submitted by The Roxy Complex on 03.03.2013
The visit occurred on the 23rd February, 2013.
Peter Prineas OAM, is Patron of the Bingara Roxy and Curator of the Roxy Museum.
Thank you members of AHEPA NSW for coming to Bingara to see the Roxy Cinema and Cafe and to hear about the Roxy Museum, a work in progress.
I have the honour of being the first curator of this Museum which we hope to open this year.
The Museum Committee met yesterday to consider bids from a number of highly qualified museum designers and I can tell you that the name of the successful design team will be announced soon.
I am not a Bingara person. Like many of you, I live in Sydney. But I have a connection with Bingara, through my grandfather, Peter Feros, who was one of the three men from the Greek island of Kythera who in the 1930s became involved in the Roxy development, comprising the Theatre, the Roxy Cafe, several shops and a guesthouse.
In 2006, I published a book entitled Katsehamos and the Great Idea. It told the Bingara Roxy story from a Greek-Australian perspective – something that had not been done before ¬– and it helped to claim the story and the Roxy buildings as part of the history of the Greeks in Australia.
We owe something to the late Kevin Cork, a teacher and cinema historian, who in the 1990s researched Greek participation in the early cinema industry in NSW for an MA thesis he was writing. Cork found that between 1915 and 1963 Greeks operated more than 120 picture theatres in 57 NSW country towns. Most of these men came to Australia at a young age and gained their language and business skills by working in cafes. They included men like Nicholas Laurantus and his brother George, Jack and Harry Kouvellis, George Conson, the brothers Peter and George Hatsatouris, the Conomos family and many others. Among them were the partners of Peters and Co who built this magnificent Roxy Theatre in Bingara.
Regrettably Kevin Cork died in 1998, before finishing his MA thesis. He left us these important words:
If we are to remember these Greeks for their contributions to Australia's social, architectural and technological advancement, then it is imperative that there be Greek landmarks which are acknowledged at local and state level - ones that point to the achievements of the Greek-Australian cinema exhibitors ... We cannot allow their histories to be forgotten, not when they provided services that positively affected millions of people, firstly, through their refreshment rooms and, secondly, through their picture theatres.
Kevin Cork's words have not been forgotten and in April 2011 hundreds of people came to Bingara to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Roxy Theatre and to hear the Mayor of Gwydir Shire, councillor John Coulton, make this promise:
The Roxy will become a place of national significance that conserves and protects the important cultural associations between people and place. It will provide opportunities for the celebration of Greek traditions that became embedded in Australia.
Some people might ask why a museum about Greek cafes and theatres should be located in a little country town like Bingara. The answer is that Bingara has the essential artefacts that every other place lacks. The distinguished academic, architect and cinema historian, Dr. Ross Thorne, summed it up in these words:
Few theatres built prior to 1950 exist in New South Wales in a usable state for cinema and performance. There are few 'Greek' cafes of the period still in reasonably original condition, but they are isolated from any of the old cinema-theatres. To possess both theatre and cafe in the one complex − restored − makes Bingara, historically and culturally, an extraordinarily important town.
The Roxy Museum mission is to be:
A museum of Greek settlement in country Australia with a focus on New South Wales and Queensland.
This Mission Statement is the ‘core’ of the Museum’s area of interest in line with the Bingara Roxy’s history as a pre-War country town cinema and café. However, in order to give this story its proper context some attention will need to be given to Greek settlement in the cities, in other States, and to events outside the period.
Our hope is that the Roxy Museum will in time become a place of national significance that conserves and protects important cultural associations between people and place. It is hoped the Museum will conduct research and develop collections that document the history of Greek settlement in Australia with the aim of facilitating the community’s understanding of the past, and engagement with issues affecting its future.
It is hoped also that Museum will establish links with educational, heritage, historical, cultural and community organisations in furtherance of its mission.
The partnership of Peters and Co operated a successful cafe business in Bingara for nearly ten years before they embarked on the Roxy development. For a various reasons, their Roxy venture failed commercially. The theatre was operated by a succession of exhibitors until 1958 when it closed and stood dormant for 40 years. Imagine this beautiful space lying silent and dark for all that time. It has rightly been described as a 'sleeping beauty'. In 1999 the Bingara Shire Council purchased the Roxy Theatre and restored it with the assistance of grant funds from the State and Commonwealth governments.
