The Garfield Picture Theatre was one of the many cinemas constructed during the Australia wide boom in cinema building in the 1920s. It was opened with a Grand Ball on Monday, December 22 1924. An advertisement in the Pakenham Gazette advertised the ball (see left), which was free to all and also advertised Pictures every Saturday night and dancing every Friday night. One of the first films shown was Where the North Begins, a Rin Tin Tin movie.
The theatre was built by Martin O’Donohue. It had a power house at the rear and a 230 volt generator and was thus the first source of electricity in Garfield. This was an interesting situation and in January 1925 the Shire of Berwick received a letter from Martin O’Donohue asking for particulars of size of poles required for street lighting. O’Donohue supplied Garfield with power until October 1929 when SEC power arrived in conjunction with the power supplied to the Tynong Quarry. According to the Shire of Berwick Rate Books in 1924/25, Martin O’Donohue, whose occupation was listed as Hotel keeper, jointly paid the rates on the Garfield Hotel with Margaret and Daniel O’Donohue. Thomas O’Donohue was listed as owning the Hotel. Martin also owned sale yards and the Picture Theatre. He and Margaret also owned two other Garfield lots. Eileen O’Donohue paid rates on a Garage, owned by Thomas. Thomas owned a saddlers shop, a confectionary shop and 155 acres. I am unsure how all these O’Donohues are related and a later source connects Martin O’Donohue to the Club Hotel at Warragul, so by all accounts they were an entrepreneurial family.
Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp Historical society photograph
The theatre was said to seat 800 people and J.Taylor initially leased the theatre from Martin O’Donohue. The Shire of Berwick Rate Books indicate that in 1931 it was sold to Walter Anderson Lawson and Roy Everard Ross of Warragul. They sold it to James Murphy in 1953. Murphy owned the theatre until it closed in the early 1960s.
An article by Gerry Kennedy in Cinema Record, Volume 1, January 1994 (the newsletter of CATHS, the Cinema and Theatre Historical Society www.caths.org .au) has some technical details about the theatre - the bio box was built above the entrance vestibule. To the left of the bio box was the rectifier room and, to the right, the winding room, both with ports to the auditorium. Apparently when the theatre was constructed there was no ceiling which interfered with sound quality and caneite panels were fitted to the walls in 1950s to improve the sound. A 30 foot wide cinemascope screen was installed and the theatre was equipped with R.C.A Star Projectors. Kennedy also writes that the Garfield Theatre re-opened at weekends from 1970 to 1971 and was operated by Dennis Grigg.
Two other Picture Theatres were also built in the 1920s in the area. The Wattle Theatre at Koo-Wee-Rup opened with a grand ball in July 1927 and King’s Picture Theatre at Pakenham opened on September 7, 1927. However even earlier, local residents had been able to view movies at the Pakenham Mechanics’ Institute. Harrington’s Electra Pictures had been shown at the Garfield Hall and Colvin’s Pictures began weekly screenings in September 1922 at the Memorial Hall in Koo-Wee-Rup. Of the three purpose built theatres the Garfield Theatre was by far the most substantial building being constructed of brick. Koo-Wee-Rup has external walls of corrugated iron and Pakenham (which was located roughly opposite the Uniting Church in Main Street and demolished in the 1990s) was made of asbestos cement sheet. Apart from these venues, films were shown at Tynong - there is still a bio box or projection room, which is currently inaccessible, at the Hall. They were also shown at the Bunyip Hall and when the original 1906 Hall was burnt down in March 1940, a ‘picture plant’ was also destroyed.
Garfield Picture Theatre was a great source of entertainment for not only Garfield locals but those further afield. According to Dave Mickle in his book More Mickle Memories of Koo-Wee-Rup the Garfield, Pakenham and Koo-Wee-Rup theatres were in keen competition to provide Saturday night entertainment and an edition of the Koo-Wee-Rup Sun from January 1939 has an advertisement for the three theatres. Mickle also wrote that the ‘talkies’ had arrived at the Garfield Picture Theatre by May 1931, a few months earlier than Koo-Wee-Rup.
My father, Frank Rouse, remembers that at its peak, the Garfield Picture Theatre had shows on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturday nights. Simcock’s Bedford bus used to travel out to Murray Road, Cora Lynn and surrounding areas on a Saturday night and pick up theatre goers and return them after the show. There was always a rush to get served at Simcock’s milk bar during the intermission.