Travel Story Broome's Sun Pictures still shines brightly

Sun Pictures. Picture: Brett Barnett Photography.
Photo of Angie Tomlinson

The world's oldest operating picture garden is an institution in the pearling town.

On many a night Broome’s moviegoers lifted their feet to keep dry as the tide seeped in. On leaving, they would find Carnarvon Street completely flooded.

A levee was built in 1974, allowing Sun Picture’s patrons to keep their feet dry. 

This year Broome’s Sun Pictures celebrates its 100th birthday, the theatre continuing its run as a hit with locals and travellers alike.

The distinctive building with its twin tin roof peaks sits in its original spot, on Carnarvon Street in Chinatown.

At the world’s oldest operating picture garden, patrons enjoy easing back into rows of deckchairs under the big Kimberley sky where bats cruise past, planes fly low overhead and the odd gecko makes its way on to the giant outdoor screen.

Beginning life as a tin structure selling imported Asian goods, its original owners, the Yamsaki family, were keen theatre lovers. They turned part of the building into a Japanese playhouse before selling it to pearler Ted Hunter in 1913.

Mr Hunter had a 500-seat picture theatre constructed and it made its debut in  December 1916. 

Broome people flocked to the theatre to see silent movies, which sat alongside live intermission performances.

New owners took Sun Pictures over in 1924 with the projector being adapted for sound in 1933. The first sound movie to show to a capacity audience was Monte Carlo.

The Broome community delighted in the sound movies until World War II, when owner Catherine Milner was forcibly evacuated in 1942 just two days before Japanese Zeros strafed the town.

The attack resulted in as many as 100 casualties, and in certain low tides at Roebuck Bay today you can see the wreckage of flying boats.

The theatre has seen its dark times. There was racially segregated seating, with “worthy” Europeans given cane chairs with cushions in the middle, children in front of them on deckchairs or bench seats, Japanese and Chinese people behind them, and “other whites” sat on the left-hand side of the theatre. Lugger crews made up of Malay, Koepanger (Timorese), Filipino and Aboriginal people entered through a separate door and were seated on benches behind a low lattice dividing rail outside.

Des Haynes’ parents Jean and Peter managed the theatre from 1952 until 1980. Former shire clerk Des remembers it was the only entertainment in town until ABC TV arrived. “Saturday was always a big night...everyone got up into their fancy gear, it was the biggest night out in town,” Mr Haynes says.

“Architecturally it’s a beautiful building and certainly a very important part of Chinatown.”

After a short closure in the early 1980s as VCRs proliferated in households, Lord Alistair McAlpine reopened it and Tony Hutchinson took ownership for about 10 years from 1987.

Mr Hutchinson says the theatre was doing more than 1000 admissions a week with the introduction of events, premieres, popcorn and choc-tops.

He fondly remembers the screenings of Crocodile Dundee and Lawrence of Arabia showing when the Cable Beach camels made a special appearance.

The theatre, which for 22 years has been on the State Register of Heritage Places, was taken over by Marisa Ferraz and Ross de Wit who worked hard to restore and preserve the theatre in recognition of its important place in the town. Ms Ferraz continues to own the theatre today.

Top picture: Aircraft regularly zoom over the heads of moviegoers at Sun Pictures. Picture: Brett Barnett Photography  

Fact File

Sun Pictures runs history tours daily during peak season (April to October) at 10.30am and 1pm costing $5. 

The theatre will host a number of special events including the Kyle Andrews Foundation 20th Anniversary Event on May 18 and the Sun Pictures 100th Celebration on July 22. broomemovies.com.au


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