Theatres, School of Arts and Halls in the Kiama District
In the early years, the various churches provided the meeting places, social activities and sense of community for the number of small settlements scattered around the region. As the towns of Kiama, Jamberoo and Gerringong grew, new opportunities developed to meet the social needs of both the residents and the increasing number of visitors to the area. Rural communities would have welcomed travelling performers and picture shows, but many of the performances would have been by local talent.
One of the earliest reported concerts was a performance in 1855, in one of the Kiama shops. There was a Frenchman playing an instrument and a singing German.
The Gerringong Arms was known for entertainment in the early days of the township. The proprietor, Mr Lang, was reported to have held an elegant Easter Ball at the hotel in 1859.
School of Art halls were generally established early in the development of a township for the education of its members and the cultivation of literature, science and art for adults that may not have received much education as children. Jamberoo established a School of Arts in 1846 and the Jamberoo Literary and Debating Society, three years later. The Gerringong School of Arts opened in 1883 and was the social hub of the Gerringong community, with dances, musicales and suppers.
Kiama residents had to wait until the new century for their own School of Arts building. The Kiama School of Arts, adjacent to the Post Office on Manning St, opened in 1901, and had a library operated by a citizens committee.
The Kiama Showground was established in its present location in 1897 and the pavilion building was dismantled and moved from its previous location on Longbrush to Church Point. This Showground pavilion was popular for dances and socials until it burnt down in 1938.
The Oddfellows Hall was on the north-western corner of Terralong and Collins St (Kiama Leagues Club site) and was built for the Loyal Star of the South Lodge of the Independent Order of Oddfellows. It was completed in 1890 by the Hindmarsh Family and was an elegant two story building equipped for performances with a stage, footlights, piano, gallery and seating for up to 500 people. The Oddfellows was the location of choice for the regular travelling picture shows. In 1913, Mr H Gordon joined with Mr John Weston to establish Kiama’s Own Pictures’ at the Oddfellows Hall, where pictures were screened on Thursdays and Saturdays. Gordon sold to Mr Roy Colley of Jamberoo and the Weston Colley partnership maintained the picture shows for twelve years, with Colley playing the piano. The Oddfellows Hall was renovated to become a “Dancing Palais” by a new owner, and finally sold to Wollongong Theatres in 1948. The building continued to be used as a dance hall but little maintenance meant the building was in a poor state of repair. The Kiama Leagues Club started using the premises in 1956 and the building was sold in 1957.
The Jamberoo School of Arts was used for travelling pictures from 1900. Pictures were regularly held from 1914, conducted by the Condon Brothers from Albion Park but it wasn’t until 1945 that a permanent projection box was erected in the building and pictures were shown for the next 14 years by Mr McAuliffe.
Located on Manning St, where the St Tropez apartments are now, The Antrim Theatre was a very popular location for many of the community activities. The Antrim opened in 1924 and was operated and owned by Mr Alex Carson. Mr Frank Tuohy was the projectionist for the theatre for 37 years. The theatre was leased to Mr A Beszant in 1927 and was renamed the Kiama Cinema. The Cinema was sold to Beszant in 1939 and sold again to Wollongong Theatres in 1948. George Parkes purchased the theatre in 1966 but it was sold again and demolished in 1971. There hasn’t been a cinema in Kiama since the closure of the Antrim. The theatre was a picture hall but also used for many other functions such as the school speech and presentation nights, parades and concerts, the Diggers Ball, and debutante balls. Molly Mackie wrote about magic and card shows and the musical performances that entertained many at the Antrim and also remembers people polishing the floor with candle shavings and beeswax to prepare the hall floor for dancing, whilst many women would be preparing delicacies for the suppers. The Antrim was reputed to have the largest dance floor outside Sydney at the time it was built.
The Antrim had matinee sessions on Saturday afternoons, and there was a kiosk adjoining the theatre for treats during interval. Flyers showing the coming screen attractions were distributed by Mr Carson’s sons George and Allen. For some years Mr Carson also ran roller skating sessions during the winter months.
The Gerringong Town Hall opened in 1948 and was used regularly for dances, balls and pictures. Mr Leo Hunt started picture screening once opened and this was continued by Mr H Waghorn. Gerringong is the only town in the municipality to have regular films today, with a movie screened every month in the Town Hall by ‘Pics and flicks’ and regular summer holiday sessions.
My kind of town by Molly Mackie
Gauffered velour by Robert Parkinson
Bluehaven by William Bayley
Gerringong: A history by Bill Shortis
Kiama on show: The Kiama Show Society by Karen Beasley.
Image of Kiama Pavilion 1880's