News / Community / Business / 7th October 2021
New idea is just the ticket for Baradine’s Embassy
After more than 50 years of being closed, the ticket office in a former local movie theatre was put to an innovative new use during the lockdown of Warrumbungle shire.
When Will and Ella, owners of ‘The Embassy’ cafe at Baradine, decided to open up the ticket office window in the foyer of their building, it turned out to be the perfect way to provide contactless take-away pick-up to customers during COVID restrictions.
“It was kerbside service made easier; we turned the old ticket booth into a food booth!” Ella said.
“Customers could safely walk up and order in person. People could place an order on our website, by phone or even from their car if preferred.
“We temporarily moved to the kerbside service so that customers could stay safe whilst still being fed and caffeinated.”
Baradine residents were impressed by the way the business-minded pair thought outside the box to keep their food service operating and meet COVID regulations.
“We would like to thank everyone who supported us during the lockdown period; it was lovely to hear people’s stories of the last time they’d used the ticket booth as well,” Ella added.
Although the Embassy Theatre stopped showing movies more than 50 years ago, the building is recognised for its local heritage value and traces of the vintage era when cinema going was popular still remain.
Built in the early 1930’s by Roy and Bruce Pincham, the construction is an example of inter-war Art Deco design and representative of many of the cinemas constructed in small country towns in that era.
Motion pictures were not new to Baradine at that time. Some years earlier, silent films had been shown in another building situated next to where the Pilliga Forest Discovery Centre now stands. But, like so many other timber buildings in the early days, it had been destroyed by fire.
The Embassy was not only purpose built as a venue for the showing of the new ‘talking pictures’, it filled the need for a social centre for the town and district and, being more solidly constructed than its forerunner, had the potential to last much longer than most of the public buildings in the town.
In 1931 Baradine garage owner, Joe Cowan leased the building and installed movie equipment. Moy Lane, Joe Cowan’s daughter, remembers when the cinema first opened for business.
“Mum used to sell the tickets and Arthur Brown and Andy Steel would be on the door,” Moy said.
“Max Purdy (senior) and Sandy Hawkins would help dad in the projection room.
“If there was an epic movie showing like ‘Dr Zhivago’, it would be held over two nights. ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ was a big hit and any movies starring John Wayne or Audie Murphy were always popular, and I remember we had to keep the kids quiet.
“Each week we would use cardboard to do the seating plan; you could reserve seats and anyone would soon be hoisted out of their seat if they were in the wrong one!
“I remember Minna Jones would knit throughout a film and in the dark!”
Greta Walton remembers helping out at the Embassy Theatre as an usher while she was still at school.
“There were canvas and padded seats in the theatre for the adults and long, wooden bench seats up the front for the children,” Greta said.
“Most people would prefer sitting on the canvas chairs because they were more comfortable and you could sleep in them!
“Norrie Cowan, Moy Lane and Maureen Cowan all sold tickets. Noel Brown took the tickets at the door and Joe Cowan, Ron Yeo, Johnny Lane, Noel Ashby and Don Walton all took turns in the projector room. Don remembers Joe Cowan sneaking around and tapping the kids on the head with a torch if they were making too much noise!
“If there was a nice film showing, we would let the nuns know at the convent so they could come and see it.
“The ‘Tarzan’ movies starring Johnny Weissmuller were very popular and I remember that the film, ‘The Thing’ was very scary. Cowboy movies like Hoppalong Cassidy and the Tom and Jerry and Roadrunner cartoons were also very well-liked.
“There used to be an interval between the short films and the main feature, when we would all race outside to buy ice creams.
“The movies were held on Wednesday and Saturday nights and the films came up on the train and went back on the train on Mondays.”
As the Embassy was larger than the Memorial Hall at that time, it was also regularly in demand as a venue for various socialfunctions.Ifaball was planned for the same night that the ‘pictures’ were scheduled to take place, the movies took priority and were shown at the usual time, while the dancers would gather at the Memorial Hall and socialise until the
show was over. Then the theatre seats were hurriedly pushed back against the walls and the ball-goers moved down the street to dance the rest of the night away.
Former Baradine resident, Maureen Cowan held her wedding reception in the Embassy more than 60 years ago.
“The CWA catered for the event; it was the only place at that time that had space for large numbers,” Maureen recalled.
“There was also a stage where schools would hold concerts and there were fancy dress competitions for juveniles.”
Although the exterior architecture has not changed over the years, the building inside has been adapted to operating in the 21st century.
After the closure of the cinema in 1968, when the advent of television made the venture unprofitable, the former theatre was even used as a basketball court.
“Regular competition events were held; baskets were installed at each end of the court,” remembers Don Walton.
“There was only about two feet of space left on each side of the court and tempers would sometimes fly, with blokes pushed up against the wall!”
When basketball wound-up, the building was brought back to life by Frank and Elsie Duncan, who reopened it as a hardware store. Internal fittings were stripped out and a mezzanine built at the rear of the building to create storage space.
The Baradine Hardware closed in 2010, followed by the opening of Freckles Coffee Spot in the building in 2008. The cafe now known as ‘The Embassy’ currently occupies the space.