One of Cardiff's pioneer picture showmen, Mr A G Edwards, recalled the early years of Cardiff picture shows. In 1903, moving pictures were shown in the Methodist Church by a travelling exhibitor. "Little did I think as I stood in the porch of the Methodist Church to get a look at the screen (the church was too crowded to get inside), that one day I would build and control one of the largest and best equipped picture theatres in the district. Subsequently another picture show had a screening in the only hall that Cardiff had - known as O'Connell's Hall, on the site of where Whitson's electrical shop now stands. I was also present at this screening. It was conducted by two brothers - one of them being deaf and dumb. They used an acetylene gas plant as an illuminant. They never came back." Perhaps this was The Great Urban Bioscope which screened there in September 1907.
Permanent moving pictures were brought to Cardiff by Albert and Frank Edwards around 1918. Lucas' Hall, in the old Main Road (now Kelton Street), just around from the hotel on the corner, was a small, weatherboard building which the local publican had shifted in sections from New Lambton to Cardiff. In this hall Messrs Edwards set up a picture theatre. As there was no town electricity at that time, power for this venue was supplied by a De Dion engine which drove a DC generator, the wires running from the engine to the hall being held aloft by means of clothesline props.
Frank Edwards writes "The publican owned the old hall and charged 7/6 rental per night for it. We had not been operating long when the publican decided to sell out and I overheard him telling the prospective buyer that the picture show would be big business and he would have no trouble in getting more rent. The new publican came in and he put the rent up to 10/-, which we could not pay, so we discontinued showing. The Masonic Hall at Stockton was now ready so we moved back into it. We then bought the Temperance building and pulled it down, and me being a carpenter, we moved it to Cardiff and built our own hall opposite the railway station." (7/6=75 cents; 10/-=one dollar.)
Prior to 1922, Messrs A and F Edwards had been operating a small cinema in the Temperance Hall at Stockton for a time. When they opened a new cinema in the Masonic Hall in Stockton, they decided to move the old weatherboard hall to Cardiff and re-site it in Main Road near the corner of Wansbeck Valley Road, above Cardiff Railway Station. This show became the Southern Cross Pictures.
At ground level was the ticket office and patrons had to walk up a set of outside stairs in order to reach the auditorium's entry doors. A refreshment shop was built onto the side of the theatre later on and was operated by Mrs Nell Edwards. On occasions, roller skating was conducted in the theatre when films were not being screened. Underneath the theatre were two small shops.
Frank Edwards writes "Business became much better in Cardiff so we decided to use our 1-ton solid tyred Model T Ford truck to transport our plant to Charlestown, but the work was very hard and when it rained the road to Charlestown was dreadfully dangerous. We then formed a company and built a new theatre at Cardiff."
The old Southern Cross Pictures lasted until about 1929 when a new weatherboard cinema building was constructed in Main Road, closer to the shopping centre. The site of this theatre was No 300A, opposite the present Post Office. Edwards' Bros (known now as Cardiff Picture Theatre Ltd) continued to be the exhibitors. The cinema is recorded as both the Cardiff Theatre and the Star. The Film Weekly's Annual Directory of 1937 listed its seating capacity as 679. The facade of the theatre was brick whilst the side and rear external walls were constructed of hardwood and weatherboard.
In 1939, the Star was remodelled. The President of the Lake Macquarie Shire, Mr T Owen, and his wife performed the ceremony on 7 August. The Australasian Exhibitor (21.9.39 p6) reported that Mr A G Edwards was the host at a gala opening ceremony for "his newly remodelled and furnished theatre”. Internally, the cinema was pleasant and modern. The new proscenium was furnished with green velvet curtains, supplied by G R Brakell of Sydney, with a back cloth of cream poplin. So as to not let patrons forget the name of the theatre, mingled with the decoration along the top of the proscenium were seven stars. On the facade, some small alterations were made.
The Film Weekly (7.9.39 p58) described the renovations. "Entering the foyer, which is in green plaster, new ticket boxes on either side are of neat construction. The theatre has now been provided with a lounge room, nicely furnished with comfortable settees and chairs. The dress circle has been completely re-designed, a stairway leading to it from the lobby, whilst an additional outlet is provided by an exterior stairway. In the auditorium, large 'splays' have been put in the corners of the building. Concealed lighting provides a modern effect."
The Star was badly damaged by fire in the early hours of Tuesday 5 August 1941. By about 3am only the front brick wall of the building was standing. The fire had begun at the stage end and, being mainly constructed of timber, the fire spread quickly. Arson was suspected since a shop at the other end of town had been set alight shortly before. It was noted in the Western Extra in 1979 that this was "a period when arsonists ran riot in the area, destroying about 12 business premises and homes."
Not to be deterred, the operators (Cardiff Picture Theatre Pty Ltd) set about rebuilding the Star, although it was difficult owing to the wartime shortages of building materials. This time, however, the entire outside wall structure was basically brick. The rebuilt Star seated 760 and was opened on 20 April 1942, being licensed from 13 May 1942. The dress circle seated about 240.
The Film Weekly 21 October 1943 noted that Newcastle Theatres Pty Ltd was to take over the Cardiff Star from 1 November. This related to the film buying side, according to Mr Harry Armstrong (Liberty Theatres Supervisor). This arrangement did not last long.
In the early 1950s, Mr and Mrs Frank J Mesh took over. A year or so later they returned to their theatre interests in Queensland and, in late July 1954, Mr Ken Waller and his son, Allan, took over. The new owners organised the repainting of the theatre, the repair and recovering of the seats, and the creation of a cry room at the rear of the dress circle. (This room was formed from part of the anteroom of the ladies' toilets.) The number of screenings per week increased to the point where the Star was screening Monday to Saturday inclusive, with Saturday matinees and occasional mid-week matinees for the "busy housewife".
CinemaScope opened at the Star on Thursday 5 April 1956 using four track Stereophonic Westrex equipment. The opening feature was To Hell And Back. In order to install the large screen, the proscenium was removed and a new one was installed. For sight purposes, the front row of seats in the stalls was removed which reduced seating capacity to 748.
On Saturday 1 February 1964 the Star closed. Girls, Girls, Girls (starring Elvis Presley) and Love In A Goldfish Bowl comprised the last show. When interviewed in 1990, Mr A Waller recalled that the theatre was about half-full that night. Not a very profitable situation for a Saturday night. The closure was "assisted" by television and the nearby Workers' Club which had become the entertainment centre of the town. The Star was sold to Mr J White who organised its demolition in October 1964, the site being used for retail development.
Additional information supplied by Lynn Lockett, a great neice of Albert Edwards: Albert's wife was Nell (nee Ambrose). Nell's sister Kathleen Beveridge (née Ambrose) played the piano for their silent movies, and her daughter Elaine Beveridge was an usherette.
The above narrative was transcribed, with permission, from
Cork, Kevin J & Tod, Les & Cork, Kevin J & Tod, Les 1993, Front stalls or back? : the history and heritage of the Newcastle theatres, Australian Theatre Historical Society, Seven Hills, N.S.W
Keywords: O'Connell's Hall - Lucas' Hall - Southern Cross Pictures - Cardiff Theatre - The Star
This work by Lake Macquarie City Library is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License