Monday 12 February 2024

Running the Cinema: the many challenges!

Many of our older readers would remember Macquarie Cinema on the corner of Browne and Queen Streets. There are many fond memories of the Macquarie that are regularly recalled, like in last week's library social media post. But what was it like to own the cinema? In 1979 Fred and Ida Eves were interviewed about their time as operators of the Macquarie Cinema. Interestingly, Fred and Ida were interviewed in August that year- only four months before the former cinema building was demolished, yet at the time of the interview both had no idea of the pending fate of the building.

Fred and Ida Eves bought the cinema from a Mr Holdsworth in 1930. The building was owned by Dr Mawson. Fred's father owned a theatre in Bathurst where Fred was living before he moved to Campbelltown.

Taken in 1932 at a Saturday night dance in the cinema

One of the early perils experienced by the Eves' were when the "talkies" arrived and with the sound that accompanied them. Fred Eves explained: "They used to have a record with the soundtrack on it. When you started the machine with the film in it would automatically start the record with it. As it spun around, and the film came on the screen it was synchronised with the record. The trouble with that was if anyone walked into the operating box and bumped the door the needle would jump across the record. It would throw it out of synchronisation and it became a comedy. When John Bowles was supposed to sing there wasn’t a sound and as he walked off he would sing. Then a lady would come out to sing and it would be a man’s voice. It would be all mixed up and you couldn’t do anything about it until that reel eventually ran out." You couldn't lift the needle to move it because there was nothing to tell you where to put it. Therefore, everything came out of sync and it was hilarious!  Instead of becoming a drama it became a comedy and everyone loved it!”

Another problem was when the records were cracked. The records came from the city on the train, and they would be packed like glass. If you bumped them, they would crack and then you would be in trouble.

The viewing of the Melbourne Cup was a big deal in those days, and everyone wanted to see it run that night. It would come up by plane. They would process the film, send it up to Sydney, send the cinema a copy and it might go to Nowra and Fred would drive down to get it. He would drive anywhere to give the people of Campbelltown the Melbourne Cup that night. Sometimes they would have a reel to reel switch with Camden and when the reel came off Fred would drive back and forth to Camden. Of course, the community didn’t know anything about that and what went on behind the scenes.

An undated photo of a Saturday afternoon matinee


Macquarie Cinema had no air conditioning and therefore was freezing in winter and stifling hot in summer. According to Fred: “We thought we had to do something, and we put some fans in. We put them right around the walls. There were about 8 of them but that didn’t seem to make much of a difference with the circulation. So, the audience decided to have some fun with them. They would throw lollies into them and when they hit them, they used to go off like a cracker. We used to try to stop them, but it was terribly hard. We used to call them hair raisers of the dark because they would do it in the dark. We always used to warn them and if we caught them playing up, we wouldn’t let them in anymore. We would walk up and down the aisles and if we caught them, we told them to go out and stay out. That was the worst punishment you could give them. When they would come up to buy their ticket, we would tell them that they were barred for three months. They would ask how they could come back again. We would tell them that when they came and apologised to Mr Nickless and say you are sorry, he will give you a sentence. That was the only way we could control them. If they didn’t cut it out, they could stay out because we weren’t interested. We could do that. If they didn’t stop it there would be nobody there at all, people wouldn’t come. People would complain why couldn’t we stop it. That was the only remedy we had. One time we had 20 on the blacklist, they could not get in. They used to try to sneak in and we would chase them up the hill.”


One point that the Eves’ made was the problem with soldiers during the Second World War. It was so bad that you had to pull the shutters down so they couldn’t get in. They would muck up because they were free from the restrictions they were experiencing in the camp. During the war years there was a soldier who was about 6 foot 6 inches, and he was up in the middle of the circle, and he was screaming out at the top of his voice. He was disrupting the whole house. The usherettes came down and said they couldn’t get him out. He was screaming all the time. Nobody could listen to the picture because of him. Fred went up and he said what do you want. He didn’t answer him. He couldn’t think how he was going to get him out. Fred went past him and said if you don’t shut up, I will take you outside and belt you. He said you will? and Fred said yes come down the stairs. With that he ran down the stairs and he chased him. He couldn’t find Fred as he had gone back into the theatre. That was the only way Fred could get him out. He wasn’t a local- he came from the camp. The next day Fred was in the office, and somebody said there is a chap that wanted to see him. He was the same soldier from the camp. He was asked to come in and he said if he could have seen Fred the other night, he would have knocked his head off. Fred said I know but how else was I going to get you out. The soldier said he was a brave man.

Religion also could be an issue. Often churches would ask not to show a particular picture. One such picture was called Wild Rice which Fred regarded as very mild. It was not uncommon to have to cut the offending part of the movie out.

Written by Andrew Allen


Fred and Ida Eves Oral History Interview, August 1979

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