission.

Tod, Les (1999) Saraton Theatre Submission to NSW Heritage Office, including research notes, 24 May 1999.


The Saraton Theatre, 95 Prince Street Grafton, is a fine intact example of a two-level cinema built in 1926 and internally remodelled in 1940. The Saraton Theatre is of state significance as a rare surviving example of a two-level cinema, which is still operating. The Saraton is still under the management of the Notaras family, who built the theatre in 1926. The Saraton has featured prominently in the social lives of the community, being the first theatre built in Grafton, and continues to entertain the community as the town's only cinema. The Saraton Theatre is a major streetscape element along Prince Street, forming the centre piece of a row of two storey shops in a modified Spanish styling.


The Saraton Theatre was designed by Lismore architect F J Board, for the Notaras family. The builder was Mr Walters. The Mayor of Grafton, Ald W T Robinson, opened the Saraton Theatre on 17 July 1926. (Tod) The Saraton was the first theatre to be built in Grafton. ("Shaky Saraton")

The lessee of the theatre was T J Dorgan Pty Ltd, who organised a film circuit of far north coast cinemas. Dorgan also managed the Regent Theatre at Murwillumbah (operating, but adapted); Roxy Theatre at Kyogle (operating); Fitzroy Open Air at Coffs Harbour (demolished); and the Star Court Theatre, Lismore (operating - live theatre). (Thorne et al 1996, Tod)

The Notaras family was, and continues to be, a prominent family in Grafton. They operated a fruitshop in Grafton, adding a restaurant and milkbar later on. The nomenclature of the theatre illustrates the family interests - Saraton is the reversal of Notaras. (Tod) The theatre is still owned by the family.

During its turbulent history, the Saraton Theatre has experienced three fires. On 20 August 1932 the Saraton Theatre was damaged by fire. The picture screen, stage tab and curtains, baffle board, roof rafters and flooring of the stage were damaged. The Theatre remained closed as a cinema for the next eight years, however occasional dances, concerts and other social functions were still held in the theatre. (Tod)

In July 1940 the Saraton was renovated and remodelled internally by Queensland theatre architect George Rae. The result was an auditorium in the art moderne style. The Saraton suffered a second fire on 10 May 1944. The curtain and screen were destroyed, but the cinema was back in operation by late June 1944. (Tod)

Dorgan continued running the theatre until the early 1960s, when North Coast Theatres and Drive-Ins took over. (Thorne et al) The Saraton was closed in the mid 1960s. Family member Irene Notaras, after extensive renovations, reopened the theatre on 10 December 1982.

The Saraton Theatre suffered a third fire - on 13 January 1989. An employee was charged with setting fire to the projection box. However, the cinema was closed for less than a month.

More recently development and demolition proposals have threatened the Saraton Theatre. The site of the theatre was proposed for a carpark in April 1999 ("Shaky Saraton"), but the placing of an interim conservation order on the theatre stayed these plans. ("Saraton saved")


The Saraton Theatre has been described by Ross Thorne et al as "one of the most decorative and architecturally handsome in NSW". (1996) The exterior of the Saraton Theatre is built in a modified Spanish styling. The theatre presents a unified street architecture that makes an important contribution to the streetscape. The street frontage consists of the theatre entrance, a shop on one side, and three shops on the other side, together forming a unified whole. The theatre auditorium is set back from the street. (Thorne et al 1983) The site occupies a frontage to Princes Street of 75 feet and has a depth of 160 feet. (Tod) The shops and theatre are of the same design, being two storey, with the upper-floor above the awning featuring flat arches and a stepped art-deco keystone design over the windows. There are two twelve pane windows above each shop, and three above the theatre. The entrance and upper storey of the theatre are rendered and painted to signify the different use of the building. The brickwork above the shops is orange-red faced. The auditorium features a central pediment under which is a hipped bio box projecting, and two horizontal entablatures with cornices below which are arches outlined. (Thorne et al 1983)

The interior was originally quite austere with little decoration and exposed roof trussess. The Daily Examiner in Grafton described the Saraton at its opening as follows:

"The main entrance to the building is through a spacious vestibule, at the far end of which are two wide doors giving access to the stalls. Seating accommodation has been provided for 720 persons. The main auditorium, however, is capable of seating 1,100 people, but the management have left vacant a space, which could be utilised for dancing, and in which it is possible to place an additional 300 seats. ... From the centre of the entrance vestibule, access is provided to concrete stairs, leading to an intermediate floor, or flyer, 53 ft x 12 ft, thence to the large gallery, in which are 429 comfortable seats." (Tod)

Following the fire in 1932, the interior was remodelled in 1940 in a moderne style. The auditorium had "a rectangular proscenium opening, crowned by stepped fluted panelling in gold, with three recessed panels flanking the proscenium on each side, decorated with modern mouldings. There were large wall friezes along the auditorium walls, featuring oval patterns. The foyers were also remodelled and fitted out with furnishings of the period." (Tod)

The Saraton Theatre is of state significance as a rare surviving example of a two- level cinema, which is still operating.

