Tuesday, 9 February 2016

A City in Need of a Cinema


As a kid growing up in Campbelltown in the seventies I particularly recall Mawson Park with its tube-steel merry-go-round, a toy shop crammed into the back of Allen’s newsagency and the indoor roller-skating rink. But what we all really craved was our own cinema.To see the latest Bond adventure or sci-fi blockbuster meant a trip to Sydney and that meant begging parents to take us.

With fifty families moving into the area a week, Campbelltown Council saw the need too, and after unsuccessfully trying to interest private backers decided to build it themselves. Using money from council’s trading operations to avoid using funds from rate payers the council engaged the services of Centennial constructions and Harmar Theatres to build the twin cinema complex at Dumaresq street.
Dumaresq Street Twin Cinema in 1993
 
It was opened in October 1981 by Ald. Guy Thomas with Bill Collins in attendance at a screening of "Gallipoli" – on both screens.
From 1981 on we could go and see, without any parent pestering, Poltergeist, Jaws 2 and Raiders of the Lost Ark as many times as we liked as long as the pocket money held out. Movies became a fortnightly treat rather than semi-annual. The eighties, for us was the golden age of cinema.
Of course what I hadn’t known then was that there had previously been two cinemas in Campbelltown. Sidney Bragg operated one in the old Town Hall, initially with a hand-cranked silent projector.  After becoming fully electric in 1920 it operated for a further six years, under various management, before closing in February 1926. The building of a new cinema, the Macquarie, was well underway at this time on the corner of Queen and Browne Street and I wonder if this had any bearing on the last movie chosen to play at the Town Hall - “The Uninvited Guest.”
The Macquarie Cinema screened it's first double feature in August of that year with a Western and a movie appropriately called "When the doors open"
From the cover of the the Macquarie Cinema Silver
Anniversary programme, May 1956

The Macquarie Cinema was built by local Doctor William Mawson largely from the sandstone bricks of the demolished Kendall’s Mill. Mindful of the Town Hall cinema's limitations, Mawson and the local architect A.W. Moule purpose-built this cinema with auditorium and stage, seating over 450 which rose to 700 with later improvements. Sadly, the building would be freezing cold in winter and boiling hot in summer. Fans were installed in the 1930’s but did little to cool patrons who instead threw lollies at the spinning blades for entertainment.
On occasions, the sound of a Ford Prefect motor could be heard as a back-up generator during Post War electricity strikes.

At the height of its popularity the Macquarie Cinema showed a newsreel, travelogue, two feature films and sometimes a cartoon, totalling 3hours of entertainment all for of one and nine pence.
The decline of the cinema began with the introduction of TV and in 1966 the Mawson estate sold the cinema to “Skatelands” for approximately $20,000 and for a time it became a roller-skating rink run by local bicycle shop owner Jack Hepher.
The Macquarie Cinema on the corner of Queen and Browne St in April 1977

Sadly the building began to decay and after being used as storage for Downes department store it was demolished in 1979.
 
Written by
Michael Sullivan

References:
The Macquarie cinema by Juleanne Horsman
The Macquarie Cinema Silver Anniversary programme, May 1956
Only a bird in a guilded cage by John Daley Local History Librarian, Campbelltown City library. Sep 1982
Campbelltown-Ingleburn News p29, 20 October 1981
Campbelltown Cinema 1917-1927 by Norm Campbell
Campbelltown City Library Oral Histories online

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