Tumut Memorial Theatre.
During the 1990's KEVIN CORK undertook extensive research into cinema's in Australia.
Tragically, he died before completing his work, but most of the chapters of his Ph.D. Thesis, were completed.
His wife and children have kindly given permission for his work to be reproduced.
Most Australian's would be unaware of the degree to which Greeks, and particularly Kytherian Greeks dominated cinema ownership in Australia - especially in New South Wales.
Chapter 6 of Kevin's thesis centres on the small western town of Walgett in New South Wales, and the exploits of a number of Kytherians, including bthe Conomos brothers.
The the importance of the Hellenic and Kytherian contribution to Australian cinema ownership and history is clearly demonstrated in Chapt 6, as in all other chapters.
It is difficult to know how to pass on to Kytherians the results of Kevin Cork's important research's.
In the end, I felt that the results should be passed on in the most extensive way - i.e. in full re-publication of Chapter's.
Eventually all Chapters will appear on the kythera-family web-site.
Other entries can be sourced by searching under "Cork" on the internal search engine.
See also, Kevin Cork, under People, subsection, High Achievers.
Chapter 6: Case Study of Greek Involvement in Cinema Exhibition in a New South Wales Country Town.
"Their motto was Service."
The history of permanent cinema exhibition in the town of Walgett, situated 685km north-west of Sydney, is atypical for New South Wales. During the period 1915 to 1979 (the years when permanent motion picture exhibition commenced and ended in the town), people of Greek origin owned and/or operated its five picture theatres for most of the time. Four of the operations were run by men who also operated local cafes in conjunction with the cinemas. To add interest to the tale, the whereabouts of the first, the earliest purpose-built cinema in the town, have been lost in time and the three later ones were destroyed by fire. While little is known about the first three Greek exhibitors, it is known that two of them commenced their working lives in the town as refreshment room proprietors. If it had not been for the untimely destruction of their premises and their subsequent departures, they may have become as important in the commercial life of the town as the three Conomos brothers who were to be the last Greek exhibitors in Walgett.
The three Conomos brothers, Lambros, Emmanuel, Dimitrios, spent a collective 137 years in Walgett. During that time, they built a small commercial empire that provided the town with a number of goods and services, and they did it well. Whenever they achieved something noteworthy (such as the opening of new premises), the local newspaper spoke highly of them, commending them for their foresight, their ingenuity and their faith in the town. Through their business dealings and community involvement, Conomos Bros became an integral part of the commercial life of Walgett. This, in turn, fostered their integration into the community.
Before the Greeks
Situated 685km north-west of Sydney, Walgett is a railhead and stock centre near the junction of the Barwon and Namoi Rivers. The town owes its name to John Campbell who first settled in the area in 1838, calling his property "Walgett". It is the hub of a vast pastoral area that stretches to the Queensland border. Summer days can be extremely hot, and winter evenings can be freezing. In 1851, the Post Office was established and from then the township grew. For many years, was serviced by paddle steamers. The famous Cobb and Co commenced a coach service to the town in 1877. It was not until November 1908 that the railway reached the town, connecting it with Burren Junction to the east. It is probably because of this late railway development that, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, travelling entertainment troupes only paid infrequent visits to Walgett. This was not the case for those towns that had railway services which alleviated the so-called 'tyranny of distance'.
Like all country towns in this state, motion pictures first arrived with travelling show men - that nomadic breed of men who travelled from town to town, setting up, screening, then dismantling their equipment and moving on to another location. For Walgett, until the railway finally reached it in 1908, travelling picture show men had to bring their show on the stage coach.
The rather nondescript School of Arts, situated in Fox Street, was the centre for indoor entertainments. While it was licensed from 1909, the hall was already in existence by the late nineteenth century. However, it was not the first venue in which moving pictures were shown. What was termed, the Old Hall, corner of Fox Street ("opposite the Commercial Bank") and Euroka Street, witnessed "A Grand Cinematograph Entertainment" on Wednesday 3rd and Thursday 4th July 1901 under the direction of Messrs Kobelt and Sharkey. Not only were the locals treated to what was, more than likely, Walgett's first moving pictures, they were also entertained by an Edison Phonograph. The films included "Life-like representations of the South African War, the Bombardment of the Taku Forts in China, Lord Kitchener in the march with his troops, Spanish Bull Fight, Cinderella and the Glass Slipper, Naval Quick-firing and Disappearing Guns, etc." And what was the response? The local newspaper reported:
Commonwealth Cinematograph - One of the best-patronised entertainments showing here during the race week was Messrs. Kobelt and Sharkey's Cinematograph, which drew crowded audiences to the Old Hall nightly, and those who attended are unanimous in their praise as to the merits of the entertainment. The Cinematograph and grammophone [sic] are of the very latest descriptions, and equal anything of the kind being shown in the Commonwealth. The proprietory [sic] richly deserved the patronage bestowed on them for supplying such an entertaining exhibition.
A charity performance, in aid of the Town Band, was given by the same exhibitors on Tuesday, 16 July. This time, however, the School of Arts was used, it having been booked for a ball on the previous occasion.
Kobelt and Sharkey passed into oblivion and Walgett settled-down to a non-cinema existence for the next seven years. In these early years of travelling exhibitors, equipment (projector, gas-making appliances, films, and any other necessary equipment) was moved either by horse or railway. Close proximity of towns meant that showmen could screen every few days and thereby make a living. Walgett, being so distant from neighbouring towns, was not a financially viable venue. Only one other travelling picture show ventured to Walgett before the arrival of the railway. This was The Romany Band and Bioscope Company, which performed and screened for three nights - 3, 5 and 7 September 1908.
Described as "A Palpable Hit!" in one advertisement, the company "...concluded their three nights season in Walgett on Saturday night, and as they were staying over Monday, they very generously gave a benefit to Walgett Hospital in the School of Arts in the evening, the proceeds of which with the subsidy, will amount to about £11."
Enter the Greeks.
It was in early 1908 that Walgett gained its first Greek-operated cafe, the type of business that was to become closely associated with picture exhibition in the town. Messrs Comino and Panaretto opened an Oyster Saloon and Refreshments shop in Fox Street, opposite the Royal Hotel. A newspaper advertisement proclaimed that the shop stocked choice fruit, confectionery, fresh fish, ham, small goods and would provide "meals at all hours". No reason has been found for Panaretto setting up business in Walgett. However, it is possible to speculate that the more-established Greeks in Sydney, who kept their eyes and ears open for potential sales of businesses and new opportunities, may have reasoned that Walgett would grow once the railway reached it.
