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Nyngan Palais Theatre faces demolition as locals remember the golden days of first dates and fantasy films

By Jessie Davies and Maddison Jones, Wednesday October 10, 2018 - 13:36 EDT
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Collin Pardy was a projectionist at the Nyngan Palais Theatre during the 1970s and 1980s. - ABC

It was the scene of fantasy films, first dates and dramatic flood rescues but now this outback theatre faces its most dramatic turn.

After almost a century of operation, the Nyngan Palais Theatre could be bulldozed after a council shire assessment last month found it posed a danger to public safety.

With repairs estimated to cost $5 million, it is widely expected the end is nigh for the iconic building which stands tall in the town's centre.

Its looming demise has the drought-affected community asking why council did not act sooner to repair the century-old building.

"Why hasn't something been done long before this?" asked long-time resident Glad Elderidge.

"It is a landmark and they are taking all our old landmarks down."

A grand old building

Built in 1925, Nyngan's townsfolk flocked to the theatre three times a week to catch superhero serials, westerns and even R-rated films.

"That's not R for romance, either," recalled former projectionist Collin Pardy.

Mr Pardy operated the projection box during the 1970s and 1980s. On scorching summer nights he would wheel out the projectors to make use of the outdoor theatre setting, called the Nyngan Outdoor Theatre.

Today, this space is a disused cricket pitch but in its heyday, 200 theatregoers would arrange themselves on seats erected from a large sheet of canvas strung between two poles.

"Sometimes when it rained they transferred the movies inside, but you nearly roasted it would be that hot," Mr Pardy said.

"Once back inside I had to get them going again, it took half an hour but people waited around for the film to start again."

Mr Pardy said it would be a shame to see the grand old theatre demolished.

"I think if they could get the funding, I would like to see it kept something like its original state."

Every Monday, the theatre's owner could be seen putting up posters, long-time resident Colin McCarthy said.

"When the posters were up, you knew what films were going to be on that week. It really whet the appetite," he said.

Instead of attending the theatre to watch films, Mr McCarthy now visited to watch his grandchildren dance at the venue. He lamented its decline.

"It's a bit shameful really but nothing lasts forever."

Memories coming flooding back

While the advent of television really tested the theatre's mettle, it was the 1990 Nyngan Flood which put it to the ultimate test.

Locals, in an effort to find high ground, took refuge in the Palais Theatre. But as the flood water continued to rise, the theatre filled with water. A dramatic rescue mission to evacuate people from the building then ensued.

"It was probably the saddest moment that I've ever had in this theatre," said Mr McCarthy.

"Boat after boat entered the theatre, mostly row boats, and took the people to the train station for evacuation.

"A snake even appeared in the theatre swimming through the flood water."

Spoilt for choice in Nyngan

In the late 1920s, Nyngan locals had the choice of three theatres to attend.

As quoted in the industry publication of the Australian Cinema and Theatre Society, former Nyngan resident Jean Phillips preferred the Palais.

"We mostly preferred the Palais because of all the MGM movies and also because it seemed more entertaining, whereas the Town Hall was very plain and you associated it with council events and other very important occasions".

Mr Pardy said young people flocked to the Palais for its serials.

"They had to keep coming back each week to see if Batman and Robin survived."


© ABC 2018

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