The Bingara Roxy Story

On 9 April 2011, hundreds of people, many of Greek background, came to the little town of Bingara in northwestern New South Wales to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Roxy Theatre and the launch of the restored Roxy Cafe and the new 'Museum of Greek Settlement in Country Australia'.

 

  Bingara Roxy Theatre entrance   Bingara Roxy Theatre interior  
         

 

In his welcome Mayor John Coulton spoke of the "amazing foresight" shown by the former Bingara Council in the 1990s, when they took the first steps towards acquiring the Roxy Theatre and restoring it.

He reminded his audience that the Bingara Roxy was built by three Greek immigrants from the island of Kythera and that today it is a symbol epitomizing the Greek migration experience, one that has made an outstanding contribution to the development of Australia.

'Greek cafés changed the course of Australia's cultural history and left a significant legacy on our culinary and cultural landscape' Mayor Coulton said. He noted that Australian cinema historian, the late Kevin Cork, made a strong argument for maintaining Greek-Australian cultural and historical sites:

'If we are to remember these Greeks for their contributions to Australia's social, architectural and technological advancement, then it is imperative that there be Greek landmarks which are acknowledged at local and state level - ones that point to the achievements of the Greek-Australian cinema exhibitors... We cannot allow their histories to be forgotten, not when they provided services that positively affected millions of people, firstly, through their refreshment rooms and, secondly, through their picture theatres.'

''The Roxy will become a place of national significance that conserves and protects the important cultural associations between people and place. It will provide opportunities for the celebration of Greek traditions that became embedded in Australia' he said.

Bingara Roxy history revealed in 'Katsehamos and the Great Idea'

Mayor Coulton in his address mentioned the contribution made by 'Katsehamos and the Great Idea' in revealing the history of Bingara's Roxy development.

As the book recounts, the Greek partners of the firm 'Peters and Co', Emanuel Aroney, Peter Feros and George Psaltis, were not new arrivals in Bingara in 1934 when they began building the Roxy Theatre, the new 'Roxy Cafe', a string of shops and a guest house. They had operated a successful cafe business on the corner of Maitland and Cunningham Streets since about 1925. Two of the partners - Aroney and Feros - were by then naturalised British Subjects (in those days there was no Australian citizenship as such).

Over the years, Bingara has had four picture theatres but only two ever operated at the same time. The first picture theatre, known as Old Bingara Pictures or Finkernagel's Theatre, was established in 1912 by storekeeper William Finkernagel and local newspaper man John Veness. It was situated on the eastern side of Maitland Street south of the Cunningham Street corner. The second theatre was Victor Peacocke's old Regent Theatre which showed films in the School of Arts and Soldiers' Memorial Hall. The Old Regent theatre introduced modern talkie pictures to Bingara and eventually vanquished its competitor, Finkernagel's theatre, which closed in late 1934. The third theatre was Peacocke's New Regent, a purpose-built structure erected with amazing speed in 1935 to meet the threat from the coming Roxy Theatre.

The Roxy Theatre was built by Peters and Co because the Finkernagel Theatre, on which Peters and Co's cafe depended for a significant part of its business, was unable to compete with Peacocke's old Regent Theatre. However, Victor Peacocke was determined to build a new Regent theatre and open its doors ahead of the Roxy and he completed it in just four and a half months between February and the end of June 1935. Peters and Co took 16 months to complete the Roxy Theatre, from December 1934 to the end of March 1936.

 

 

  Peacocke's new Regent Theatre in Bingara © Gwydir   Peters and Co's Bingara Roxy Theatre and Cafe © Peter Prineas  
  Peacocke's new Regent Theatre in Bingara © Gwydir  

Peters and Co's Bingara Roxy Theatre and Cafe © Peter Prineas

 

 

Bingara's cinema war

Victor Reginald Peacocke was Mayor of Bingara in the late 1920s and again in the late 1930s. He was also a Gallipoli veteran, the President of the local branch of the RSL and one of the leading men of the town. He competed vigorously with the Roxy and employed some xenophobic elements in his campaign. He placed advertisements on the front page of the local newspaper declaring that his cinema was owned and staffed by 'Australians'. He maintained a correspondence with his local member of parliament and the NSW Chief Secretary in which he referred to 'the Greek invasion into our little burg' and 'Bingara's little war with Greece' and he lobbied the Minister personally about Peter's and Co's Theatre. He also sought to use his position on the local Council to throw obstacles in the way of the Greeks. For Peacocke it may be said that his jaundiced view of the Greeks was shared by many Gallipoli veterans and the attitudes expressed in his letters were not unusual in the 1930s. Even without these aspects of his campaign, his abilities as a cinema operator and the strong competition he offered to the Roxy, may have been enough for him to prevail. It also seems likely that Peters and Co contributed to their difficulties by embarking on a development that was visionary for the time and too ambitious.

Bingara's cinema war ended in bankruptcy for the Greek partners. Feros and Psaltis left town and Aroney took a job in a local cafe, working for wages. Not many years later, Feros and Aroney were prospering again. However, for the chief mover in the Bingara Roxy development, George Psaltis, the experience seems to have been a turning point and his business fortunes never really recovered.

Roxy Theatre and the Regent still standing

For the visitor to Bingara today, the scenes where the cinema war was played out do not have to be imagined. They are nearly all there. The Roxy Theatre is standing in its Art Deco glory and Peters and Co's 'Roxy Cafe' has been restored. The shops and the guest house look much as they did in the 1930s. Victor Peacocke's new Regent Theatre is also still standing as is the School of Arts and Soldiers' Memorial Hall where the Old Regent Theatre operated and the walls once echoed to the sounds of 'King Kong'.

 

Learn more about these books by Peter Prineas

Katsehamos and the Great Idea

 

Britain's Greek Islands

 

Wild Places