28 January 2023

Aunty Boo captures 1970s Goulburn for posterity

| John Thistleton
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Nora Lewsham at left with children and compere Des Storrier promoting a Saturday matinee at the Hoyts Theatre. Photo: Goulburn Mulwaree Library.

Her family called her Aunty Boo. Her staff called her Booey. And in the early 1960s she was one of only a few female picture theatre managers in Australia. Nora Lewsham’s theatre career in Goulburn began in 1947; she became Hoyts Theatre manager in 1963 and later managed the Village Drive-in Theatre into the 1970s, dedicating her life to promoting movies.

When Nora died in 2011 her niece Lisa Osborn was cleaning up her home and came across bags of scrapbooks with more than 200 photos of movie promotions aimed at people of all ages in Goulburn, newspaper clippings, festival programs and colouring-in competition entries.

“I couldn’t throw them out,” said Lisa, who as a child travelled from Sydney in the school holidays to stay with Aunty Boo and spent her time at the drive-in. Eventually Lisa decided to give the trove of memories to Goulburn Mulwaree Library.

Happy little faces at a matinee promotion. Photo: Goulburn Mulwaree Library.

Nora wrote in one of her scrapbooks, “I have tried to keep promoting all the time with small gimmicks, but have included some of the main ones.”

These included a Lilac Time children’s frolic, a float promoting Star Wars in 1977 accompanied by a record with the stirring soundtrack, and the Jaycees Trade Fair.

For promoting Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs she sought Ray Burgess, well known for his stage career, who readily agreed to help. He toured for six weeks promoting the film elsewhere.

America’s road action movie Smokey and the Bandit was another success. “I tied it in with Double Diamond, the CB (radio) people in Goulburn, who did a display of CB equipment in our cafe,” Nora wrote.

She enlisted a slim, game young man with a mop of blond hair to walk around Goulburn with a sign saying ‘Don’t look at me – I’m not Alvin Purple’ promoting the R-rated sex comedy about a man who women couldn’t resist. “He said he got quite a lot of ribbing. He also did this on Thursday night, for late night shopping,” Nora wrote.

Inviting the local Holden dealer to help promote the Australian-made 1977 movie The F.J. Holden, Nora wrote that he was not interested. (This is surprising given most of the cars at the drive-in were Holdens alongside a few Fords and Valiant Chargers.)

Promoting Alvin Purple in front of the Bank of New South Wales on the corner of Auburn and Verner Streets. Photo: Goulburn Mulwaree Library.

Her photograph in October 1973 of a ‘Sunday Specials’ sign shows Goulburn families paid $2 per car through the drive-in gates which opened at 3:30 pm. The kids lined up for pony rides, a merry-go-round and the Apex train. Screening at 7:30 pm were A Guy Named Charlie Brown and Carry on Loving.

For Bedknobs and Broomsticks Nora organised a float with Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, a Lion and children, while a Volkswagen beetle turned up for Herbie the Lovebug in 1975.

The photos will inform researchers for many years to come, revealing the fashions of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, magnificent main street buildings like the Bank of New South Wales, the fashions of flares, floral tops, men’s long hair and the clipped formality of theatre staff.

“We are really lucky to have received this donation as it fills a gap in terms of the decades covered; also as they are amazing photos,” the library’s local studies officer Fran O’Flynn said. “The collection takes you back in time; it has this sunny glow from the 1970s, from the yellow tints in the photos,” she said.

Staff at the Hoyts Picture Theatre. Photo: Goulburn Mulwaree Library.

Fran encourages people with treasured family photos to bring them in to the library. “We don’t have to take the photos, we can scan them and return them and they are then preserved forever,” she said. Once added to the library’s digital record they are accessible to relatives, friends and researchers anywhere in Australia and the world.

Fran said Nora Lewsham’s collection revealed a woman totally engaged with her work promoting theatres. “She was in her element creating a community vibe,” Fran said.

Lisa included a handwritten note with the photos, addressed: “Dear People of Goulburn. Nora was a beautiful person, a hard boss too I’m told, and the best aunty we could have wished for.”

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