A small number of travelling shows ventured forth along the length of track once it was opened. Fredos' Big Biograph & Musical Comedy Co, including pictures supplied by Jerdan's Ltd of Sydney was at the School of Arts on 16 and 17 August 1909. The Famous Kennedys - Orchestra, Singers, Humorists, plus The Theatregraph ("latest pictures" include "The London Zoo", "The Electric Policeman", "Three Old Maids at a Ball") was at the School of Arts from Thursday, 16 to Saturday, 18 December 1909. In December 1910, Phelan's New Huge Electric Biograph appeared at the School of Arts. On its second night of screening, it advertised "An Entirely New Programme. Last Night's triumph will be followed tonight by a trip through New Zealand and a multitude of other grand Biograph displays." Perhaps the town was too far along the track for most travellers. No-one brought pictures to town in 1911. The following year saw the first attempt (albeit short-lived) at establishing regular screenings. Jackson's Travelling Picture Show (aka Jackson's Empire Photo Plays) opened on Monday, 13 May at the School of Arts. It was almost as though the town needed some permanent form of cinema but there was no-one living there who had enough faith in the concept to start one. What came was W J Jackson (c/o the Empire Hotel, Bourke) who advertised that he would screen at Walgett on Mondays and Tuesdays, Lightning Ridge on Wednesdays, New Angledool on Thursdays, and Brewarrina on Fridays and Saturdays. While the railway moved people and goods more expediently than horse and cart, Jackson needed a motor car for easy movement between the designated towns.
Jackson's Travelling Picture Show opened to a very good house at the School of Arts on Monday night. The pictures, which were of very high character, were much enjoyed, and as Mr. Jackson intends to show in Walgett every week we can safely recommend the show.
Jackson's Picture Show travels per motor car, showing in a fresh town each night. The dynamo which is attached to the motor car is driven by the gas-engine which thus serves a double purpose. The arrangement is a very ingenious one and gives excellent results.
Advertisements for Jackson's appeared until mid-June. What became of him is unknown. In January 1913, The Elite Picture Co screened on several occasions, then it, too, disappeared. The Empire Pictures from Wee Waa screened "7000ft of excellent films" on 26 February 1914 and continued to visit regularly until April. The last comment on the matter was made in the local newspaper when it reported that the pictures "last Tuesday" had drawn "a large audience". No further references were made to it in the local newspaper. In 1915, Walgett gained its first permanent cinema which ushered in the era of Greek-Australian exhibitors in that town. It was to last, with only a few short breaks, for the better part of the next sixty years.
On Saturday, 10 April 1915 the American Electric Pictures screened for the first time at the School of Arts, under the direction of Alfred Crones (aka Angelo Coronis). Where this man had come from and how he started in motion picture exhibition is unknown. What makes him especially interesting is that he was of Greek parents, was born in USA some 25 years earlier, came to Walgett and established a permanent picture show. It is believed that he Anglicised his name to make it more acceptable to the predominantly British-Australian community of Walgett. Over the next few months, his picture show was variously referred to in the local newspaper as "American Electric Pictures", "Crones Electric Pictures", "Electric Pictures" and "Picture Co", and films were screened twice weekly, on Wednesdays and Saturdays. It was reported that the pictures were "second to none" and that "first class attendances" had greeted the proprietor. By June, the newspaper still enthused about the pictures. "The American Electric Pictures are still being shown each Wednesday and Saturday nights, and big attendances denote the interest of the people in the excellent programmes submitted."
On 1 July 1915, the local newspaper reported that the Empire Pictures "are all the rage now" and that an "excellent programme for Saturday next" was to be expected. No venue was given and
screened in Walgett. No venue was stated and the last mention was made in the 15 July edition.
Buoyed by his success (and presumably having beaten the competition from the Empire Pictures), Crones constructed an open-air cinema which he named the American Picture Palace. This opened on Tuesday, 17 August 1915, but its location has been lost with time. The programme was described as being "extra fine" but, owing to a very cold night, the audience was "not as large as anticipated". By November, it was known as the Walgett Picture Palace. At its October 1915 meeting, the local council's Shire Engineer reported that a notice had been served on Crones to provide additional sanitary arrangements. Council adjourned temporarily for members to inspect the theatre's current sanitary provisions. Crones, it was reported, had agreed to the work. Crones and his theatre were last mentioned in May 1916. Nothing has been found as to when or why Crones left Walgett. It may have been something to do with his Greek nationality and the fact that all Greeks were required to register as "Aliens" in 1916 owing to the uncertainty of the King of Greece's allegiance to the Allied cause. It is possible that his nationality worked against him, especially since he would have been perceived as an important community figure in the town. Although nothing more has been discovered about his theatre, Crones re-appeared in Sydney in mid-1917.
Competition from another cinema commenced in late 1915/early 1916 in the form of Tee's Pictures. A New South Wales referendum in 1916 forced hotels to close at 6pm. This deprivation of evening socialisation may well have been a boon for cinema exhibitors, especially one like Charles Tee who had his cinema adjacent to his refreshment room. The exact opening date is not known, but it was reported in an early January local newspaper to have been "recently established". It was also noted that the "plant is a powerful one and the films exhibited have been fully up to Metropolitan standard". Tee's Pictures was situated on the eastern side of Fox Street, between Neilly and Warrena Streets. Charles Tee was not a new-comer to the area. For some years he had been the publican at the Barwon Hotel, Dangar Bridge on the Brewarrina-Goodooga Road. It was the refreshment room that attracted the man who would become the second Greek cinema exhibitor in Walgett.
Tee's Pictures became the Lyric Pictures in 1918 and was operated by A Smith, who also leased the adjacent cafe. In July 1919, Paspall and Co (Archibald Paspalas) announced that it had taken over the cafe from Phil Gilies and was undertaking "extensive alterations".
Paspalas had been born on the island of Kythera on 19 February 1898 and arrived in Sydney, aged 14, on 15 November 1912. Over the next six and a half months, he, like a number of his countrymen, travelled extensively seeking employment. Leaving Liverpool (Sydney suburb) in 1917 he became a labourer in Edmonton, Qld. After a brief return to Sydney as a cook in early 1918, he moved to Wingham, Qld as a waiter. Moving to Halifax, Qld in May 1918 where he took on a job as labourer, he then moved to firstly to Cairns and then to Babinda Qld all within the space of three months. By November 1918 he was back in Sydney working as a labourer. From all of his jobs, it is possible that he had managed to save enough money to take over a country cafe. Twenty-one year old Archie (as he now called himself) arrived in Walgett on 25 June 1919 to take over a Fox Street refreshment room which he set about renovating.
