Recollections of the James Theatre

While the showing of moving pictures on the James Theatre site is now in its second century, the building itself, in its 95th year, is also fast approaching its century mark.

Recollections of the James Theatre by Deborah L Minnici (nee Hain)

I loved going to the theatre on a Friday or Saturday night when I was young, between the ages of 7 and 13, usually in the school holidays. I would head off with my cousins, who were mostly younger than I. We were never accompanied by an adult and would walk all the way from my aunt’s house in Eloiza Street, or my grandmother’s house in Abelard Street, opposite the showground, (something I can’t image children of that age being allowed to do today). We would each be given three shillings, enough to cover admission and something to eat at intermission. We would always sit in the wooden bench seats right at the front, where they were placed in several rows on the flat timber floor, in spite of the fact they were extremely uncomfortable and you had to strain your neck in an awkward position just to take in the whole screen. There was method in our madness, these seats only cost one shilling and therefore we would have more money leftover to buy food.

There was always a double feature and mostly preceded by a cartoon and Movietone News. The movies screened were never current, and were usually a few years old by the time they made it to Dungog, but it didn’t matter, once that roaring lion appeared we were mesmerised and carried to places that we could only fantasise about, our only means of travel at this time in our young lives of living in a small country town. If the young ones got too vocal or misbehaved, usually in the cartoons or when John Wayne got in a good shot, or the cavalry was arriving, then the rather large lady usher who sat in the back corner, with a blanket over her knee and sometimes knitting, would take umbrage to this, jump to her feet, march up and down either aisle shining the torch along the rows looking for the culprits. Needless to say this happened every week as the boys loved to heckle and provoke her into action.

My cousins and I would manage to stay awake until intermission, when we would then cross the road to the shop, which sold hot meat pies, milkshakes, ice-cream buckets, fantales, jaffas, minties and smiths crisps. I always loved to buy a meat pie with sauce and a milkshake costing one shilling each, especially during the winter, when it was absolutely freezing. It was also not uncommon to see people bring a thermos to the theatre. Inevitably we would all fall asleep during the second movie and lay head to toe along the hard bench seats. There is nothing worse than being woken at midnight and having to walk home in the middle of winter, but the thought of nan’s or my aunt’s big double bed kept us going. Neither my nan nor my aunt, who incidentally didn’t own televisions, ever ventured to the movies, but we would keep them awake for hours relaying the storylines, describing the dresses, and even singing the songs, as most of the movies tended to be musicals. They never told us to shut up and go to sleep and to this day I think they secretly delighted in hearing about the glamorous actors and wonderful stories, a distraction from their day to day mundane lives.

There was just something wonderful and glamorous about going to the James Theatre and it wasn’t until a few years later, around 1965 when I had graduated to sitting in the middle seats costing one shilling and sixpence, that I shared my first kiss, I won’t mention his name, he may still be living in Dungog.

[This article originally appeared in the Dungog Chronicle, 2011]