9 June 2023

Soldiering on in style: Narooma's historic Kinema reborn with sound of music

| Siobhan O'Brien
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old cinema building

The heritage-listed Narroma Kinema dates back to the late 1920s and is easily identifiable from the street. Photo: Supplied.

When a building features on Australia’s National Heritage Register, it’s undoubtedly something special. The Narooma Kinema, housed within the historic Soldiers Memorial School of Arts Hall, is on that list.

The Art Deco movie and performing arts theatre on the South Coast town’s main strip has been in operation since 1927, which makes it the fourth-oldest cinema in the country.

The stately building designed by architect Dick O’Donnell was the first brick building in Narooma. It can’t be missed from the street. It’s the one with the quirky sunburst facade that looks almost tacked on to the series of pavilions behind it.

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The interiors are equally as interesting. They include a refreshment counter from a bygone era, theatre seats upholstered in rich red fabric (plus matching stage curtains) and granite plaques honouring those who fought in World War I.

While such features are noteworthy, it’s the building’s place within the historical context of this town that’s earned it a place on the aforementioned register. Kinema managing director Jade Griffiths explains.

“The original hall was built as a memorial for the local soldiers. But over the years, it has hosted balls, dances, public meetings, Anzac Day events, and films, of course,” she says.


The Kinema’s seats are upholstered in rich red fabric matching the stage curtains. Photo: Narooma Kinema.

But it’s the recent resurgence of live performances at the venue – otherwise dubbed the monthly music series – that’s propelling the Narooma Kinema into a new era.

The SunBears – a Canberra-based blues trio who supported Suzi Quatro on her recent Australian tour – kickstarted it. The band is set to tour Europe in a few months but thought they’d show their stage prowess at Narooma’s Kinema first.

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“The venue was definitely a highlight venue for us as a touring band,” The SunBears’ lead singer CC Hall says. “The building has a real old-world ambience.”

It was The SunBears’ promoter David White and a couple of Narooma School of Arts committee members who had the vision.

“A couple of committee members contacted me with the idea of regular live performances at this great old venue,” David says.

“I knew CC’s band had what they were looking for and the idea for regular live performances was born. Historically, this place was a community hub. Why not continue the tradition?”


Coming to Narooma Kinema on Friday, 16 June, are the Bondi Cigars: (from left) Frank Corby, Eben Hale, Shane Pacey and Alan Britton. Photo: Supplied.

The Kinema wasn’t always equipped for state-of-the-art events, but the acquisition of a series of State Government grants in the early 2000s changed all that. In 2014, major renovations began, including main auditorium enhancements such as the expansion of the wings on either side of the stage, the addition of dressings rooms, and streamlining the foyer for easier access. The facade was given a spruce-up as well. The result is a multi-functional space with old bones but new functionality.

“Not only that, the acoustics are spot on,” CC Hall says.

Upcoming performers include the Bondi Cigars on Friday, 16 June, and Geoff Achison on Friday, 18 August. The Kinema is at 94 Campbell Street, Narooma.

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