26 July 2021

Community efforts continue to preserve Tumut's theatrical history

| Edwina Mason
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Interior of Montreal Community Theatre in Tumut

The glorious interior of Tumut’s Montreal Community Theatre which has been painstakingly preserved by the town’s residents, who all rallied to save it in the 1990s. Photo: Montreal Community Theatre.

A community theatre in Tumut that once served as the centre of cultural life for the townspeople is just one of the recipients of funding under Snowy Valleys Council’s Recovery and Resilience grants program.

More than $62,000 has been allocated to 16 projects covering the local government area’s vast footprint including Tumut, Tooma, Tumbarumba, Talbingo, Adelong, Khancoban, Welaregang and Batlow.

Among them is Montreal Community Theatre, a 1920s heritage-listed building which is also home to the Tumut Performing Arts Society (TPAS) and community radio station Sounds of the Mountains.

Audience at Montreal Theatre in Tumut

The show goes on for the people of Tumut who regularly fill the Montreal Theatre for live performances and films. This photo was taken back in 2015 and features on the ‘Lost Tumut’ website. Photo: Carl Stathis/’Lost Tumut’.

The $5000 in funding it received will finance its first ever drama residency next year, adding another feather to the theatre’s cap.

And before you go thinking this elegant theatre’s pedigree is Canadian French, the Montreal Theatre was named for a resident who made it a reality for the people of Tumut – a family name that endures in the town.

The name Montreal is an anagram of the surname of local businessman John J Learmont who had the Art Deco-style theatre designed and built in 1929. When it opened in 1930, it bore hallmarks of the many Sydney theatres he had visited before bringing his vision to life.

John J Learmont actually grew up in Young, far away from his siblings in Tumut, after his father moved to the goldmining town in the late 1800s. However, by 1912 he had returned to Tumut, following in his father’s footsteps as he set up shop as a draper and mercer.

Today, the Montreal Theatre remains largely untouched, one of only three theatres designed by cinema and theatre architects Kaberry and Chard that remain intact in NSW. The rest, including the Wintergarden and Lyceum theatres in Sydney, were demolished or have been adapted beyond recognition.

The history of Montreal Theatre has a strong Greek influence. It was originally leased by the enterprising Laurantas family who had a string of cinema theatres in the Riverina district including at Gundagai, Cootamundra, Corowa, Lockhart, Junee and Leeton. The lease then passed into the hands of relatives – the Stathis family – until 1965.

The theatre wasn’t just about film, the stage was set for travelling shows, home-grown variety performances, dances, fundraisers and charity drives, becoming the epicentre of live entertainment for the townspeople of Tumut.

Winter Bites Festival logo on glass of red wine

Funding recipient the Winter Bites Festival in Adelong is on 21 August, and the Winter Bites Festival in Batlow is on 28 August. Photo: Snowy Valleys Council.

But just how cherished it was in the community wasn’t realised until the 1990s, when it was put up for sale. The town’s efforts to keep it open and upright resulted in a two-year live feasibility study which resulted in its purchase for the community.

Now heritage listed, this priceless relic of the past endures not just with its feature films, but remains one of the town’s most popular attractions due largely to the bequests, funding and efforts of the community.

Other funding recipients among the 16 recently announced by Snowy Valleys Council Mayor James Hayes are the Tumbarumba Historical Society, which received $4470 for digital storage and high-speed processors for its historical community archival records; Tooma Cricket Club, which received $5000 for resurfacing of its synthetic grass practice wicket; Tooma Recreation Reserve, which received $5000 for gymkhana equipment; while the enterprising Winter Bites Festival on 21 August and 28 August received $5000.

Other Tumbarumba groups to benefit were the Rotary Club, which will put its $5000 toward the purchase of two tri-bike taxis; Tumbarumba and District Garden Club can now buy art and photography stands with its $4800; Tumbarumba Golf Club’s coolroom will be upgraded using $5000 in funding; and Tumbarumba Men’s Shed is putting $5000 towards the purchase of a large saw.

READ ALSO Yass community rallies to buy iconic Liberty Theatre

Further afield, Talbingo Men’s Shed will purchase a $635 printer-photocopier; the Upper Murray Challenge race, from Khancoban, received $3093; and Welaregang Country Golf Club will get a repaint and a defibrillator with its funding of $5635.

The history of bush nursing will continue to be maintained with the Batlow Senior Citizens Village Association receiving $2327 for the preservation of the Bush Nursing Home Museum; Radio Upper Murray can purchase broadcast support equipment with its $3000 funding; and Adelong Tennis Club’s courts are set for an upgrade thanks to $3540.

Mayor Hayes congratulated the successful applicants, saying the range of projects is acknowledgement of the ongoing work of community groups and organisations towards the region’s recovery and resilience.

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