50 Orange Avenue, Mildura
Also known as Olympia Theatre, Palais de Danse, Majestic Theatre, Plaza (possibly)
Showing films from: 1913
The Olympia Theatre on Orange Avenue was a popular hall that was used for a variety of purposes, just as many of the venues that screened films in the early days of cinema. As well as having a regular film programme the hall hosted concerts and at one point even functioned as a dance hall known as Palais de Danse. It’s history as a cinema dates back to at least 1913, when news articles about ‘Olympia Pictures’ (as it was renamed) started to appear regularly in the Mildura Cultivator.
Olympia Pictures was housed in a fairly plain brick building with a tin roof and a small overhanging canopy with a painted sign that advertised its name on the front. Once inside, however, a great effort had been made to create a pleasant environment for watching films; electric fans had been installed in the ceiling to help keep the building cool during the very hot weather, various coloured lights illuminated the walls, but most impressive were the palm trees and water fountains that had been added to give the cinema a certain ambiance.
Film screenings took place at Olympia Pictures on a Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evening, and the price of a ticket was 1/- for an adult and 6d. for children. The programme included both films produced internationally and those made locally in Mildura. For example in January 1913, an employee of Olympia Pictures made a film about the Merbein Races and then screened it a few days later no doubt equally to the delight of those who missed the races and those who got to relive the event on the ‘silver screen’. This was not a one off affair as other local events, some which were set up deliberately for the camera, were filmed by the staff and shown as part of the programme. There must have been quite some interest in filmmaking at the time in Mildura as the management of the Wonderland (outdoor) in Langtree Avenue were also making films to be shown in their cinema, as well as touring them across Victoria and beyond.
The film programme at Olympia Pictures changed weekly and audiences were often treated to exciting films from around the world; one popular film in 1912 was Arabian Treachery:
[Arabian Treachery] proved to be a most realistic drama, introducing a splendid example of the extreme risks and the remarkable ingenuity which may be displayed by a mother to save her child. The scenes with the untamed lions were intensely thrilling. It is a good thing to give the imagination something to do at times and those who followed the adventures of Lieut. Rose and the train wreckers had to stretch it a bit. After some sensational escapades (including a daring feat in disconnecting his carriage from an express train, a running fight in a tunnel with 3 men, an exciting jump from a bridge to the top of a train and finally a fight in a boat in the open sea) he delivered his despatches in safety…
As well as evening screenings Olympia Pictures tried its hand at afternoon matinees, but at least initially these were met with complaints that the hall was not dark enough during the day and the picture, which would have been a lot dimmer than today’s standards, could not be seen very well. Film screenings would be accompanied by a small orchestra made up of five instruments including violin, clarinet and cornet; they would play along with the film, no doubt adding drama and suspense to the silent films on shown.
It’s likely that the film screenings at Olympia Pictures slowly stopped during the 1920s as other new cinemas in the area open up. The building continued to be used as the Olympia Theatre (and under different names) for a number of years. The building is still there on the corner of Orange Avenue and 8th Street and is now used by the retail store Burns & Co.