At 84, Barry Luff cuts quickly to the chase.
“What can you tell me about the Gundagai picture theatre, Barry?”
“Well, the most important thing is the cuddle seats were upstairs. If you were young and wanted to cuddle the girl at the end row, the seats that joined the wall were a double seat. You had to be there pretty early to get the cuddle seat.”
“Did you ever get the cuddle seat?”
“I can’t talk too loudly ’cause my wife is here. I didn’t have 100 girlfriends, you didn’t have that many. It was a good time to grow up.”
On the banks of the Murrumbidgee River and famous for the Dog on the Tuckerbox, who would have imagined Gundagai with a picture theatre including a dress circle level?
A trumpet player in Gundagai Nutcrackers Band in the 1950s, Barry and his musician mates would play waltzes, jazz and foxtrots.
“You played the same final song, they called it the medley for the last dance, a bit of a mix of a normal waltz, a jazz waltz, which was a bit slower, a quick step, foxtrot.”
He struck the jackpot when the trumpet player from the Batlow-based All Saints’ lost his front teeth and Barry stepped in, playing throughout the mountain towns during construction of the Snowy Mountain scheme. He earned 15 pounds for five hours playing, a tidy sum compared with the wages he earned at his father’s garage.
The pictures would get between 50 and 80 people. The building also hosted the Catholic Ball, Footballers Ball, Church of England Ball, and a multitude of others that had their ball at the theatre every winter. The balls used to be Tuesday nights, which was unusual.
More recently, when an antique dealer relinquished the lease in the main part of the 1929 reinforced concrete building and moved out all the furniture that had been for sale, the theatre’s original purpose became more apparent. Built by the Masonic Lodge, who sold it in 1999, lodge members continue to hold a long-term peppercorn lease for one of the rooms.
The owner, who ran a café from the two shopfront spaces, has listed the theatre for sale with MasterSell Realty Australia for $495,000. Listing agent Marya Stylli, who leases the two front office spaces, says a builder had previously shown some interest in putting apartments in the building.
On the ground level a foyer separates the front offices and steps lead up to a large auditorium. At the opposite end is a stage, behind that two warehouses and an office. The Masonic Hall and another large room are on the first level, and mezzanine and dress circle levels are above.
Ms Stylli says old projector equipment, now redundant, remains in the building along with seating for 180 people. The space has been cleaned out since the antique dealer moved out.
“Now you see the auditorium in all its glory. The hall, the size of it. You couldn’t see much before there were so many pieces of furniture,” she says
Elders leases one of the rear warehouses for a rural supplies business.
The owner previously ran a café from the two shop fronts, they had the umbrellas and coffee shop, people could go upstairs on the balcony and have their coffee,” Ms Stylli said. The agent is based in Sydney and first came to Gundagai to sell a farm in the region at Tumblong and has been selling in the area ever since, specialising in large rural farms and businesses.
Ms Stylli said the hall could be rented out separately, or a movie theatre re-established for an enthusiastic operator. Or the buyer could just enjoy the weekly rental income of $865 from three tenants with the potential to attract one more into the vacant auditorium.
This unusual building sits on a corner location of more than 1000 square metres, but offers more than 2000 square metres of floor space.
Ms Stylli says the charming old theatre is much loved in the community and they would really get behind someone with a vision that saw it return to its former glory. “The building is zoned for a multitude of uses including potential apartment development or as a function or events centre.”
To learn more about the Gundagai Theatre, including zoning restrictions, visit MasterSell.