This week, with Mothers Day here, Roy thought it was time to take his Mum and Grandma to the local cinema. He thought a cinema would be interesting to write up, but it couldn’t be any old theatre though, it had to be one which was interesting and different. When he heard that the James Theatre in Dungog had reopened, he was very excited and wanted to share some of his photos of the building which he took on a visit a few years ago.
The James Theatre, which many people will know of due to the Dungog Film Festival, is located in Dungog, not far from Gloucester. To get to Dungog you can come by either Clarence Town Road or Stroud Hill Road. There is plenty to see in Dungog, with parks, local shops, a tourist information centre and cafes. The theatre itself is at 6 Brown Street, which is not far from the local train station.
James Theatre, which is also known as the Dungog Theatre or Dungog Picture Show is reputedly the oldest purpose built cinema still operating in Australia. It is a beautiful, Spanish style building, which adds character and charm to the historic town. The first film to be screened in the town was shown in the School of Arts in 1897, which was not long after films were first shown in America and Europe! The history of the theatre on the current site though doesn’t begin until 1912, when the Dungog Electric Lighting Company, set up theatre seating and a screen. There was seating for 1000, but the theatre at that time was an outdoor theatre with no roof.
In 1917, James Stuart on whose land the theatre was operating, took over the business and began constructing a building (including a roof!) to house the theatre. The original building didn’t look quite the same as the one we see today though as in July 1930 the theatre had a massive overhaul and facelift to accommodate the ‘talkies’. It is thought that the Spanish style facade was added on to the original building at this time, and the screen moved to the other end of the hall. There was seating for 650 people in the newly renovated theatre, and the front section had a flat floor and removable seats to allow for dances and other community activities. A stage, supper-room and dressing rooms were also added. In 1980 the theatre was purchased by the council as a community centre and the cinema continued to operate until 2011. After a short hiatus, new projection equipment has been installed and the cinema has reopened, though the film festival which it is famous for remains under threat, with a new community group attempting to reinvigorate and relaunch the festival.