In September, the "thoroughly renovated" Olympia Cafe and Oyster Saloon opened. The same newspaper advertised "Lovers of Pictures! Paspall & Co have secured a lease of building adjoining their premises - to open first class up-to-date picture show. First night proceeds to Walgett Hospital." The premises was the former Lyric Pictures. Renamed Olympia Pictures, it opened on Saturday, 20 September. Although it screened on Monday 22 and Tuesday 23, it operated on a Saturdays-only policy after this, probably because that was all the business the town could muster. (In 1911, there were 3,200 people in the area and this had only grown to 3,276 by 1921.)
Relatively short-lived, the Olympia was destroyed by fire on Friday, 3 June 1921. The fire broke out in the kitchen of the adjacent cafe and spread quickly. The local newspaper reported: "...no hope of saving the refreshment room or the picture show and efforts were concentrated on saving Nicholas' bakery and residence immediately adjoining on one side, and the Royal Hotel separated by 12 feet on the other side." The coroner's inquest noted that the cause was unknown. Interestingly enough, Paspalas was naturalised on 13 June 1921. Regardless of the fire and the destruction, he was obviously determined to make Australia his home, but not necessarily in Walgett. After the fire, Paspall and Co disappeared from the scene.
Charles Tee, who owned the razed properties, rebuilt. It has not been possible to determine who took over the cafe, but the new cinema, the Victoria Theatre, was operated by Walgett Entertainment Co and reopened on Saturday, 19 November 1921. The newspaper report described it in glowing terms.
...designed to comply with local requirements, will prove a decided acquisition to the town. Its modern appointments includes powerful electric fans and proper theatre 'tip-up' seats. The company's maintenance of its past high standard exhibitions, together with the comfort offered patrons, assure the management of solid support.
It has not been possible to ascertain what the company's past high standard of exhibition was as no previous mention of the company has been found. It is known that a Mr Kemp was the manager in 1922. However, it is known who operated the cafe and cinema after 1924. In a 1927 newspaper report, Mrs Florence Smith stated that she had operated the cafe from December 1925 and the picture show from about 1924. Another piece to substantiate Mrs Smith's claim is a newspaper item in December 1924 that told of Arthur Smith providing a charity picture show in aid of the Church of England's car fund.
The new Victoria seated 300. Its dimensions were 100 feet long by 30 feet wide. It was semi-open-air, the street end having a roof. This area was stated as being 50 feet long by 30 feet wide. The screen end was open to the elements. A Fire Brigade Inspection Report of 1925 provides a more detailed description of the roofed section of the building. Its length was 60 feet, width being 32 feet; walls were constructed of weatherboard, the roofed section was covered with iron, and the floor of the covered section was wood. The operating box was situated above the entrance door and was built of weatherboard and iron. Seating was listed as 500. The report recommended that the projection box be "thoroughly fireproofed". As a consequence, the box was lined with tin.
In early 1927, Peter Peters (whose original name was Petracos) became the third of the Greek exhibitors in Walgett. He took over the business of the refreshment room and Victoria Theatre being operated by Mrs Smith. In a newspaper advertisement of 10 February, Peters announced that he would be screening from Monday, 12 February at the Victoria Theatre, which he now subtitled "The Acme of Perfection". (One week later, the fourth Greek exhibitor, Lambros Conomos, made his entry into the Walgett cinema-scene.)
Peters made attempts to tackle his opposition and to promote his theatre. Work envisaged for the Victoria was advertised in late January.
The Picture Show Premises are undergoing Renovation, and will be brought right up-to-date. Two of the Latest Biograph Machines will be installed, new and comfortable seating accommodation will be provided, and improved ventilation and fans have been decided upon. An Expert Biograph Operator has been engaged who will personally attend to all matters in connection with the screening of pictures, thus assuring patrons of faithful and efficient service.
Like Paspal and Co before him, Peters must have seen the merits of presenting a clean, tidy image.
He advertised that his refreshment room was undergoing remodelling and redecorating. In late February announcements continued to be made that his theatre was "undergoing big alterations" and advised people to watch for the "grand Renewal opening". This event took place on Monday, 7 March, the proceeds being given to the hospital.
The picture theatre has been undergoing a good deal of renovation and the work being now practically complete. Mr. Peters is making Monday night next the grand re-opening...a monster program will be presented, featuring some of the best artists in the picture world, and as an added attraction an orchestra of five musicians has been engaged and catchy and appropriate music will be supplied...A free dance will be held after the pictures...
Having lived in Walgett for seven years, Lambros Conomos had undoubtedly found time to evaluate the economic potential of the local cinemas (both the ill-fated Olympia and the newer Victoria) and their adjacent refreshment rooms where people ate before and after performances, and where refreshments were sold at interval. With his refreshment room situated at the other end of town to the Victoria, Conomos reaped little reward from it. In order to "gain a piece of the action", as modern businessmen might say, he leased the School of Arts Hall in Fox Street where he established his own picture show.
Lambros discovered this theatre - semi-open air [ie the Victoria]. It wasn't good enough for the people of Walgett. So he came down here [ie to Sydney] and he arranged with Australasian Films to supply him with films and he would show at the School of Arts. Paid them spot cash for one projector, not two projectors. Arranged with the School of Arts Committee to show pictures there.
On Monday, 14 February 1927, Lambros Georgeos Conomos, assisted by his two brothers, opened the Popular Pictures in the leased hall not far from their refreshment room.
The Conomos brothers' story is that of three teenagers who, at various times between 1913 and 1924, came to Australia and "went bush" when the opportunity to be economically independent arose. They came from the village of Kalamos, on the island of Kythera - Lambros Georgeos (born 5 April 1898), Emmanuel Georgeos (born 18 December 1901), and Dimetrios Georgeos (born 1909). Economic hardship and lack of prospects on the island had caused many young Kytheran males to emigrate in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Father, Georgeos arranged for his eldest son Lambros, then aged 15, to be sent to Australia under the care of a family acquaintance, Charles Cassimatis. On arrival in Sydney on 13 June 1913, Cassimatis found him work as a waiter at Aroney's Cafe in Alfred Street, Circular Quay. Conomos was tall for his age (noted as 5 feet 8 inches high in 1916) and this may have been to his advantage. Aroney's was a three-storey building that housed a restaurant and living quarters for the Greek men and boys who worked there, thus providing them with a microcosm of Greek culture and security. It is believed by Conomos family members that it was Lambros who shortened the family name from Megaloconomos to Conomos. Two years later, Lambros sent for his younger brother, Emmanuel who arrived in Sydney in 1914. Lambros had learnt his English as he worked but Emmanuel was permitted to attend nearby Fort Street High School near the Sydney Observatory when he was not required to work in the cafe. For his work, he received meals and board. As he recalled eighty years later, "My first job was peeling potatoes." He attended school for a short time then took up full time work at Aroney's.
