Lake Macquarie History

Swansea Theatre

Written and researched by Bonnie Murdoch.

Swansea's theatre was part of the community. It even included lion-taming acts for entertainment. It's original name was the Swansea Picture Hall. It was very small in 1911 and only seated several hundred. Bert Phelan’s Pictures used the Hall as part by of a travelling circuit of venues in 1915.

Changes started to Swansea Hall by 1922. The new builder and contactor,Thomas James Dobinson, changed the name to Graceson after his daughter and his sons. The theatre grew in size and eventually seated 980 by the 1930s. This is a testimony to the theatre’s growing popularity.

photo: swansea ball

Dobinson had a series of humorous instructions displayed in the foyer:

If you must kiss your girl in the dark for heaven’s sake do it quietly, not like a horse pulling his foot out of a mud hole.

If you can't finish your icecream, do not place the balance under your hat, it is most unpleasant for the next man’s hat.

The pianist is quite capable of beating time, therefore there is no occasion for you to stamp your feet on the floor

Movies were followed by dancing in the afternoons and evenings on “the largest dance floor in the district”. At least one ball was held there in the 1930s. Jack Gale and His Five Azaleans provided the music. Acts that are more unusual included magicians, comedians and the mentioned lion-taming.

Hughes Bros brought the theatre in the mid-1950s and generally refurbished it. They renamed it the Astra. The last movie shown in the Astra was Doctor Zhivago. It has now been converted into a retail complex and has lost all the cinematic features. The seats and equipment were sold to a South Australian theatre.


Cork, K.J and L.R. Tod. 1993. Front Stalls or Back? The history and heritage of the Newcastle theatres. NSW: Australian Theatre Historical Society.

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