Yallourn Theatre

Yallourn Theatre

Yallourn Theatre
Monash Square, Yallourn
Showing films from: 1939

Films were screened in Yallourn from at least the 1920s. Yet they were not shown in a dedicated picture palace, which would arrive in the next decade, but in St John’s Church, where it is said the confession box doubled as a bio box during film screenings. In 1939 Yallourn got its own purpose built cinema, it was simple, modern and spectacular.

At a cost of £23,500 ($45,100) the Yallourn Theatre occupied a prime position on Monash Square in the centre of town. Like so much of Yallourn, the State Electrical Commission (SEC) was responsible for building the cinema. Yallourn was a company town, built and set-up by SEC for its employees who worked at the nearby Yallourn Power Station. The renowned cinema architects: H Vivian Taylor and Soilleaux guided the SEC in the design and construction of the building. Taylor and Soilleaux are known to have worked on at least six other cinemas in Victoria between 1935-1941, including the Ozone in Mildura. The construction work itself was done by the local firm Pomeroy and Lumley.

The Yallourn Theatre was constructed from bricks and a large part of the exterior was built out of Yallourn’s own ‘salmon pink’ brick; the front wall of the building surrounding the main entrance was constructed out of cream coloured bricks, a large clock face was also on display. The facade followed a curved design, broken by four glass doors that led into the foyer, and once inside a ticket booth and kiosk could be found. The auditorium was designed to also function as public hall with a stage equipped with facilities for dramatic and musical performances; in the 1940s boxing matches were even held there. The curved shape of the 750-seat auditorium was designed in such a way to maximise the acoustic quality. The floor was wooden and slightly slopped (perfect for rolling ‘jaffas’ on!). Each alternate row of seats had hot-water foot-warmers installed, these proved to be a very popular feature in the winter. At the back of the auditorium was a soundproofed glass-fronted ‘cry room’ where parents with babies could watch films from without disturbing others in the cinema. Upstairs was a lounge and balcony area. Like the rest of the building, no expense had been spared when it came to the sound and projection equipment, having cost in the region of £1000 to install. Two Raycophone projectors were installed in the bio box. The building was also equipped with an elaborate air conditioning system.

The Yallourn Theatre was opened by the SEC General Superintendent, Mr R A Hunt on the 19th May 1939. The day before the grand opening, the Melbourne-based newspaper The Argus reported that tickets had sold out within two-hours of going on sale. However, those who had not been able to get tickets were able to tune-in and listen to the opening ceremony on 3UA Central, the Gippsland radio station, where it was broadcasted live. A week later the Morwell Advertiser ran a story on the cinema stating it was the ‘most modern in Victoria’. The paper described the interior as been ‘luxuriantly’ and ‘lavishly furnished’, its ‘decorations are ornamental’ with an auditorium where ‘a dozen uniformed girl ushers will show patrons to their seats’. The opening film was the musical romance Sweethearts (1938. dir. W S Van Dyke), starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. There was also live music by Eddie Muller and his Mello piano.

The original lessee of the Yallourn Theatre was Mr H Verey, an SEC employee and lessee of Morwell Town Hall Pictures, who also went on to open Paramount in Morwell. By 1947 the Yallourn Theatre was managed by Mr Rex Hamilton (who also ran the Paramount in Morwell at one point). In the 1960s Mr and Mr. Trewin, who later managed the Village Twin in Morwell, ran the cinema.

In September 1953 the Yallourn Theatre was the first cinema outside of Melbourne to show 3D films (and only the third cinema in Victoria to do so at that point). The film was The House of Wax (1953 dir. Andre de Toth), staring horror maestro Vincent Price, who played the role of a deranged wax sculptor who murdered people and filled his museum with their wax-coated corpses. 3D glasses were provided to the viewers so they could get a very ‘special’ experience of seeing the film. New projection equipment had been purchased and installed in the cinema following Verey’s departure, as he had taken the equipment with him to open the Paramount in Morwell. Improvements were made again a few years later to the projection equipment. The Morwell Advertiser boasted this was now ‘the biggest (and heaviest) [equipment] available for the projection of motion pictures, and identical with that used at the Regent and Metro Theatres in Melbourne.’ A new panoramic screen was also installed that facilitated the screening of 3D films, such as The House of Wax.

