HISTORY OF SUN PICTURES, Sun Pictures Broome (Outdoor)
HISTORY OF SUN PICTURES
The World’s Oldest Outdoor Picture Garden
Sun Pictures – Historic Audio Tours – $5.00 (Monday to Friday) from 11:00am for 15min. June-August Only.
The Sun Pictures building in Broome’s Chinatown was constructed at the turn of the century (1903) on a site owned by the Yamasaki family.
Initially the spacious double-fronted tin structure served as an Asian emporium selling imported Asian foodstuffs, clothing and other household goods to Broome’s polyglot community.
The Yamasaki building was the most commodious store in Carnarvon Street, an area where shops, bazaars, brothels, food stalls, in the Asian quarter known as Chinatown.
The Yamasaki family’s love affair with theatre however, saw them devote a portion of the building to a Japanese playhouse where traditional Noh theatre was performed.
In 1913, Master Pearler Ted Hunter purchased the building from the Yamasaki family and commissioned architect Claude Hawkes, to design and construct a picture theatre that would seat up to 500 people.
Sun Pictures officially opened on December 9th 1916 with a silent movie, English Racing Drama ‘Kissing Cup’ with supporting ‘Bachelor Brown’ Comic.
Thus began the silent movie era for Broome. With a traditional horse-drawn tramway running between the Town Beach jetty and Chinatown, people would flock from miles around to enjoy this exciting new social event.
Local personality ‘Fairy’ delighted audiences with her romantic and sometimes melodramatic piano accompaniments during the screening of individual films. Her stock favourites were songs like ‘A Life on the Ocean Wave’ and ‘If you were the only girl in the world’.
In 1924 Sun Pictures changed hands and was purchased by Messrs W.H. Milner Harry and L.R. Knight (Leonard). The local picture business became a family affair when the wives of the new owners commenced management of the box office and publicity.
Harry Milner adapted his projector for sound in 1933, and the first talking movie to run in Broome was ‘Monte Carlo’ starring Jeanette McDonald and Jack Buchanan. This movie opening played to a capacity audience and marked the beginning of a new era for the film industry and Sun Pictures.
Harry Milner died in 1940, Leonard Knight retired to Perth and Catherine Milner was left to run the cinema which she did until being forcibly evacuated two days before Japanese Zeros strafed Broome in March 1942.
Projection equipment was vandalised during the war and later repaired by army officers, who commenced weekly screenings using carbon arc projectors, with a rather amusing overhead sign that read “One buzz increases volume, two buzzes, lower volume; three buzzes, check projector and shout for help!!”
"During the 1939-45 war, not long after Broome was bombed, I was serving with army transport in the area, Pictures were shown in the current Garden theatre. Apparently there was only one projector and the operator had difficulty in changing the reel, which was quite often. Sometimes it took twenty to thirty minutes to change reels. During those periods they played a record – they only had one, which was called ‘You look like a monkey when you grow old’. This was played over and over until the movie could continue."
J O’Mara Ballajura W.A.
Sun Pictures is perhaps the only picture theatre in the world to have been subjected to continual tidal flooding. Many nights theatre goers would lift their feet up whilst the tide gurgles in. Some say that you could catch a fish during screening. Many night patrons would leave the theatre to find Carnarvon Street completely flooded. This was taken in stride with men rolling up their trousers and carrying womenfolk to higher ground. A levee bank built across the marsh in 1974 put an end to the flooding.
Sun Pictures went through a period of racially segregated seating. Cane chairs with cushions in the middle of the theatre were permanently booked for those Europeans considered most worthy. Children sat on deck chairs or bench seats in front of them. ‘Other’ whites sat on the left-hand side of the theatre. Deck chairs immediately behind the Europeans were allocated to Japanese and Chinese people. Lugger crews –Malays, Koepangers, Filipinos and Aborigines – entered through a separate door located at the right hand side of the theatre. They were required to sit to the right of a low lattice dividing rail, on benches located outside and to the front of the whites’ seats, or on stadium-type seating at the rear or of the auditorium. Although patrons were used to these arrangements, some became uncomfortable and irate. It was during the Anderson period that a boycott of ‘Sun’ was organised by some of the ‘coloured people’ in town. It was effective over several picture show nights. When it ended , the treatment on non whites improved even though this continued until 1967 when legislation was passed preventing racial discrimination.
