Backward Glance - Motion Pictures find a home
  • Thursday 04 April 2019

We often look back fondly at an outing to the pictures –The Vogue Theatre in Nambour has housed many of those memories over the years.

It was a frustrating initiation into the picture screening business for Mr Louis Arthur Eric McCorkell, who after his discharge from the Royal Australian Air Force, where he attained the rank of LAC in 20 Squadron, searched for a town where he could set up a cinema.

On September 25, 1945 Mr McCorkell wrote to Maroochy Shire Council to apply for a licence to screen motion pictures in Nambour. 

At the time, the Savoy Picture Company was screening pictures in the Maroochy Town Hall.

In his application Mr McCorkell indicated his intention to build a modern theatre, which would be the first purpose-built cinema, in Currie Street, Nambour. 

Mr McCorkell’s application was approved by council in their October 1945 meeting, subject to certain conditions and the submission of detailed plans of the ‘modern theatre’ as well as its furnishings and the proposed site. 

However, within seven weeks, Mr Christy Freeleagus presented plans to demolish the Diggers’ Hall and build a new Savoy Cinema on the site. 

This new Savoy Cinema was to have high class modern seating and large, elegant pendant light fittings.

The council considered both plans which were returned to the applicants for alterations but were considered mostly satisfactory. 

By February 1946 Mr McCorkell had slightly changed his plans, he now wanted to construct his cinema in two stages.

First spending 500 pounds on a section to be completed by June 30, 1946, then spending an additional 500 pounds on a second section which would begin on July 1, 1946.

This decision was made to avoid war-time regulations which limited the amount private individuals could spend each financial year in building projects. The council approved this course of action.

This decision sparked an outraged letter to the editor of Nambour Chronicle by ‘Justice’ on March 1, 1946 – criticising the decision as favouritism. 

The letter contended that there was already a picture show in Nambour which screened every night at prices which were within the reach of all pockets.

Understandably, a reply was printed in the next week’s Nambour Chronicle by ‘Truth’ saying the criticism was most unjust. This began a battle of letters to the editor which were not published as they conveyed a similar theme.

Nevertheless, Mr McCorkell began construction. However, despite the fact that council had approved his entertainment and picture-showing licences, the Picture Theatres and Films Commission refused to issue the necessary government licence.

Construction continued and the building was completed in August 1947. It was named The Vogue Theatre.

An article in The Nambour Chronicle on August 29, 1947 said that when “stepping into The Vogue Theatre from Currie Street, one is amazed at what has been accomplished by initiative, courage and utilising the almost discarded to bring about an interior which bespeaks comfort, convenience and restfulness. The floor which has been specially treated with a bitumen surface penetration dips four feet from the entry to the foot of the stage. At the entrance is a room on either side, one known as the ‘crying’ room. It is a convenience where mothers can convey crying children from the main theatre, and while attending them can view the screen and where also a speaker is installed.” 

Unfortunately Mr McCorkell still didn’t have a screening licence from the Picture Theatres and Films Commission.

A public meeting organised by the Nambour Sub-Branch of the RSSAILA (Returned Sailor’s Soldier’s Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia) for a public mandate for a second picture licence was held in The Vogue Theatre in January 1948. 

More than 500 people attended, it was decided that the signatures of citizens in Nambour and the district would be presented to the State Premier as a record of indignation at the Picture Theatres and Films Commissions refusal to give Mr McCorkell a picture licence.

In the meantime, The Vogue Theatre was the venue for a number of community entertainments.

In September 1947, a Scotch Concert was held with the star attraction being a Scottish Pipe Band, led by Drum Major Tom Brown. 

Highland dancing was performed by 4 year old Joyce Blackburn, who demonstrated the Highland Fling, Sailors’ Hornpipe and the Irish Jig.

Also in September 1947, patrons were treated to a Stage Show of selected Australian Amateur Hour Artists. Starring Buster Fiddes (Compere) and his dog Jake, Miss Dorothy (Lucky) Nicol (Hill-Billy), Leo Ramsbotham (George Formby Impersonator), Eric Nunn (Lemon Leaf Player), James Mallinson (Story Teller and Trickster) and of course Jay Larkin (Master Magician).

On April 25, 1948, a fire broke out in Maroochy Town Hall. Smoke was seen billowing from the auditorium behind the main part of the building which housed the Savoy Picture Theatre. 

Volunteer fire crews from Nambour and the surrounding districts rushed as quickly as they could, but were hampered by the fact that Nambour did not have a reticulated water supply at that time, and water had to be pumped from Petrie Creek. 

Further problems arose when leaks developed in the hoses, and due to the Petrie Creek water level being very low at the time, mud was sucked up threatening to damage the pumps.

Although the Savoy Picture Theatre was lost, the courageous work of the firemen saved the rest of the building, including the street fronts.

The Savoy Picture Theatre continued to screen movies in the Diggers’ Hall and surprising everyone, Mr McCorkell purchased Savoy Pictures Pty Ltd in August 1948. 

He then owned the Diggers Hall and its screen licence, as well as The Vogue Theatre with no licence. 

After screening movies in the Diggers’ Hall for six months, a licence was finally granted to The Vogue Theatre.

The theatre went on to screen movie blockbusters such as “Quo Vadis” which patrons described as ‘colossal’, Australian classics “Bush Christmas” with Chips Rafferty and of course “Tarzan and the Mermaids” starring Johnny Weissmuller.

By 1953 Mr McCorkell had sold The Vogue Theatre to the Venardos Brothers, but kept the Diggers’ Hall. 

The Venardos Brothers built a new Vogue Theatre in Currie Street for 70,000 pounds. 

It was described as one of the finest motion picture theatres in provincial Queensland.

Thanks to Sunshine Coast Council’s Heritage Library Officers for the words and Picture Sunshine Coast for the images.

Image details 

Hero image – Well known Australian actor Chips Rafferty at the Vogue Theatre, Nambour, May 1970

Image 1 Fire in the Maroochy Shire Hall, 25 April 1948. The fire damaged the Council Chambers and destroyed the picture theatre in the building.

Image 2 – Vogue Theatre and adjacent shops, Currie Street, Nambour, 1960s. The original Vogue Theatre was built in Currie Street in 1947 and officially opened in March 1949. A new Vogue Theatre (pictured) was opened on 19 February 1958.

Image 3 – Film screening in the former Vogue Theatre, which reopened in the entertainment and family centre known as Maranatha House on 10 December 1976