In 2007 the Council – by then the Gwydir Shire as a result of an amalgamation – purchased the former Roxy Cafe premises from Mr and Mrs Yeum who had operated a Chinese restaurant there for 18 years. In
2009-10 the Council restored the Greek cafe of 1936 and the art deco shop fronts using grant funds from the Commonwealth Government.
After the Mayor of Gwydir Shire, committed the Council to developing a Greek Museum within the Roxy buildings, the NSW Government announced a grant of nearly $95,000 under the Arts Funding Program for the development of the Roxy Museum. Donations for the Museum have also been received from non-government organisations, notably the Nicholas Aroney Trust which has given two grants totalling $50,000, and the Kytherian Association which recently decided to donate $10,000. We have also benefited from the generosity of individuals such as Mr Nick Politis.
Developing a museum is an expensive business, even when the local council has provided the premises. Our starting budget is $200,000 and although we are still some distance short of this target we remain hopeful that the gap will be closed
The Roxy Museum collection
The designer – yet to be retained – will influence the manner in which the Museum's content is displayed, however the design brief adopted by the Committee gives a clear outline.
• The purpose of the Roxy Museum collection is to tell the story of Greek immigration and settlement in the country areas of NSW and Queensland in the first half of the 20th century. This was a period when most Greeks owned or were employed in cafes and a considerable number owned and operated picture theatres.
• The Museum collection will aim to tell the story of the Bingara Roxy Theatre and Roxy Cafe and place it in its wider context so that the story can be understood.
• The collection of artefacts will help to evidence, illustrate and explain the Greek cafe and cinema era and also mark significant points in the Greek immigrants' journey from Greece and in their subsequent 'journey' towards becoming Australian.
• The collection of images showing Greek cafes in NSW and Queensland will extend over the most of the period and illustrate styles and trends in cafes over time, and many images will show the people who operated the cafes and members of their families and staff.
• The collection of cinema photographs will illustrate the significant involvement of Greek immigrants in the cinema industry in the country towns of NSW up to the middle of the 20th century; it will help to illustrate the link between cafes and cinemas in that period.
• The cafes and cinemas database is intended to be the beginning of a comprehensive coverage for NSW and Queensland.
• The collection of newspaper items about Greeks will add to understanding of the position of Greeks in Australian society in this period.
• A vintage confectionery packaging collection will re-create 'in the round' the sweets and chocolate packaging associated with the heyday of the Greek cafes and cinemas.
• There will be a display featuring prominent Greek-Australians. Our first subject, we hope, will be the late Dr Archie Kalokerinos, known for his work in the care of Aboriginal children. Dr Kalokerinos made a difference to the lives of many such children and their families. He also practised medicine for 10 years in Bingara and had his surgery in one of the Roxy shops.
• There will also be exhibits explaining 19th century Greek settlement in Australia and the era of mass migration from Greece after the Second World War.
In addition to text and graphics panels and artefacts displays, the collection is to be presented in digital form.
The digital collection at opening will include:
• A cafes and cinemas database – this database will present the available texts and images on Greek operated cafes and cinemas in NSW and Queensland and will be searchable. It will have the facility to receive data entered by visitors.
• Cafes and cinemas images – this will be an ongoing screen presentation with a facility for pausing images either so that an image can be better appreciated or so that the reference number can be noted in order to search the subject on the digital database.
• Newspaper articles about Greeks – an ongoing screen presentation of newspaper articles drawn for the National Library's Trove digital archive, with a facility for pausing and searching. Currently the database comprises more than 600 news articles about Greeks.
• Elements of the digital collection will be accessible on-line through the Museum's website.
A professionally produced film/video is to be commissioned. It will further explore and present the Museum's themes. This will be viewed on a large video screen purchased for the use of the Museum.
Operation of the Museum
The Roxy Museum will offer a self-guided tour. The displays are to be self- explanatory. There will be a guide-sheet to assist visitors. Digital and audio-visual displays are to be simple in operation and have limited functions so that visitors can easily use them and access the content. Volunteers will be relied upon for guided tours and booked tours with talks are envisaged.
In concluding, let me acknowledge AHEPA's work over many years in promoting interest in Australian Hellenic culture.
The aim of the Roxy Museum – a museum about the Greeks in Australia – is also to promote interest in Australian Hellenic culture. I hope that in the future we can support one another in furthering our common aim.
Teacher, journalist, poet and author, Sydney NSW Australia
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