Sun Picture Gardens was bought by Mr and Mrs Walter James Anderson in 1948 who continued the tradition of screening films until they sold the theatre to master pearler Alf Morgan and his wife Ruby in 1953. Morgan’s business was not entertainment so he leased the theatre to Jean and Peter Haynes who remained as managers and caretakers of this historic building for nearly 30 years.
If the walls could talk, Sun Pictures would be a veritable encyclopedia of facts about Broome’s residents, their children, their indiscretions, their problems and their dreams. Saturday nights were ‘picher nights’ for Broome teenagers, and the theatre at times became quite a child care centre with the lessee’s car known as the ‘kindergarten express’, returning many youngsters home after movie screenings.
In 1982 Lord Alistair McAlpine became the new owner. A succession of managers followed, perpetuating the cinema’s activities, until 1988 when current owner Marisa Ferraz and then business partner Tony Hutchinson purchased the theatre. Seeing its historic connections with the growth and changes in the Broome community, they became passionately committed to the preservation and restoration of the building, along with its marketing as a tourism icon.
Register of the National Estate 1989
The picture Gardens makes a significant contributing to the townscape and have been associated with prominent people.
In 1995 the building is placed on the State Register of Heritage Places. The Register of Heritage Places states Sun Pictures has cultural and heritage significance because it:
- Is a rare example of a purpose built picture garden still in commercial operation.
- Is an integral and distinctive part of the Broome community contributing to its sense of place and identity.
- Contributes and enhances the streetscape by its building form.
- Is representative of construction designed to suit the tropics.
Mention must be made of Sun Pictures’ unique location under the flight path to the runway at Broome airport. Films through the decades have been interrupted at strategic moments by the engine roar and flashing lights of a landing aircraft, often accompanied by applause from generations of movie lovers.
In May 1997 Marisa Ferraz took full ownership of this historic building and business continued to prosper. Husband Ross de Wit joined the business in January 2000 and Sun Pictures once again became a family affair. Today Marisa & Ross remain the dedicated caretakers of this Australian icon.
1999 - With assistance from the Heritage Council W.A, Sun Pictures commences restoration works to the foyer and further works to be undertaken prior to December 1999. This project is carried out with 1999/2000 Heritage Grants Program, a Heritage Council of Western Australia grants scheme.
2000 - Partial replacement to floor works in the main auditorium were achieved with financial assistance from the Heritage Council W.A.
November 2000 - Conservation works were completed to the roof. This project is carried out with Commonwealth Government Assistance under the Cultural Heritage Projects Program 2000.
In March 2002 Sun Pictures became part of a larger cinema group with the opening of Sun Cinemas only two blocks away in Broome's commercial precinct.
2004 - Sun Pictures was officially recognised by the Guinness World Records as being the
"World's Oldest Open Air Cinema in Operation".
2006 - Sun Pictures celebrates 90 years on 9th December.
In 2009 The Thomson family took ownership of Twin Cinema and runs in conjunction with Sun Pictures still keeping tradition alive.
October 2012 saw a huge change in technology where history was changed once again. Digital projectors were installed at both locations with Twin cinema 3D capable.
2016 - Sun Pictures celebrates 100 years on 9th December.
August 2017 - In tribute of the 100-year milestone, the World’s Oldest Operating Picture Gardens unveiled pavement plaques in Carnarvon Street in front of the theatre, which commemorates the history of Sun Pictures. This project was funded by Royalties for Regions through the Chinatown Revitalisation Project Activation Initiative Matched Grants.
All previous projectors are on display at Sun Pictures including the last of the 35mm projector we call "Christie"..