"The older Greeks used to say, 'Don't stay in Sydney, son, because you're going to get mixed up with a bad lot. Gambling, and so forth. Get out in the bush if you want to make a success of life.' So, a lot of those fellows made a really successful life by going out bush."
"A lot of Greeks in the bush used to write to Sydney via the Greek club and ask if they knew of any fellows [who wanted work]. And that's how, gradually, young fellows that went out in the country made success in life...A lot of them said goodbye to their parents never knowing whether they were going to see them again." Emmanuel was 14 when he said goodbye to his parents, but he was fortunate. "I went back three times."
Peter and Arthur Calligeros (from Strapodi on Kythera) had one of the refreshment rooms in Fox Street, Walgett which they were operating under the name "Comino and Panaretto". When a position for kitchenman became available in 1917, and the information had filtered through the "Greek-vine", Lambros applied for and got the position.
A lot of country cafes found it very hard to find suitable fellows that could speak the language. That was the hardest part. Through going to Fort Street School, I could speak plainly and it was no trouble for me. They used to write from the country, they used to write to the Athenaeum Club or anybody - 'Do you know of any young fellow that wants a job out in the country, out in the bush? And they searched around.
What 19 year old Lambros was not to know at the time he set foot in this December-hot, dusty, end-of-the-line town was that he was about to enter into a commercial relationship that was to see the Conomos name involved with the town for the next five and a half decades.
Some short time afterwards, the Calligeros brothers moved to another site in Fox Street, near the Imperial Hotel where they continued to trade. When the brothers moved back to Sydney in May 1919 preparatory to returning to their homeland, Lambros formed a partnership, with fellow cafe worker Theo Cassimattis[sic], and took over the business. The partnership was short-lived and, unable to manage by himself (although he did had a few employees), Lambros sent for Emmanuel who arrived during the 1919 drought. On being introduced to locals shortly after his arrival, "One fellow asked, 'What's his name?' Lambros replied, 'It's Emmanuel.' 'Oh,' he said. 'It's too bloody hard. Call him Hector.'" And the name stuck. (The Anglicising of names was not always at the instigation of the Greeks!) How did a young Greek lad of 18 like being in the bush? "I was young and active and I had to join the football club and play football." Lambros, being older and less athletic, joined Loyal Barwon Lodge and became the Honorary Secretary.
The Conomos' refreshment room was in a corrugated iron building that comprised three spaces: the front portion, where a table service was provided for meals and where counters were placed for the sale of fruit and vegetables (some local, but most supplied from Sydney markets), confectionery and small goods; behind this area was a small living area and the kitchen complete with wood- burning stove, the wood pile for which was behind the building and one of the men had to chop sufficient for each day. In the summer months, the heat in the kitchen was extreme.
Walgett, in those days, was relatively small. "The town only had about eight hundred people...The train took twenty-four hours to get there from Sydney. There were no electric street lights and no sealed roads." However, using his slowly growing business acumen, Lambros was on the way to becoming "one of Walgett's most successful commercial men."
The third brother, Dimetrios (who Anglicised his name to Jim) was sponsored by Lambros to come to Australia in 1924, which would have made him approximately 16 years old. During the 1920s, Lambros was instrumental in arranging for other young Greeks to come to Australia by offering work in his cafe, thereby helping them on their way to a better life. These included:
"Town Topics: M. Fatseus, employed by Lambros Conomos" was admitted to hospital with a severe cut to his lower right arm, having come into contact with a broken lolly jar.
"Town Topics: Leo Cassimatas, late of Mr. L. Conomos' shop, has opened a fruit and confectionery business in Collarenebri."
"Heard in the Street
That Messrs Charlie and Theo Conomos, now in the employment of Mr. Lambros Conomos, have purchased Seymour's fruit and confectionery business in Brewarrina."
One of the sponsored men who went on to operate cinemas was Panayiotis Fratseskos Laurandos, later changed to Louran, who became an important businessman in Goodooga, north-west of Walgett.
In the year that the School of Arts Popular Pictures opened (1927), Lambros and his brothers formed a partnership and Conomos Bros was born. The local newspaper reported the new cinema's opening in glowing terms and noted the generosity of the management who donated the proceedings to the local hospital.
The School of Arts was the scene of a gay spectacle on Monday night last, the occasion being the grand opening of Mr Lambros Conomos' picture show, and as the entertainment was for the benefit of the hospital, it was not surprising to see the spacious building packed to overflowing with 'picture fans' and the public in general, all eager to witness the initial screening and at the same time to help the institution mentioned. The hall was specially decorated for the occasion with flags and bunting, and presented quite a spectacular appearance, and from the biograph machine to the screen a blue ribbon was stretched, which, when released set the machine in operation and thus the first picture came into view. Mr. A. R. Gray, on behalf of the hospital committee... complimented the proprietor on having installed such an up-to-date and costly plant... Three cheers were then given for Mr Conomos, the ribbon was released, and the machine set in operation...and seats may be booked at Mr Conomos' shop.
Having purchased new equipment and never having operated a projector, it was necessary for the older Conomos brothers to be trained. Hector recalled the situation. "The fellow came up [from Sydney], the expert, to install the machine and to try it out and everything. And everything was right. Lambros had to learn how to operate the machine. This fellow's name was Mike Connors and he was showing the eldest brother. So Lambros kept making mistakes and Connors says 'I'll make a bloody projectionist out of you, don't worry. I'll teach you how to load the film.' He was a funny man. Well, you had to learn." Rather than take himself or Hector away from other duties (with the theatre and the cafe), Lambros convinced Bill McLean, a local butcher, to become the resident projectionist. Connors, who had installed the machine, instructed McLean. Jim Conomos preferred to work in the refreshment room and declined to learn anything about the projector.
Good houses and splendid pictures appears to be the universal verdict of those who have attended Mr Lambros Conomos' picture show...During the interval each evening a plentiful supply of iced delicacies are available, such as ice cream blocks, ice cream chocolate bars, ice cream cups, etc., while at the shop...a varied assortment of delicious cordials made and bottled on the premises.
It is doubtful if any of the Conomos brothers realised that the family would still be showing pictures in Walgett fifty years later.
