Bingara's rich theatre heritage

A rich heritage for Bingara's Roxy theatre


John Wearne in the Roxy Theatre at Bingara, which is set to be heritage listed.

John Wearne in the Roxy Theatre at Bingara, which is set to be heritage listed.

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Bingara's Roxy Theatre has a colourful history, with its first owners going bankrupt in its first year. Now, the grand theatre could be heritage listed.

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IT was the shining light of Bingara’s main street decades ago, and after 40 years lying dormant, the Roxy Theatre was rediscovered as a community hub, which is now set to be heritage listed.

It’s been a long road to heritage listing for the grand art deco building, which has had it ups and downs – including the bankruptcy of its creators.

The Roxy was built by three Greek partners from Kythera, who arrived in Bingara in the 1920s to establish the town’s first Greek cafe.

Emanuel Aroney, Peter Feros and George Psaltis spend a few years as cafe owners before choosing to expand the business, building a modern picture theatre, cafe and other shop fronts. 

The grandest theatre outside of Sydney opened in March 1936, just six months before the partners filed for bankruptcy. 

There was no television, computers or smart phones. Registered clubs were only in their infancy, so the cinema and cafes were the focal point of entertainment. - John Wearne AM

Their dream was over, but the Roxy operated as a cinema until 1958. 

One of the Roxy’s biggest supporters is patron John Wearne AM, a fifth-generation Bingara man and president of the North West Theatre Company.

Mr Wearne grew up with the Roxy as the main entertainment in the small town.

“Bingara might have been a bit bigger than it is now, but the demographics were totally different,” Mr Wearne said.

“There were many more young families, enrolments at the school would have been double, and there was no television, computers or smart phones.

“Registered clubs were only in their infancy, so the cinema and cafes were the focal point of entertainment.”

There was also the Regent Cinema, and both cinemas screened movies on most nights of the week.

“Kids would go to the matinee screening in the afternoon and families would go at night,” Mr Wearne said.

The advent of television changed entertainment, leading to the demise of many cinemas, including the Roxy, which was closed for 40 years before being purchased by the former Bingara Shire Council in 1998.

Using state and federal government funding, as well as funding from the local council, the theatre was refurbished, keeping its original splendour while providing modern facilities.

“It was a huge project, one that the community would never have been able to afford alone,” Mr Wearne said.

“It was a long process to restore the interior and recreate the golden age of cinema.

“We were lucky to even find 200 seats from another old theatre to replace the seats at the Roxy.”

The Roxy was reopened in 2004 as a cinema, performing arts venue and multi-purpose centre, which hosts conferences, weddings and community events.

Most country towns had a Greek cafe and a Chinese restaurant, and the Roxy housed both, but in 2008, that came to an end, and the council purchased the adjoining cafe, which had been operating as a Chinese restaurant, completing its restoration in 2011.

The final element, the Roxy Museum, which showcases the town’s rich heritage, was opened to the public in 2014.

The museum, which includes artefacts and images from Greek theatres and cafes around NSW, features the story of the three Greek men who created the town landmark.

One of the original projectors at the Roxy Theatre is now part of the Roxy Museum opened in 2014.

One of the original projectors at the Roxy Theatre is now part of the Roxy Museum opened in 2014.

“The Greeks had such a big impact on regional Australia, and the museum celebrates their contribution,” Roxy manager Georgia Standerwick said.

“They were hard workers and brought so much to the community, and in the current political climate, with issues with immigration, it’s a good lesson for young people to show them that Greek immigrants were part of the landscape of regional Australia.”

Ms Standerwick said the Roxy was now one of the town’s big attractions, along with the Gwydir River. 

“It’s all about the three Rs – the Roxy, River and RVs (recreation vehicles),” she said.

“We get a lot of tourists coming here to camp on the river, but they don’t leave Bingara without a visit to the Roxy.”

The process for the building to receive heritage listing has taken about 18 months.

The NSW Heritage Council recommended the theatre and cafe be heritage listed at a meeting in March, and the submission is now with Heritage Minister Gabrielle Upton for final determination.

While the heritage listing would place controls on the building’s renovation, it allows for new sources of funding for maintenance and renovations, Northern Tablelands MP Adam Marshall said.

“Securing the Roxy on the heritage list will give it more protection in future, and ensure it’s enjoyed for generations to come.”

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