The following year the National Theatre Opera Company presented Mozart’s opera Cosi Fan Tutti live at the Yallourn Theatre. This was an honour as it was the first time the Company had performed outside of the larger cities. The opera was performed to a packed-house. While the theatre was used for a variety of live events over the years, film screenings were always the main event and in 1957 the quality of the screenings got even better when CinemaScope was installed. The cinema was not just visited by the residents of Yallourn or the employees of SEC, as people would frequently travel from out of town, often getting the last bus home to Newborough, Moe and Morwell after seeing a late film.

The films played on for the next twenty years or so and many people have fond memories of watching films there, such as Star Wars, Grease and perhaps not so fondly, The Exorcist, when people reportedly fainted and vomited in the isles during the film. Some of people’s memories were presented as part of Lily Hibberd’s exhibition for The Cinemas Project: Twin Cinema – 4 Devils and a Woman in Red.

Yallourn was a company town built and own by SEC, so there was little say when in the late 1960s SEC decided that the adjacent open-cut brown coal mine would be expanded, and that expansion would incorporate the land upon which Yallourn had been built. The town was slowly demolished and by 1983 the Yallourn Theatre and the town that surrounded it had completely disappeared from sight. Today, standing on a lookout that would have once provided a perfect view of the town, all that can be seen is a gapping hole, all visible signs of Yallourn have gone…Gone With The Wind, just like as the name of the last film that was shown at the cinema before it was demolished in 1979.

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8 Responses to Yallourn Theatre

  1. I lived in Newborough in the 1950s when there was only one shop and a large Nissan hut nearby that operated as a cinema, dance hall and communtiy centre. I worked at that one shop and would serve the patrons of the cinema at half time with milk shakes as there was only a small drinks counter inside the cinema. That cinema did have billboards advertising the current and coming showings.

    • My parents purchased the Newborough picture theatre business in 1957. We moved to Monash Road on 1th August 1957 from Yea where dad had worked in the Commercial Bank of Australia. It was a bad time to purchase a picture business as the advent of Television was just warming up and in 1959/60 there was a really bad influenza epidemic and people did not go out at night for fear of catching the flu. I am not sure when they closed the theatre, but dad continued to be the projectionist at both Morwell Panoramic Drive-In and at Yallourn for many years.

  2. Sometime in the 1050s the Yallourn Theatre also hosted a Symphony Orchestra. I went to a performance there with my school class where students were introduced to the individual instruments and their sounds.

  3. When Rock Around the Clock starring Bill Haley and his Comets played at Yallourn Theatre, patrons got up and danced Rock and Roll in the aisles. I was one of them.

  4. My father Doug Sandilands, worked as the projectionist or as it was known then, bio-box operator for Rex Hamilton at the Yallourn theatre from the early 40’s until he and my mother Anne took over the failed ENNTA ( East Newborough and North Tennants Association) nissan hut hall in East Newborough and fitted it out as a cinema. About 1951 or a little later. The projection equipment and seats were bought from the defunct cinema in Toora, South Gippsland. ENNTA ran a small confectionery stall inside the cinema proper.
    With the coming of television, they made the decision to sell the Newborough theatre and buy the cinema in Yarram, South Gippsland as the difficulties in getting a television signal over the Strezlecki Ranges ensured an audience. They feared that with the television obsessed British immigrants of Newborough, their audiences would drop off. As Rick Cove in an earlier post confirms, this is exactly what happened. The British were familiar with television as it was well established in Britain prior to them emigrating. And hire purchase had just begun for such items so very affordable.
    My parents pined for Yallourn and they never settled in the Yarram district. When Rex decided to follow his son Ross to Melbourne in 1960, Dad took over the Yallourn theatre and ran the Yallourn and Yarram theatres together. They finished with Yarram in 1961 and followed their children to Melbourne in 1964. Their hearts and friends remained forever in Yallourn.

Did you go to the cinema here, know something about its history? Share your memories and add a comment in the box below.