The School of Arts was not a large building. In a 1930 report, it was described as follows: 86 feet long by 30 feet wide; walls of timber; roof of iron; floor of wood; stage 20 feet by 30 feet, with two dressing rooms at the rear of the stage itself. Seating was for 462. It was not equipped with a projection box until Lambros Conomos arranged for one to be built behind the stage, between the two dressing rooms. A contemporary report spoke of its crudeness. "The operating box is not fire proof but patched up here and there with asbestos sheets and sheet iron. The operator is not an experienced person and has already had one fire in a picture show here while operating." As a result of this and a report by the Government Architect three weeks later, it was recommended that the pictures be closed down owing to fire danger. However, rather than deprive the town of its pictures, a temporary, one month licence was issued. Although the Secretary of the School of Arts wrote to the Chief Secretary pointing out that "...the Proprietor of the Picture Show L. Conomos has has[sic] taken every care to aviod[sic] the risk of fire..." , he was not able to alter the mind of the Chief Secretary who required that a new projection box be built. With that, L Conomos organised for the construction of a new projection box, in the same position as the old. (One of the Chief Secretary's roles was to ensure that theatres and public halls complied to certain safety standards. After Peters' Victoria Theatre conflagration in June 1927, it is understandable that the Chief Secretary was concerned about the poor quality of the School of Arts' projection box.)
In the days of silent pictures, musical accompaniment was de regle and the Popular Pictures employed pianist Harry Weber. Recalling those days, Hector said,
I don't remember what we paid Harry..[He] was in-charge of the music. See, silent picture pianists had to be really smart and know how to follow. If there was any action picture, the pianist would come on with 'Poet and Peasant' or something like that.
According to his brother, Lambros found brought up a pianist from Sydney. After Weber arrived in Walgett, he "opened his little [music] shop next to the Barwon Cafe. He taught me how to play the saxophone. He had his own little band [in Sydney] - five players. He showed me the photos. So, he says, we'll form a little band here. There was no band in Walgett."
"Town Topics: Mr. Hector Conomos has purchased a saxophone through local agency of Mr. H. Weber."
"We formed our own orchestra in later years. There was Harry Weber could play the piano, CPS played the violin." And, with Hector on sax, the band played for dances, but not for the silent pictures at the School of Arts. Recalling those days, Hector said that they played "for petrol money", preferring to donate their services gratis for the charity that was running the dances/balls. Band members changed from time to time. Hector remembered Ted Butler, the local telephone technician, playing banjo, and brothers, Bert and Harry Malcolm, as being good pianists.
The School of Arts succeeded to draw the crowds, although it only screened on several nights a week (usually Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays). Advertisements noted that seating was "comfortable" and that there was "Specially Selected Music", attributes designed to tempt the would-be locals.
We started off with one projector. It was silent pictures. Those [projector] magazines, you weren't supposed to put in them more than 2000 feet of film. Anyway, we had this fellow, Bert Malcolm. Instead of having to change every 2000 feet, he used to load up this magazine with about 5 or 6000 feet but he was very quick in breaking it...because when you send a film away, it had to be in 2000 feet special magazines.
Not everything was comfortable. Walgett is well known for its high summer temperatures and, during those months, the building "was very hot. The doors were very wide and you could open the doors and it was quite good."
Thus, by mid-1927, two Greek immigrant exhibitors were battling it out in Walgett. While Peters advertised himself as "Fruiterer and Picture Show Proprietor", Conomos advertised as "Fruiter, Confectioner and Picture Show Proprietor". It would seem from the text in newspaper advertisements that both strove to present quality programmes and thereby do good business. However, the size of Walgett was against two cinemas surviving and it was not long before the matter was settled.
Hector Conomos said that the Victoria Theatre "was at the wrong end whereas our place was right in the centre. The School of Arts was in a better position. But what happened? It [the Victoria] didn't fold up. The fire folded everything up. See, business went so bad that everything went up in smoke."
On the night of 9 June, the Victoria Theatre burnt down.
Shortly after midnight last night the firebell sounded...with people rushing in the direction of the Royal Hotel...
On arrival it was seen that Peter's picture show was well-alight. By the united efforts of the fire brigade the Royal Hotel was saved, as were the buildings on the northern side, and by expert work and a plentiful supply of water the brigade succeeded in confining the flames to the picture show, refreshment rooms, and Nicholas' baker's shop and dwelling adjoining, which buildings were totally destroyed.
In the Coroner's inquest into the fire, additional background was provided on Peter Petracos/Peters. According to his testimony, he had been a resident of Walgett since 24 December 1926 but was away at the time of the fire, on his way to Brisbane in order to raise money that was owing to Mrs Smith as part of the payment for taking over the picture hall and refreshment room. (Charles Tee owned the properties; Mrs Smith owned the businesses.) Peters claimed that the picture show was "a failure", but the refreshment room was "all right". He said that his correct name was Petracos and that he had been in Australia 16-18 years. While he had business interests in Brisbane, he had moved around since first arriving in Australia but kept mainly to refreshment room-type businesses. Herbert W Malcolm was the projectionist and he had been employed by Peters since the end of January. The judge's verdict was "Cause unknown".
The theatre was not rebuilt, a report seven years later stating that the site was "still vacant". Conomos now had a monopoly on film screenings in town. The new projection box at the School of Arts was constructed and Bill McLean was replaced by the former Victoria's projectionist Bert Malcolm. A contemporary plan provides the following details of the venue for Conomos' Popular Pictures. The hall was 29 feet wide by 65 feet long. Entry was at the side through a 6 feet by 8 feet porch with a 5 feet by 5 feet ticket office attached. In front of the hall was a 29 feet by 19 feet billiard room that fronted Fox Street, with a door to the main auditorium. On this wall of the auditorium was erected a steel picture screen. The projection box, built between the two dressing rooms at the rear of the stage, measured 10 feet by 6 feet 6 inches. One of the dressing rooms was used as a rewinding room for the films. The stage area was used as an additional seating area.
Following a small fire in his shop, Lambros organised for repairs to be done in early 1928. In September of that year, having opened an ice works that would operate during the warm months of the year, he announced that he was taking orders for ice.
WALGETT ICE WORKS
Residents of the town and district are advised that Mr Lambros Comonos has commenced the manufacture of ICE for the approaching Summer Weather. Any quantity, large or small, is now available and the town delivery has commenced. Leave your orders at the shop and they will be promptly and faithfully attended to. The terms are strictly cash onv delivery. A Freezing Room is available to the public, and a small charge will be made for articles placed therein.
According to Hector, the ice works was Lambros' idea.
The conditions up there were very severe. And, first of all, we started getting ice from Newcastle...hundredweight blocks packed in sawdust. They were hard to lift. They were coming from Newcastle. So Lambros said 'That's too far away.' So, our next best was Gunnedah. Of course, much closer and owing to the climatic conditions we used to get more ice and it used to melt so much. Later on Lambros said, 'There's right at the railway station in Wee Waa, one hundred miles from Walgett, there was a joinery/timber cutter and ice works whom we knew very well...So Lambros went along and said 'You've got to supply me with ice.'...At the powerhouse [in Walgett], we had a fellow, originally it was an Englishman, old Hall, and my brother was very friendly with Hall and he told Hall, 'Why can't we start iceworks here?' And Hall says to him, 'You start off and I'll help you. I'll do all the installation of the machinery. So Lambros comes down here [Sydney] and arranges with Woods [?] and Sinclair for the whole works, oil engine, compressor and everything.
