27 October 2022

Coronation Theatre set to reign again, nailing near-$500k for urgent repairs

| Sally Hopman
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Group of people in gallery

Celebrating the announcement of restoration funding for Gunning’s Coronation Theatre are (front, from left) Rose Marin from Southern Tablelands Arts (STA), NSW Arts Minister Ben Franklin, custodians Margarita Georgiadis and Max Cullen, Member for Goulburn Wendy Tuckerman, Upper Lachlan Shire Council (ULSC) Mayor Pam Kensit, (behind), project manager Alex Waldren, community elders Sam and Craig Southwell, grants officer Renee Brownlee, Michelle Storey (STA), Deputy Mayor Mandy McDonald (ULSC), John Searl (ULSC), Susan Brindle (STA) and Helen Vooran from Creative Gunning. Photo: Supplied.

For two people about to pack up and leave their beloved home, actor and writer Max Cullen and his partner, artist Margarita Georgiadis, are pretty excited.

The old Coronation Theatre in the main street of Gunning has been home to Max and Margarita for more than 20 years, but come early next year, the couple will find themselves living, temporarily, in an Airbnb. But it’s all good. When they move out, tradespeople will move in, restoring and renovating the old theatre, thanks to a near-$500,000 grant from the NSW Government for vital restoration and repair – and $10,000 raised by their community for the project through a GoFundMe effort.

The grant of $498,522, announced last week by the NSW Minister for the Arts Ben Franklin and Member for Goulburn Wendy Tuckerman, was made possible through the Government’s Creative Capital program, which invests in arts infrastructure to give audiences better access to the arts and cultural experiences, regardless of where they live in NSW.

For custodians of the historic building, Margarita and Max, it is a huge relief. They’ll no longer have to worry about the roof caving in or their home being as cold inside during a Gunning winter as it is outside.

“The money will cover the urgent repairs needed for the building,” Margarita said. “It was beyond us to be able to repair the building, so this is such a relief.”

Their beloved home – which was opened in 1937 with the annual show ball – was in urgent need of repair.

READ ALSO Gunning’s historic Coronation Theatre needs your help

“The roof will come off and they’ll be able to put a new one on, and then it can be insulated and lined – and they can get rid of all the birds’ nests,” Margarita said.

“They’re also going to recreate the art deco detail on the walls. A lot of it had been damaged by water over the years, so it will be great to bring back that element.”

Margarita said the future was both exciting and daunting for them.

“I was surprised how emotional I got when the Minister made the announcement,” she said. “It was such a relief to know that the building would be safe. But it was also really emotional for us to have such amazing support from this community.

“Max and I live in a bit of a bubble sometimes, so we were really unaware of how much support we have had here. It is just wonderful.”

Man in garden

Actor, writer and national treasure Max Cullen in the garden of his home, Gunning’s Coronation Theatre. The 1937 theatre has just received a grant for vital restoration work. Photo: Supplied.

As part of the fundraising campaign, the couple staged MAX-a-MANIA, where the actor and writer curated some of his favourite movies and showed them under the stars in the theatre’s native garden. The event was a huge success, with locals and folk from far afield, raising much-needed money for the restoration project.

“I think they all thought I was dead,” Max joked. “During COVID, when everything was closed, I wondered where all the ghosts would go, so I started thinking about all the shows I had been in, and all their ghosts.” And the next thing he knew, he was writing a new one-man show that he hopes to have on stage by the middle of next year when the Coronation reopens for business.

“Henry Lawson, Banjo Paterson, they’ll all be in it,” the actor said. “All I have to do is just get another moustache.”

But seriously, folks, Max said he and Margarita were very grateful for the support Gunning had given them from day one 20 years ago when they found their provincial oasis. Max said Margarita had fallen in love with the old theatre building at first sight. He wanted to walk straight past it because it “looked like too much hard work”. But today it’s their home – and soon to be a more comfortable one.

READ ALSO Screen legend Max Cullen: From glitz and glam to a run-down theatre out bush

“The people here are very tolerant of us,” Max said. “They are very nice when we walk down the street – although they call her Maxine.”

As well as a possible new one-man-Max Cullen show when the Coronation reopens next year, Margarita said she hoped it would return as a hub for the community with its gallery, meeting spaces and bookshop.

“We hope to have many more performances here along with workshops and meetings,” she said. ”We also want to utilise the garden more – we’re looking at a packed schedule.”

Member for Goulburn Wendy Tuckerman welcomed the Coronation Theatre grant, saying it would boost tourism and the local economy.

“The Coronation Theatre currently houses The Picture House Gallery and Bookshop and supports the activities of more than 10 community arts groups and practitioners,” she said. “It is well used and loved by the community as a performance space, an art gallery, art studio and workshop, cultural meeting place and premises for the local arts and crafts associations.”

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