Walcha history: A Walcha "talkie" success story

Picture of the past and present: The Walcha Theatre in Fitzroy Street as it is today.
Picture of the past and present: The Walcha Theatre in Fitzroy Street as it is today.

It was announced in January 1927 that plans were being prepared for a "new modern theatre for Walcha" but it was not until January 1928 that Frank Townshend, who founded the Walcha Witness newspaper in 1889, applied to council for permission to commence construction, which was given a few weeks later.

Henry Fielding was awarded a £6000 contract to erect the building which was officially opened on Monday, August 13, 1928.

The report in the Armidale Express reads in part: "A packed house, estimated to number fully 600 persons, saw the mayor, Ald. S. Hargrave, declare the theatre open. The hall will accommodate 800 but seating has not yet been provided for this number."

The Temperance Hall, further west along Fitzroy Street, was the preferred place for the screening of movies until the opening of the Walcha Theatre.

"Talkies", films with synchronised sound, began replacing the earlier "silent" films in the late 1920s and the Walcha Theatre was one the early cinemas in New England equipped to show them. The Armidale Express of December 20, 1929 included this brief report: "Talkies will be seen and heard at Walcha on Monday night when two all-talking and singing pictures will be shown, being reproduced on talkie machinery."

The late "Blue" Hogan said the first "talkie" shown in Walcha was titled Mother's Boy, which had premiered in London in May 1929.

The Walcha Theatre had a monopoly on the movie business until January 31, 1938 when the much better appointed Civic Theatre opened in Derby Street. Despite renovations and the installation of new equipment, the Walcha Theatre was never again a commercial success as a cinema.

It was used as a supper room on many occasions and, in later years, was home to several businesses including the Bank of NSW while its own premises underwent 12 months of alterations and additions. Dalgety's Stock and Station later used the greater part of building for several years before moving to new premises.

The building is presently occupied by the Walcha Creative Arts and the Presbyterian Ladies Op Shop.

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