On the other hand, not everything was going smoothly with the new picture show. The School of Arts Committee, of which Lambros was a member (since he had a vested interest), complained to him that the condition of the hall's floor had deteriorated because of
the picture show traffic, and the habit of persons treading chewing gum into the floor, together with the continual movement of seating, had a very depreciating effect on the floor for dancing purposes. It was moved by Messrs Warre and Brooke - "That a supply of sawdust, specially treated with kerosene and tallow, be procured, and that Mr Conomos be instructed to have a small quantity of this spread between the seats before the commencement of each entertainment.
Some weeks later complaints were still being made and it was decided by the Committee to investigate the possibility of purchasing a floor polisher.
In 1929, with talking pictures starting to make their presence felt in Sydney but too expensive to install in Walgett at the time, Lambros Conomos was instrumental in persuading the Hall Committee to purchase a Cinephone musical instrument "...to supply Picture Show and dance music". The instrument was to be placed in a room (12 feet, 10 feet by 7 feet high erected above the stage.) Included in the machine were three record turntables, electric motors, amplifier and ordinary gramophone disc records. A horn/speaker was placed at the screen end of the hall. Although the Chief Secretary was concerned that there was only one means of escape from the projection box and that the room for the Cinephone was over the projection box, for some unexplained reason he granted permission for the machine to be installed. It was used to supply music for the pictures and the Hall Committee used it to provide music for dances. Whether or not the £250 purchase-price was ever recouped is unknown.
July 1929 saw the installation of a petrol bowser outside the Conomos' refreshment room. This addition to their business interests was justified as motor transport was becoming more and more popular. Only the previous year, Walgett Shire Council had decided to purchase a quantity of gravel in order "to maintain [the] streets in proper condition." The days of the dirt roads was passing. Having purchased the refreshment room property and adjoining chemist shop from C E Thomas in late 1929, Lambros modernised the premises in time for the Christmas trade. The local newspaper described the concrete footpath that extended the length of the building ("this, indeed, is a wonderful improvement"), the "huge, plate glass windows" and the heavy glass swing doors. "The interior is one large room measuring something like 45ft x 34ft...New furniture and floor covering has been installed, as well as a number of glass show cases and counters, and the surroundings certainly have the appearance of a city shop..." Between the refreshment room and the chemist shop (which was also renovated), a small shop was constructed for Bert Malcolm.
The premises are indeed something to be proud of, and we congratulate Mr. Conomos on being the owner of them. Indeed, Mr. Conomos has big interests in the town and nothing but the best will satisfy him. He has certainly spent a good deal of money in improving his property, but he now has the satisfaction of knowing that he has a business site equal to those seen in the metropolitan area, and certainly not surpassed by any found in country towns.
Later that year, Lambros returned to Kythera for a short holiday to see his parents. He left Hector in-charge of their business interests, (with Jim's assistance). With the Depression starting to take its effect, Monday night pictures were cancelled from April 1930. However, this did not stop Hector from arranging to bring the film of the exploits of the famous aviatrix, Amy Johnson to Walgett in June, thereby allowing the local people to see what they had been reading about in the city newspapers.
With the coming of talking pictures in 1928/29 to Sydney and the subsequent conversion of many theatres to the new medium, the supply of silent films dwindled to the point where it became a matter of wire-for-sound or close. Saturday, 2 July 1932 was the last time that silent pictures were screened in the town. The following Wednesday (6th), Conomos Bros presented talking pictures to the people of Walgett. The newspaper reported the opening in detail and noted that the machinery was one hundred per cent Australian. "Nobody should miss the talkies, they bring the world to Walgett, and provide for the people exactly the same class of entertainment as can be seen in the leading city and metropolitan theatres." It went on to commend the brothers, "...on the progressive step they have made, and wish them every success in their venture."
It was Jim's turn next to visit his parents and he did so in 1933. The other two brothers hoped that he might return with a wife but this was not to be. He remained on Kythera for a number of years, quite content with life and his new-found apiary interest.
In 1935, plans were made for the projection box in the School of Arts to be moved to the street end (or western end) of the hall. That same year, and unbeknown to the School of Arts' committee, Lambros Conomos set in motion plans for a new picture theatre - free of restrictions imposed by the School of Arts (the only social venue in town and one that had to be shared with other events) and something that would make a statement amongst picture showmen in the state. After all, times were changing and picture patrons needed more comfort and facilities and, if the cinemas being constructed in metropolitan areas and larger rural centres were any indication, the Walgett School of Arts was not adequate for Conomos Bros' vision of motion picture exhibition in Walgett. In August 1935, Lambros commenced purchasing land for a new theatre. The first block ran from Wee Waa Street to a lane to the north. In August 1936 he purchased a piece of land from Toohey's Ltd (who owned the hotel at the corner of Fox and Wee Waa Streets) which connected his block to Fox Street, thus giving him a 58 feet frontage to this main shopping street. The depth of his block was now 160 feet. He sold the Wee Waa Street frontage to Tooheys Ltd, thus ridding himself of surplus land.
Hector's first visit home to see his parents was in 1935. It was at Lambros' suggestion, but he also wanted Hector to persuade Jim to return to Walgett. He was concerned that their youngest brother was becoming too involved on the island and might not come back, Besides, their business enterprises required his help. "Lambros suggested that I go back. I said, 'I've been here for so long and I haven't seen any part of the world.' He said, 'Well, what do you want to do?' I said, 'I'd like to go to America by boat.' There were the Mariposa and Monterey...He says, 'By all means.'" Since they owned a picture theatre, it was easy to obtain "letters of introduction to go to Hollywood to see how pictures were made". After making his way to the east coast of America, and having thoroughly enjoyed himself, Hector was supposed to proceed by ship to Greece. At the time, Italy was at war in Ethiopia. Mussolini had "...advertised ('they used to call him The Big Mouth') to anyone crossing the Atlantic Ocean to do so at their own risk. I sent a telegram to Lambros, from New York to Walgett. 'Remain in New York owing to conditions.' He replied, 'Proceed. No danger.' Hector enjoyed his time in America. "[It] did me a lot of good because there were a lot of Greeks there, a lot of Greeks who came from the same island as me, from Kythera, and I was at home with them."
After arriving on Kythera, Hector managed to persuade Jim to return to Walgett, but stayed there himself for about three years. On one occasion, he was in the nearby village of Livadi where he met Elly, whose father employed Hector's father. They married, but not before Hector's father passed away. Then, knowing that Lambros and Jim needed his assistance, they set about returning to Australia.
