Lake Macquarie History

Boolaroo Theatres

Early Days

photo: lake cinema at 62 main road boolaroo circa 2015l

The Sulphide Hall (licensed 15 July 1909), at 17 Second Street, was built adjacent to the Sulphide Hotel (situated at the corner of Second and Lake View Streets), Boolaroo. The hotel's licensee, Mr Doughans, was the owner. The hall became the social venue for the township. Although it had a stage, it did not have a projection box. In the Lake Macquarie Herald in 1974, Mr K Hall stated that Mr James Hall (his uncle) had operated a cinema in the Sulphide Hall about 1911.

"Uncle Ken rode his horse around the Lake area and Adamstown, where he had another cinema. Both shows operated at the same time. Uncle was like an old-time town crier; he would ring a bell and invite everyone to his theatre. People were scattered about in those days, and this was the best way of getting a message to them. The horse carried a large rug, with the words: 'Hall's wonderscope pictures'. When Mr Hall moved to Sydney to operate another cinema, the horse went with him".

In the early years of this century, travelling showmen played here. While the proposed visit of The Big Electric Bioscope for 4 September 1907 was postponed for an unknown reason, the Great American Bioscope did visit in October 1907. E J Lowe of West Wallsend screened at the Sulphide Hall in 1914/15, Lowe's final show being on Friday 8 January 1915. Bedford's Pictures was there in late 1915. The hall was issued with a new licence (dated 28 October 1955) to seat 300. Perhaps it was extensively rebuilt at that time. The hall still exists (1992), but is hidden behind a new facade and side additions.

The Sulphide Hall is believed to have been the venue for Les Darcy's final fight before leaving for America in October 1916. An exhibition match was held in the Sulphide Hall on Monday 23rd October 1916 between Les Darcy and Jim Clabby. By the beginning of November 1916, the Newspapers were reporting that he had left Australia to fight in America. He died in the US on May 24 1917.

Royal Picture Palace

The next picture theatre in Boolaroo was the Royal Picture Palace (advertising at times as Bedford’s Picture Hall) and it was licensed from 17 November 1915. A second picture theatre, the Central Hall, was licensed from 23 August 1929. Both theatres were in Main Street. The Central (at No 62) is extant behind the much later Lake Cinema. The Royal was demolished years ago and the Catholic Hall was built on the site.

The Newcastle Herald 23 October 1915 reported: "A large hall, which will be used for entertainments, is being erected in Boolaroo for Messrs. Bedford Brothers by Mr J Rowley. The dimensions are 80 feet in length and 42 feet in width. The hall is situated on the main Government road at the corner of Sixth-street and is an important addition to the township. The front of the structure is designed on the latest Picture Palace model, and the entrance will be by means of two folding doors. Four exit doors are also provided. The interior of the building will be fitted with electric lighting, and seating accommodation is provided for 500 persons."

A high front, an oval-shaped entrance opening, constructed from timber and iron, the Royal was a reverse theatre, entry being from the screen end. Each row of seating was on a separate tier for better sightlines. In 1924 the theatre was damaged by fire but it was renovated and reopened that same year.

Mr A E Bedford was recorded as being the exhibitor in 1926. He was also listed as the exhibitor at the Teralba Royal pictures. However, by July 1931, George Durk was listed as the exhibitor at Boolaroo and Everyones (a film trade journal) mentioned that the 'Boolaroo Theatre' had been newly renovated and decorated and that it would be opening shortly with sound. East Lynne was to be the opening attraction. The sound gear for the theatre was built by Mr Durk and his son. The company operating the Royal was Boolaroo Pictures Ltd (composed of George Durk, T C Frith and Thomas Burgin). The Royal's seating capacity was recorded as being 600 in 1937, but this had been reduced to 498 by 1949. It closed sometime in the late 1950s and was demolished. So far, no photographs of it have been discovered.

The Central

The Central, really only a hall, operated as a cinema from the 1920s. Of particular interest is the fact that the old picture hall at Minmi (owned by the Lightfoot family) was removed in the late 1920s, when business in that centre died, and was used to extend the existing, galvanised iron clad hall at Boolaroo. The combined halls became the Central Pictures, which the Lightfoot family operated. Recalling those far-off days, Mr Les Lightfoot (of West Wallsend) stated that the projection equipment for the Central came from Minmi and his brother, Jim, made the 'talkie' equipment for the Central. By 1937 it was known as the Central Talkies, was listed as being under the exhibitorship of Mrs E H Lightfoot, and seated 480. The Central Talkies closed around 1938 and it became known as the Central Hall. It was later renamed the Memorial Hall. In later years, its walls were clad with weatherboard.

The Lake Cinema

photo: lake cinema boolaroo section plan sketch

photo: lake cinema boolaroo floorplan sketch

The Lake Cinema, the only picture theatre in the area that still operates, was converted from the Garden Grove Dance Hall which was attached to the Boolaroo Memorial and Cultural Hall (formerly the Central Theatre) at 62 Main Road.

The Lake Cinema opened unofficially on Thursday 29 March 1974 with Showboat and Singing In The Rain. Only two people turned up for the screening. An auspicious start! The official opening on Friday 30th was to have been done by Mr Hunter MLA, but parliamentary obligations changed Mr Hunter's plans and Alderman Pasterfield performed the ceremony. Official night's opening film was The Poseidon Adventure. A contemporary newspaper report stated that three thousand dollars had been spent to convert the front section of the building into an attractive theatre. Since that time, the exhibitor, Mr Bob Mason, has lavished much time and attention on the 280-seat theatre which has built-up a well-deserved reputation in the Newcastle area and is in itself a museum of artefacts from long-forgotten Newcastle theatres.

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.

1915 'BOOLAROO.', Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954), 23 October, p. 3. , viewed 10 Sep 2018,

Keywords: Sulphide Hall - Royal Picture Palace - Lake Cinema

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