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The Lure of the Pictures                                             began with the words I joined the navy
                                                                                  A very popular tune of the day

                                     By Mel Elliott                            to see the world, but what did I see?
                                                                               I saw the sea. It was often the play-out
            Driving into Ararat to inspect the                                 record at the end of the show. The
          Astor, the last visit of the CATHS tour,                             departing audience always joined in the
          our group gave nary a glance to the                                  singing and went home happy.
          former army drill hall on the western                                   Walking home after the show, there
          edge of town. A comment was made                                     was always the smell of the next day’s
          that this hall once showed films, but                                loaves wafting across town.
          probably most people didn’t believe it.                                 The drill hall predated World War 1.
          Name a space enclosed by four walls                                  The opening was a big day for Ararat.
          more spartan than a drill hall. Yet such                             The council declared a school holiday
          was the lure of the pictures that Ararat                             and organised an official dinner for the
          in the mid-1930s had three cinemas.                                  visitors.
            Regular film shows came to Ararat                                     In his address Major Rouse
          in about 1911 in a hall built along                                  acknowledged that, “The hall was
          Queen Street at the corner with High                                 certainly not of a handsome appearance
          Street. Within a year this hall was                                  from an architectural point of view, but
          upgraded to become the Lyceum, which                                 it was admirably suited for the purpose
          then showed films for ten years. It was                              of the forces and for the important town
          forced to close because of the failure                               of Ararat to drill in during unfavourable
          of management to carry out safety                                    weather. The Department of Defence
          upgrades. It reopened as the                                         could not be expected to go in for
          Paramount in 1938.                                                   ornamentation”.
            Before then Ararat’s handsome town                                    Major Rouse thanked the mayor and
          hall had filled the gap, becoming the                                the councillors for donating the land for
          Town Hall Pictures in 1922. We might                                 the hall. In his response the mayor
          imagine that the commodious Town                                     praised the British Empire, the greatest
          Hall would be able to satisfy all                                    the world had ever known. He offered
          demand for films, but there was room                                 the army the services of one of the best
          for the drill hall - at the other end of                             bands in the Commonwealth, The
          town - to have a life as a cinema.                                   Ararat Citizens Band and he hoped that
            My father worked for the                                           steps could be taken to link them to the
          Postmaster General’s Department                                      forces. The doors of the hall were then
          (PMG) and was sent to Ararat in about                                thrown open for inspection.
          1935. I would have been nine at the                                     After an afternoon of sports at the
          time.                                                                recreation reserve, the evening
            The projection room at the drill hall                              concluded with a grand dinner in the
          was on the side, near the entrance, at                               supper room of the Town Hall. At the
          ground level. Very often the door was                                close the visitors adjourned to the
          open and I could peer in and wonder at                               Lyceum for a picture show and concert.
          the mystery of it all. I remember a                                     In 1925 the military gave
          matinee advertised as Shirley Temple’s                               permission for the hall to be leased as a
          birthday. Every kid who came along                                   picture theatre. It had 13 years in this
          was given a free slice of her birthday                               role. As the downmarket venue of the
          cake. On a big night at the hall the                                 town, it couldn’t survive the opening of
          cheapest tickets were for the kids to sit                            the Midland (now Astor) in 1938.
          on the floor right in front of the screen.                           Today it is the Alexandra Hall, spic and
            The hall backed on to the railway                                  span as a community centre. ★
          line, which was the start of a 1:50
          gradient to Stawell, the maximum  From the top: Town Hall, Ararat,   Acknowledgments
          grade on that section of line. Heavy  screened from 1922 until the 1970s.  Ms. Dorothy Konig of the Ararat
          freight trains had a banker engine to  The former Lyceum (1912) re-opened as  and District Historical Society was very
          assist with the steep haul. The Overland  the Paramount in 1938. It lasted until  helpful in providing background to this
          would pass through, pulled by double-  1949. The former drill hall - front, side  story.
          header A2 engines. The noise was  and rear - a cinema from 1925 to c.1938.
                                                                                  For more about cinema in Ararat:
          fantastic, better than any sound coming
                                                                               A history of the theatres of Ararat.
          from the screen. The hall vibrated as
                                                                               Kevin Adams. Kino 11, 1985.
          the trains thundered past.
                                                                               Ararat: Lyceum/Paramount. Gerry
                                                                               Kennedy CR 35, 2002.
          12  2007 CINEMARECORD
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