In 1936, while Hector was overseas, Lambros engaged noted Sydney architect, C Bruce Dellit to design a picture theatre for Walgett. Dellit had already designed the Astros Theatre, Merriwa (1928), the Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park, Sydney (1929/30), the Liberty Theatre, Pitt Street, Sydney (1934), and had drawn plans for a bigger theatre, arcade and apartment block behind the earlier Liberty (1934), designed a new, Jazz-style Art Deco interior for the Australian Picture Palace (renamed Tatler Theatre), Liverpool Street, Sydney (1935) and was about to commence work on the Minerva and Paradise Theatres, Kings Cross (from 1937). Dellit, near the top of his career, supervised the work, travelled to the site to oversee construction and was present at the opening night.
"Jim used to write to me sometimes and tell me about what was going on," said Hector. Lambros was not satisfied with screening at the School of Arts and having to pay rent to someone else.
In those days, after the performance was over, people always looked forward to have a cup of tea or coffee and toast or a cool drink. So the eldest brother thought, 'There's an idea. Build a theatre next to the cafe and, when the pictures are over, they all come into the cafe.' And it worked. I remember the time [after the new theatre was built], one cook we had there, in the winter months...would come along and say 'What time the pictures be out?' I'd say, 'There's so many thousand feet of film to go through. They'll be out at half past ten.' So he'd make stacks of toast...You've got them both ways - you've got them in the theatre and, after the theatre, you've got them in the cafe.
For Walgett, the new theatre was "over the top". Nothing in town could compare. Not only was it a modern cinema, but with its flat downstairs' floor, it could also double as a ballroom when required. A report on the proposed building was completed by the Government Architect in late 1936. It was stated that the theatre was 58 feet wide by 160 feet long, the rear abutted Wee Waa Lane, it contained a stage 25 feet wide by 36 feet deep and had dressings rooms on either side of the stage. A shop, 14 feet wide by 25 feet long, occupied part of the street frontage. The projection suite was situated at the rear of the dress circle. In a later report, the Government Architect stated that seating was for 350 in the stalls, 14 rows by 25 seats in each (not fixed), while the dress circle seated 144.
"A further step in the progress of Walgett...demonstrating also as it does the unbounded faith held by Mr. Conomos in the future of this town and district." In preparation for the opening of the new theatre, the School of Arts' Popular Pictures closed after the screening on Saturday, 17 April. Last programme included Marion Davies in Hearts Divided and Hoot Gibson in The Last Outlaw.
The new Luxury Theatre opened on Monday, 19 April 1937 with Eleanor Powell in Born To Dance. A ball after the pictures, with Cavanagh's Orchestra from Moree, attended by over 300, raised £50 for the local hospital. The newspaper reported that it was "an occasion long to be remembered in Walgett. Fox Street, between the Royal Hotel and the Post Office, was just one blaze of light from the powerful lamps on the new building. The attendance and everything in general gave the show a real city atmosphere..." and promised a full report the following week.
The theatre, that evening, stood out in great majesty to receive the largest crowd that has ever attended a function in our town. The foyer closely resembled the entrance to some stately metropolitan show, and made a pleasing spectacle with ladies gowned in evening attire and gents in full evening dress moving forward to their respective seats. The ushers had a gigantic task in attending to their important duties, but everything was so well organised before this big night that not one hitch of any kind occurred to mar an evening which will long be remembered.
The Luxury Theatre was appropriately named. It was Moderne in design, and Dellit had drawn upon his Liberty Theatre in Sydney for inspiration. The facade featured stepped panels with a projecting vertical central feature panel. At night, the facade was floodlit and there was a special feature light at the top of the facade. The street-front ticket box (with an internal one adjoining) was reminiscent of the Liberty.
The front of the building is cement rendered and of futuristic design, being painted white and relieved with blue and silver. Entrance is by means of a foyer with a sun-rays floor having a gradual slope to obviate the necessity of steps. This leads to three main doors which open into the stalls. The dress circle is reached by a special concrete staircase...
On the left of the vestibule was a wide staircase that lead up to the dress circle foyer. Decoration here was limited to a feature frieze around the top of the walls, and small vertical wall bracket lights. The windows had side and pelmet curtains in horizontally striped fabric and a sheer fabric for centre drops. Scatter rugs of Modern design were arranged on the floor and there was an abundance of modern, cane furniture.
Mr. Conomos in a few appropriate words introduced his guests to the audience, each in turn congratulating the proprietors on their enterprise and wishing them all success in their business venture. Mr. Dellett[sic] in his remarks considered Walgett and district very fortunate indeed in possessing a man of the calibre of Mr. Lambros Conomos, whose one great aim was to see Walgett prosper. He had only met Mr. Conomos some few months ago and was so impressed with his desire to give Walgett a theatre of which the people might be proud, that he gave this work his special attention in order that Mr. Conomos' wish should be truly gratified...
Similarities in the internal decoration could be noticed between Dellit's Luxury and his 1935 Tatler in Liverpool Street, Sydney. In the auditorium, decoration was kept to a minimum, relying on the ceiling with its stepping down in shallow, wide steps towards the stage. "The stage will look particularly attractive with the special curtains of gold velvet and silk designed by the architect. These also embody the letters 'L.T.' worked in gold." The proscenium was surrounded by five steps on both side walls and ceiling, with a vertical set of wall lights between the third and fourth steps. Each of the steps was decorated underneath with a scallop treatment. (The decorated steps and side lighting were the same as at the Tatler.)
The painting is very artistic and is a special texture of light buff, fading away as it makes towards the ceiling. The ornamental finish is carried out in rubbed ivory and picked out in gold...The lighting is also the very latest, the lamps being concealed in ornamented parchment shades, relieved in gold, whilst in front special electrical equipment will make the theatre a blaze of beautiful colour.
The major decorative features were a Moderne patterned central motif that steps down the middle of the ceiling to the proscenium, the Moderne grille work panels that covered the side wall ventilation openings, and the half-cylinder, opalescent wall lamps situated between each panel of grille work. Although there were no ceiling lights in the auditorium proper, there was one under the gallery, plus wall brackets (again, reminiscent of the Tatler).
The importance of the opening of the new cinema and the esteem in which Conomos Bros were held was evident.
Cr. G.D. Ritchie in his opening remarks, complimented Mr. Conomos and his brothers for the wonderful interest they had taken in the town of Walgett. He felt that the erection of the 'Luxury' was the culmination of many years of useful service and industry as citizens of a town which was destined to become one of the most important in the north-western portion of this State. He doubted whether a better building could be found anywhere and knew that it would stand for many years as a monument to progress and a testimony to the enterprise of the proprietors. A very pleasing feature, said the speaker, was the fact that although Messrs Conomos Bros. had made considerable money in our town, they were still prepared to back its stability by their action in giving the people a theatre second to none...