The Saraton Theatre is identified as a category 1 item in the NSW Heritage Office's Movie Theatre Register for NSW 1896-1996 and is included within the Royal Australian Institute of Architects' Register of Buildings of 20th Century Significance.

Trivia quiz: How did the Saraton Theatre get its name?

Clue: Carefully peruse the name of its owners?

Answer: In the COMMENTS box below, if you know/can work it out.

For information about Grafton, "The Jacaranda City", go to:

Location and History of Grafton:

"Substantial and attractive town on the NSW North Coast
Grafton has a very beautiful and very gracious city centre characterised by wide streets, elegant Victorian buildings, a superb location on the banks of the Clarence River, a sense of solidity, and a long-standing concern with civic beauty, manifest in the 6500 trees and 24 parks which adorn the city. In fact, the first ornamental trees were planted as early as 1874 and the city's famous jacaranda stands in 1907-08.

Grafton is located about 40 km due west of the coast and 625 km north-east of Sydney at the junction of the Pacific and Gwydir Highways. The city is bisected by the Clarence River which, for many years, proved a barrier to the connection of the city centre (on the northern bank) with Sydney.

The Clarence (known to Europeans as the 'Big River' until 1840), with its tributaries - the Nymboida, the Orara, the Mann and the Coldstream - constitutes the largest river system on the northern NSW coast. Draining over two million hectares it contains over 100 islands, including Susan Island which lies between Grafton and South Grafton.

With a population of 18 500, Grafton is the major settlement on the Clarence River and the commercial centre of an extensive agricultural and pastoral district. The fertile river flats have encouraged dairying, sugarcane plantations and mixed farming. Fishing, the raising of pigs and cattle, the processing and marketing of primary produce and engineering are also important.

The area was occupied by the Gumbaingirr Aborigines at the time of European colonisation. It is thought that the first whites in the area were convict escapees from Moreton Bay who passed through the area in the late 1820s and early 1830s. One of their number, Richard Craig, reported a big river and a plenitude of valuable timber when he arrived at Port Macquarie in 1832. He was later employed by a Thomas Small of Sydney who, inspired by Craig's reports, sent off his brother and two dozen sawyers on board the schooner, the Susan, to the 'Big River'. It was the first European vessel to enter the river. Other cedar-cutters followed in their wake. Small took up a large parcel of land on Woodford Island, opening the way for other pastoralists along the river that Governor Gipps named the Clarence in 1839.

A store and shipyard were established, on what is now South Grafton in 1839 and shipbuilding would remain a major local industry until the end of the century when the railways began to dominate internal trade.

A wharf, store and inn adorned the northern bank by the early 1840s . Until 1861, when a punt service commenced, the only interaction between the two settlements was by row-boat. This area was known collectively and imaginatively as 'The Settlement'.

Twenty establishments were listed on the Clarence River in 1841. The district was surveyed in 1843 and a police magistrate appointed in 1846, at which time the population was recorded as 120.

A township was laid out in 1849 and named after the Duke of Grafton who was the grandfather of Governor Fitzroy. The first land sale took place in the early 1850s, a school opened in 1852 and the first Anglican church in 1854. The population, by 1856, had grown to 1069.

Wharves were established in the 1850s and Grafton benefited both from its location on the main coastal road to the north and from gold discoveries on the upper Clarence River. It soon became the major town on the Clarence and was declared a municipality in 1859. That same year, Grafton became home to both the Clarence and Richmond River Examiner and the first National School north of the Hunter River.

Sugar-growing commenced in the 1860s but dairying ultimately proved more successful. Development was further stimulated by the commencement of selection in the 1860s. A steam-driven vehicular ferry was established at this time.

Grafton was declared a city in the mid-1880s, by which time its population had surpassed 4000. The arrival of the railway at Glen Innes in 1883 and the completion of the Casino to North Grafton line in 1905, contributed to a slow decline in Grafton's importance as a regional port although the river trade chugged along until the 1950s.

In 1897 South Grafton established itself as a separate municipality and the two settlements were not amalgamated until 1956. This separation must have been due, in part, to the absence of a bridge. Remarkably, this situation was not rectified until 1932. It is even more remarkable when one considers that the rolling-stock of the Sydney-Brisbane railway (which reached South Grafton in 1915) had to be ferried across until that time. Still, when it did arrive it was a most unique construction, consisting of two storeys with the railway running underneath the road. It was, furthermore, a lift bridge, although the decline of the river trade saw the lift section sealed.

Poet Henry Kendall lived here as a child until 1852, only to return in the early 1860s when he worked as a clerk for solicitor and fellow-poet J.L. Michael who drowned in the river in 1868. The founder of the Country Party, Earle Page, was born at Grafton in 1880.

The Grafton Jazz and Blues Festival is held at Easter and the week-long Jacaranda Festival commences on the last Saturday of October, culminating in a street parade the following weekend. Community markets are held on the last Saturday of each month at the Alumny Creek Reserve, just out of Grafton on the Southgate Rd."

For a map of Grafton and surrounding towns, as well as maps placing the town in a NSW context go to:

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