Home - Chermside & District History

Entertainment to Eye Hospital

A Builder Turns Theatre Proprietor.

Dawn Theatre 3rd November, 1928 to 9th August, 2005.

In 1928, Maurice Tilley, a builder erected and named Chermside's first and, till 2000, only picture show. He built it sloping towards Gympie Road so that the screen was at the front of the building and it was called "the back to front" picture show.

Originally the floor was of tan bark, from the local tanneries, which was gradually replaced with large slabs of concrete which had electric heaters built into them to keep the place warm on cold winter nights. The walls were concrete at the base with fibro sheeting on timber studs up to the eaves, while the roof was galvanised iron; the noise caused by heavy rain on the roof could drown out the sound of the shows.

The cheap seats in the front were wooden garden seats while the 'better seats', and more expensive ones, were canvas deck chairs towards the back of the theatre.

Until 1930 the 'pictures' or 'flicks' were all in black and white and silent with sound coming from a piano and later, Reggie Bagwell's Band, while subtitles supplied the dialogue. The 'talkies' arrived with the famous film "The Jazz Singer" starring Al Jolson and it was a sensation.

The Depression years affected the picture theatres less than other industries because it offered a form of escapism from the harsh realities of life during the 'hungry 30s'.

By 1941 business was so good that a gallery was added at the rear and furnished with upholstered tip up seats. The following year Maurice died and his son, Ken, was recalled from the Army to run the theatre which was considered vital to the war effort.

After World War II the supply of electricity was often interrupted due to the rapid post -war expansion so a second-hand generator, with a V8 motor to drive it, was installed in a little shed at the back of the theatre. A typical 'show' or session, running from 7.45pm to 11pm, would consist of a newsreel and a supporting film, interval, a cartoon and the main film.

Ken Tilley bought Jackson's shop beside The Dawn and later rebuilt in brick, to act as an adjunct to the theatre by selling milk shakes, soft drinks, sweets and other requirements for the theatre patrons before the show and during interval.

The Saturday afternoon matinee was especially popular with the local children who would troop into the theatre in vast numbers. The serials would be greeted with great acclaim, watched with bated breath and discussed at school during the week while waiting for the next episode the following week. The Dawn even acted as a child minding centre as people knew that the children were safe at the 'pictures'.

Long time resident of Chermside, Joan Hamilton remembers she was only allowed to see Shirley Temple like pictures and she had to be accompanied by a neighbour. One Saturday night they were looking for a couple of seats and they came to an empty garden seat but on it was written in white chalk "Wet Paint", they hesitated. Then one of the rowdy boys of Joan's school class called out in a loud voice "Its only old squiff (or Skew-Wiff) she can sit here. " So they did but as Joan remarked " how embarrassing but at least we got a seat."

Joan also remembers that her family and the Meacham family used to hire the school tennis court and invite some of the soldiers at the Chermside Camp to play tennis. When it was getting dark they all went home for tea and then went to the Dawn at interval and get in for half price. One night one of the soldiers got friendly with a girl and escorted her home on the Picture Bus to Bald Hills only to find out that there was no bus back to Chermside! So he had to walk and/or hitch a ride home.

In 1951 Ken sold The Dawn simply because it was too much work; he was on duty screening six nights a week as well as working by day to manage and maintain the theatre.

Original Chermside Dawn Theatre 1928
The Dawn Theatre was a centre of entertainment in the district. People used to travel from Bald Hills by bus to see the "pictures". In the pre-TV days a weekly visit to the Dawn was a 'must', even in the Great Depression people found solace in a few hours of watching the 'silver screen'. I wonder who was the chap leaning against the awning post? This grainy image seems to capture the atmosphere of an old frontier town, which Chermside was when the Dawn was built.

A Glimpse of the Old Seats.

The seats nearest the screen were garden seats with wooden backs and bottoms. Not very comfortable but cheap. The better seats were canvas deck chairs, made originally for ships, hence 'deck'.

If you look really hard you will see the canvas deck chairs at the back of the photo. This is a fragment of a much larger photo taken after World War II in about 1945-6, and the young men and women in front are returned service personel.

New Owners bring New Improvements.

The Fardoulys and Pantges families took over and began renovating it extensively. They lined the inside, built new flush toilets , built a "Cry Room", rearranged the seating and, in 1959, revamped the entire front of the building. The seating capacity reached about 930.

The 1950s saw the advent of black and white television but there was a resurgence of patronage in the 1970s with school holiday matinees being sell outs. But with colour TV and VHS technology the long slow decline of the theatre began.

The worst form of competition was undoubtedly the advent of cinema "complexes" in metropolitan Brisbane in about 1988. The main problem was the method of distribution of films made it impossible for The Dawn to screen movies early enough in their commercial life to enjoy a satisfactory level of trade.

Other developments also took their toll, in varying degrees, on audience size over the years; Expo and Southbank, the Boondall Entertainment Centre, the Broncos entering the National Rugby League, Poker Machines, the Olympics every fourth year, both Gulf Wars, 9/11, construction of a cinema complex at Stafford and another, in 2000, just 400m away at Westfield Chermside. Even more recently, the massive inroads being made by both legal and pirated DVDs being bought in their thousands for playing at home on the widescreen TVs.

The final word is left to Michael Fardoulys, third generation Dawn theatre operator:

As for The Dawn, the era of it and its ilk is now well and truly gone. Were it not for having been family run, it would have closed down much earlier… In an effort to stave off the inevitable, we had tried it all by the end. No informed observer could accuse us of having not given it our best shot.

After 77 years it was curtain time for the 'Old Girl' called Dawn. The last showing was on 9th August, 2005.

The Reovated Dawn Theatre Chermside
Under the new owners the Dawn was given a face lift and presented a much more modern appearance to Gympie Road. Looking at the right side of the photo one can see the old asbestos cement sheets that made up the side walls. The changes were necessary as new technology such as TV was beginning to affect attendances. Motor car ownership also enabled people to travel more easily to other 'picture' theatres.

A New Venture in Eye Care.

When the Dawn closed it remained standing for a couple of years until it was finally sold, not for the building but rather for the site. The new owners then faced the problem of removing the 77 year old building which was complicated by the fact that asbestos sheeting had been used in its construction.

There was some public concern about the health risks from dust if the building was demolished. The demolition firm Dean Brothers, assured the public that no risks would be taken and all the asbestos cement sheets would be sprayed with glue to hold the sheets together during removal.

Replacing the Dawn Theatre, a visual entertainment venue, with an Eye Centre is somehow appropriate, they both involve eyes; one for pleasure, the other for health.

As the Dawn was state of the art in 1928 so the Brisbane North Eye Centre is in 2008. The Dawn drew its patronage mainly from Chermside and those within walking distance, while the Centre aims at the whole of the Northside refelcting the increased mobility of people today.

The Brisbane North Eye Centre contributes to Chermside's growing reputation as a medical centre. The building features a wave like curtain of red steel lengths which give the impression of being a series of pillars or a wave travelling along the roadway or the curtains of the old Dawn Theatre.

Inside the Eye Centre is another reminder of the past in that two of the rooms have prt of their ceilings lined with pressed metal ceiling from the old Dawn.