By employing Dellit, Conomos Bros certainly managed to bring the city to the bush with their theatre.
The accomplishment of such a fine theatre originated firstly in Mr Lambros Conomos' resourcefulness, secondly in the minds of Mr. C. Bruce Dellit, the architect, and thirdly in the masterly tradesmanship displayed by Contractor W.G. Mason, of Sydney, through the medium of his foreman, Mr. J. King, and the men under his care. We compliment them one and all and for the full meaning of the word 'Luxury' one has only to view this fine structure and enjoy the comforts contained therein.
The local 'gossip' column could find only one fault with the theatre. "A crying room for babies is being installed at a new theatre in Gosford. As our office boy remarked - this is possibly the only matter overlooked by Mr. Conomos when he built the 'Luxury'."
Since there was not enough business for screening Monday to Saturday, the new Luxury Theatre had been specially designed with a flat downstairs' floor so that it could be used for dances.
We never had to fix the seats [downstairs]. Never screwed them down. Only the dress circle seats...were screwed down...We used to clear the hall, put all the chairs on the side and sometimes we'd have two bands - one on stage and one in the middle of the hall, playing. One particular dance we used to call it The Hospital [Ball]. During the war there was the Britain, France, there was also a Greek day. There was a lot of money collected there. The Catholics used to hold their ball there...
Walgett can be a very cold place in winter but that did not deter patrons. "Oh, they used to come with blankets." And from how far afield did they travel? "Depends on the production. If it was, say, a good musical, well that used to bring them in. Or a good Western." They would travel for up to "thirty miles, but no further." And, of course, in those pre-television days, the cinema used to run double features unless the main one was exceptionally long.
The shop in the theatre building was remodelled in April 1938 and became a Sports and Music shop, with a hair dressing saloon. The next month, Conomos Bros' wine saloon (adjacent to their Barwon Cafe opened for business, the premises having been "thoroughly renovated and brought into modern lines to cater for the public." That same month, Lambros called for tenders for the erection of a house in Warrena Street, that was to become the home of his brother, Hector, and his new wife when they arrived from Greece.
In August 1938, the Governor of New South Wales, Lord Wakefield, and Lady Wakefield visited Walgett during a tour and the town put on a splendid display of welcome. Among the functions that they attended was a civic reception at the Luxury, the theatre being donated for the purposes by Conomos Bros.
Hector returned to Walgett in early November 1938 with his new bride, Elly (nee-Haros). Recalling her first impressions of Walgett, she said,
If I'd known what Walgett was like I wouldn't have come. We came in 1938 - went by car the first time. A friend of ours took us up. It's so small. And Walgett was so open. There's a funny story. Going into Walgett at night time, you thought it was a big town with all the lights. You could see the lights as you drove and thought it was a big town. But when you woke up the next day, it was a small town. (The street lights made the place look larger than it was.)
Reminiscences about the Luxury by Elly help to expand information about the building. As the only photographs available are in black and white, Elly was able to cast her mind back and think of the colour schemes in the theatre. She recalled that it had creamy-fawn walls with modern, half-cylinder light fittings spaced along them. The front curtain was remembered as being a golden-brown colour. Seating downstairs was in three sections: the front stalls were of the fold down type with plain wooden backs and seats; the middle section and the rear stalls were padded brown tip-ups on battens (for easy moving). Upstairs, the 150 fixed tip-ups were of a similar brown leatherette as those downstairs. Wiping them over from time to time to get rid of the dust was one task associated with the theatre. An item of interest downstairs was a chair especially made by Hector for an Aboriginal lady, Mrs Clark, who was unable to fit into a normal-size theatre seat. Hector remembered Mrs Hickey, "and Tom [her husband] used to be a six-footer, and she was blind. 'Mr Conomos, can we sit here and listen to the music?' She couldn't see. Loved music."
The ticket window was "right on the footpath...Your ticket was handed out to you and you were on the footpath." Beside the ticket box (which was on the Barwon Cafe side of the building), were the main glass doors to the vestibule. There was provision inside the vestibule to sell tickets at busy times. On the other side of the street frontage was which brought in a weekly rental. Downstairs was segregated, with Aborigines sitting in the middle section. The town itself caused the segregation - everyone knew where everyone was supposed to sit. But, as Hector stated, it was more as a result of price than anything else. Dress circle patrons were escorted to their seats by uniformed usherettes - "Wore blue uniform, wasn't it?" On the facade of the theatre was a large neon sign which, when lit at night, was a beacon. "And the 'L' [at the top of the sign] for Luxury Theatre on top, everybody thought it was for his name, Lambros!" said Elly.
During the late 1930s and 1940s, the Conomos businesses began placing more strain on the three brothers and Elly. They had to be up in time to open the shop by 7.00 am and breakfast for the owners and patrons was of a more substantial nature than the Corn Flakes of today. Food had to be prepared daily and this meant long hours in the kitchen. While they employed a cook and other staff, at busy times it meant everyone being available to help. In the afternoon, there might be time for a brief siesta although this quieter time was also used to attend to accounts, especially with regards to their Texaco petrol agency (a bowser was outside the cafe). Dinners were served from late afternoon. On picture nights the shop was kept busy at interval and with late night suppers. It was not unusual to close around midnight. If there was a late-finishing dance at the theatre or the School of Arts, some people would front up at the cafe for breakfast about 6.00am. Sunday evenings was early closing - about 9.00pm. It is not hard to see that for Elly, especially, there was little time to mix in the life of the town and the situation remained so for many years.
Elly also worked at the theatre for a time (as usherette), including during the war years when staff were in short supply. By the time of her first child's birth, she and Hector had moved into a house on their won and she spent less time working in the cafe. The family grew to three children and Elly preferred to stay at home, looking after the family, the house and the garden.
With the coming of World War II, Walgett accepted the challenges that arose. The local newspaper shrank, shops had less stock to sell, buying war bonds was considered proper, the theatre cut back its screenings to Wednesdays and Saturdays (with occasional Monday screenings) and people's minds turned to the war effort. In January 1940,
Messrs Conomos Bros., proprietors of the 'Luxury' Theatre, gave an invitation night to members of the Walgett Militia Troop and their Lady friends on Saturday evening last. This very fine gesture on the part of Lambros and his brothers is genuinely appreciated by our local militia men, who have since spoken in grateful terms of their kind action. Needless to say the ladies were also delighted with the pleasant evening.