In praise of the flicks
Sun Pictures in Broome is celebrating its centenary. Built in the West Australian pearling port’s Chinatown in 1917 and variously an Asian emporium and Japanese playhouse before it became a semi-outdoors cinema, its history is as much about multiculturalism as the survival of a heritage building. Broome has been a melting pot of religions and races, a place unto itself up there on the bloody top of nowhere as it would have been back then.
But what sophistication for cinemagoers with a marble soda fountain, confectionery counter and deckchair seating. Talkies were still a way off so films were accompanied by a pianist and you can imagine the melodramatic pounding of keys during, say, The Perils of Pauline. Recognised as the “world’s oldest operating picture gardens” — despite floods, the wartime bombing of Broome and management changes — Sun Pictures is a treasure, especially in our on-demand era of Netflix and the like.
Going to the “flicks”, as my parents always called such outings, was a big deal in my girlhood. In Surrey, England, dogs were allowed in cinemas, and it was nothing to have a woolly Westie on your feet or a sheepdog snoozing in the aisle. I begged Mother and Dad to let me take my pony Peter Edward “to see the cowboys and Indians” but that idea was smartly vetoed.
Cigarettes were permitted, and the screen was so wreathed in smoke that for years I thought every mountain was a volcano. The Smiths crisps came with salt in tiny twists of paper for the DIY approach. I would squirrel these away and tricked Dad one day by telling him it was a new kind of sugar and he popped it in his cuppa.
The Cinema and Historical Theatre Society of Australia’s site has info on heritage screens and stages across the country and it’s surprising how many are still operating and being well-supported by communities and volunteers. Some have diversified into multipurpose venues, and who wouldn’t want to go to a rock ’n ’roll party and swivel on the stage.
At Wanaka, near Queenstown on New Zealand’s South Island, the ambitiously named Cinema Paradiso features comfy old lounges and even a roofless Morris Minor as seating. Resorts are into holiday screenings, too, sometimes with sheets as screens, hung between palms, wireless headsets for guests and prowling waiters.
Six Senses Zighy Bay in Oman is one fun example, and LUX South Ari Atoll in The Maldives, another. Cruise lines have got into the act and on a voyage of coastal Japan aboard Diamond Princess a few years back, there were matcha ice cream cones and sumo-sized blankets for princessy cinemagoers afloat. There was no piano accompaniment for added effect but we did sing along, scaring the seagulls off course.
Sun Pictures will unveil its Walk of Fame on Carnarvon Street, Broome, at 4pm on Saturday, August 26, followed by a ticketed event ($75 with supper and entertainment; cash bar) from 7.30pm; broomemovies.com.au.
Dogs were allowed in cinemas, and it was nothing to have a woolly Westie on your feet