Arts & Culture

Entertainment to the Max … you’re invited to Gunning’s night of nights

Sally Hopman13 March 2022
Max Cullen

Actor, writer, director and co-owner of Gunning’s Coronation Theatre Max Cullen in the garden of his home – the site for MAX-a-MANIA on 2 April. Photo: Supplied.

Picture this: an evening under the stars, in the backyard of one of Australia’s favourite actors, watching him in some of his most iconic films – and helping the best of causes at the same time.

Actor, director, writer, painter, and very funny man, Max Cullen, and his partner artist Margarita Georgiadis, will open the garden of their Gunning home, the historic Coronation Theatre, on Saturday 2 April for what has been billed MAX-a-MANIA. Money raised from the night will go towards urgent renovation work at the historic 1937 theatre so it can be returned to its former glory.

“My original idea was to have the Best of Max night, but that would only take 15 minutes so what would we do for the rest of the night?” the veteran actor of more than 130 films said.


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Max and Margarita almost didn’t move into the theatre when they first saw it 20 years ago, although Margarita fell in love with it straight away. For Max, not so much. He thought it would be too much work.

“And I was right,” he said. “I should have kept walking,” he joked.

“Every scrap of money we’ve had over the past 20 years has gone into this hole. But I really have no regrets. For me, it’s been like a huge playground. With the 50-seat theatre, the picture gallery, the bookshop – the garden. Where else could you open the door of a shop just when you felt like it?”

The Coronation Theatre has become the home they both now adore and Max admits “it was meant to be”. But it is in need of urgent building work, including a new roof, and the myriad of other maintenance that goes with keeping an historic building safe and sound.

“When we first moved in here, we went around pulling things out and, in the roof, I pulled out this bit of paper that said this place was built by a Crusty Cullen, back in 1937.”

Man and woman on couch

Max Cullen and his wife Margarita Georgiadis in the Picture Gallery of Gunning’s Coronation Theatre. Photo: Hannah Sparks.

He later found a mention of Crusty in an old family diary so that’s when he knew, for sure, that he was where he belonged.

Organised by Southern Tablelands Arts for the Coronation Theatre fund, MAX-a-MANIA will feature two of the actor’s films – the 1982 cult classic, Running on Empty, directed by John Clark and Rate of Exchange.

“I’ve got some video copies of the film too,” Max said. “I’ll be selling signed ones on the night for $500,000 each. OK, maybe $50 each then.”

Max said the script for Running on Empty was one of the best he had ever read: “It’s all about competition, but you never win”.

In the film Max plays a blind man so, being the great actor he is, he stayed at the Royal Blind Society for a few weeks to research his part.

“I remember one of the things I discovered while I was there was that every blind person I met wanted to drive a car,” he said. “There was one blind bloke there who reckoned he could tell what was wrong with a car just by listening to the engine.

“It was an amazing place to go … all the floors had different coverings and carpets so people could tell where they were.”


READ ALSO: Gunning’s historic Coronation Theatre needs your help


The second film, Rate of Exchange, brings back some fond memories for Max. It was directed by his friend and fellow actor Bill Hunter, based on stories Bill wrote as a young man when his father, a former policeman, owned seven pubs in Ballarat. It has not been screened in public since 1973.

“Bill said he’d never shown anyone these stories, but he showed them to me,” Max said. “The characters were the blokes who came out of his father’s pubs. I read the stories and told him they’d make a great film. I ended up writing the script using three of his stories.

“We made enough from the film not to have to pay anyone too much.”

Guests on the night will also be treated to a viewing of Max’s show reel.

“It’s not that good really,” the actor said. “It’s just stuff other people have taken of my life, I just do what I’m told. Except when I’m being directed. I just nod at the director and say yes, and then do what I like.”

Tickets for MAX-a-MANIA are $10 each and can be booked through the Southern Tablelands Arts website here. All money raised from the night will go to the Coronation Theatre’s restoration fundraising campaign.

“It has almost reached $7000,” Margarita said, “we’re getting painfully close to our goal.”

To be eligible for a government grant to restore the theatre, Max and Margarita must raise $10,000 themselves.

Guests are invited to bring a picnic and rug to the alcohol-free event at 6 pm on Saturday 2 April and enjoy the movies under the stars. It will be held in the Picture House Gardens at the rear of the Coronation Theatre in the main street of Gunning.

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