Resilience on Stage: The Battle of a Century-Old Regional Theatre

  • Culture
  • Saturday, 18 November 2023 02:07

A Century of Silver Screens: The Enduring Legacy of Allan Tom's Amusu Theatre

A century ago, the enterprising Allan Tom embarked on a unique venture—a travelling picture show that traversed country towns and villages, bringing the magic of silent films to communities far and wide. In a 1920 model Overland, equipped with a generator, a projector, and the early charm of a phonograph, Tom not only entertained but also exhibited a remarkable resilience. In times of hardship, patrons could barter a chicken or a loaf of bread for the pleasure of cinematic escape.

As the 1930s unfolded, Tom transformed his travelling enterprise into the art deco marvel known as Amusu Theatre, nestled in the heart of Manildra, a farming town between Orange and Parkes in country New South Wales. Adjacent to the family's multifaceted garage—a hub for bicycles, cars, and even a car hire business charging "a bob a mile"—the theatre became a cultural cornerstone for a community of 520 people.

Though Allan Tom passed away at the age of 93 in 1995, his indelible mark on Manildra persists. This weekend, the heritage-listed 240-seat theatre, along with the Movie Museum housed in Tom's Garage, commemorates a century of cinematic storytelling. Spearheaded by a dedicated team of volunteers, led by president Joan Stevenson, the gala event promises an array of festivities—from a singing performance and a cinematic tribute to "The Allan Tom story" to screenings of old commercials, cartoons, and a captivating slide show featuring Amusu's photographic journey over the past two decades.

For Stevenson, this celebration is monumental, resonating with the spirit of the community. "It's a very big deal," she affirms, anticipating the attendance of 220 people. The journey to this centennial milestone, marked by uninterrupted screenings since 1936, hasn't been without its challenges. The advent of television in the 1950s led to the closure of many country cinemas, and the rise of home video in the 1980s posed further threats. Yet, against the odds, Amusu Theatre stands as a testament to resilience, preserving the magic of cinema for generations and weaving itself into the fabric of Manildra's history.

A Century Unveiled — The Eternal Curtain Call of Amusu Theatre

As Amusu Theatre unfurls the curtain on a century of cinematic enchantment, the story of Allan Tom's enduring legacy becomes a captivating chapter in the tapestry of Manildra's history. From the humble beginnings of a travelling picture show, exchanged for chickens and loaves of bread in times of scarcity, to the grandeur of the art deco theatre standing proudly today, the journey has been one of resilience, passion, and an unwavering commitment to community.

The gala celebration, orchestrated by a devoted team of volunteers led by President Joan Stevenson, is not just an event—it's a testament to the indomitable spirit that has kept Amusu Theatre alive. With 220 eager attendees, the community gathers to honor a milestone that transcends the challenges of changing eras. The theatre's ability to weather the storm of television's arrival in the 1950s and the home video surge in the 1980s is a testament to its cultural significance.

Amusu Theatre, with its heritage-listed charm and a Movie Museum preserving the echoes of time in Tom's Garage, stands not merely as a cinema but as a living archive of memories, stories, and the enduring magic of film. This celebration marks not just a century of screenings but a century of weaving dreams, sparking laughter, and forging connections.

As the curtain falls on this cinematic centennial, Amusu Theatre remains more than a venue; it's a cherished landmark where the past, present, and future converge in a celebration of community, resilience, and the timeless allure of the silver screen. Here's to the next chapter, where the legacy of Allan Tom and the magic of Amusu Theatre continue to unfold for generations to come.