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aussie 10-12-2002 09:16 PM

More blasts from the past - Lae Cinema's were the place to be seen !
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Story by Malum Nalu :

A whole generation in PNG has grown up without knowing the experience of watching movies in a cinema.

In the ‘happy days’ of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, cinemas were commonplace all over the country.

Those of us who grew up in that memorable era will know the joy of watching films on the big screen.

Bruce Lee, James Bond, and those old black and white cowboy movies – garnished with icecream, popcorn, and cotton candy – are now becoming a fading memory like those venerable haus piksas (cinemas) once scattered all over the country.

These days, with the advance of television, video, VCDs, and the Internet, the movie projector has become as antiquated as the time – honored typewriter.

It's a sad but true fact that there are no longer any more cinemas in PNG.

Anyone who grew up in Lae in the pre – Independence years of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s will tell you about the Stewart, Huon, and Lae Theatres.

Papuan Skyline Theatre Ticket :

aussie 10-12-2002 09:19 PM

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The Stewart went first, followed by Lae Theatre in 1990 (to make way for the Vele Rumana), and finally the Huon was burned down in 1995.

Many of us, who grew up in Lae with these theatres, shed a quite tear, as it was the end of an era.

I recently stumbled upon a well – visited website, Rob’s PNG Links Dreambook, in which former PNG residents reminisce about their happy childhood days here.

I posted a note on this website, asking for contributions from former Lae residents about Lae in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.

Jim Dudgeon, once a projectionist at the Huon Theatre, emerged from the mists of time with some amazing anecdotes about this institution.

“I was attending the Lae High School at the time,” he said.

“ This was my very first job and I did it for the first year for free, as I liked it so much.

“My father was Bob Dudgeon.

“He was the Forman Mechanic with Government Transport in Lae.

“ I arrived in Lae as a baby in 1950, attended the Lae Primary A School, and Lae High School.

Lae Airport in its heyday !

aussie 10-12-2002 09:21 PM

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“Had several jobs in Lae, bought the first GL Subaru in 1972, it got written off in Mt Hagen by one of my friends at the time.

“I went ‘south’ in 1973, so I had 23 years in Lae.

“My mother died in Australia while I was in second year high school, my father died in 1982 - I think.

“I now live in a small town in Queensland called Warra, my brother Stan lives in Rochedale, and my youngest brother lives in Brisbane.

Mr Dudgeon, in those very early years of the Huon Theatre, was its assistant projectionist.

“… I began at the Huon Theatre while I was at High School,” he recalls.

“Did a full year without pay because I loved it so much.

“Went on to do the Friday and Saturday night sessions for several years, which were the best nights of the week.

“The only blew I ever made was to begin the main feature film one night in the middle of a cowboy shoot ‘em up film.

“The second reel had been placed back in the load box the night before in the wrong position.

“We stopped the film, found the correct reel and began again.

“The audience seemed to like it, and had a good old laugh.

“We were told to not do it again.

Gaumont-Galee-35mm-projector :

aussie 10-12-2002 09:23 PM

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“The films that I recall showing many times, over and over again, were, Mary Poppins, Sound of Music, Guns of Naverone, heaps of Edie Murphy cowboy films, Kirk Douglas western films, John Wayne western films, even Elvis Presley films, the ever ready serial African Queen, and countless cartoons.”

Mr Dudgeon, now an invalid pensioner living at Warra in Queensland, still remembers the staff he worked with.

They include:

Dave Searl – “We had several experiences together ranging from go - carts to converted Volks Wagons. I last saw Dave working at a service station 23 to 25years ago in Lennox Head, New South Wales.”

Stan Carswell – “Dalby, I didn't know he was here until he phoned me one night. He died three months later about 1997 to 1998. Stan took me under his wing and taught me all about being a projectionist.”

Mrs Stewart – “The OIC of the Huon Theatre, known to us all as ‘aunty’. She was the daughter of old Ma Stewart, who owned the theatre and the Hotel Cecil at Voco Point. She would always ring us up in the projection room enquiring how we were going. No idea where she is now.”

The two Allans – “There were two Alans. The first Alan and I were a great team. He worked for the Government Roads Department in Lae. His mother owned a record shop in Lae. All music played before, and at intermission, used records from this shop. ‘Young’ Alan about 21 at the time (No. 2) got married while I was there. Took over from aunty after the theatre was sold. He left before I did.”

Lae during the 1970's :

aussie 10-12-2002 09:25 PM

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Max Minerham - “Original worker, deceased, buried in Lae cemetery. Max actually designed the theatre. He was involved in the installation of all the equipment. His duties during the day were to produce the program for us to show at night. Max would join up the anthem advertising trailers for next week, then cartoons, then the main film arrangements. Max always wore a scarf around his neck, he spoke softly, and his writing was quite wriggly.”

The Dutchman – “There was a Dutchman, but I forgot his name. I remember him because it was very difficult to understand what he said.”

The last boss – “The last boss I had was a bit tough on me, so I will not mention his name on principle. He gave me an ultimatum one Friday night to either work for him (stupid) or resign from the Huon Theatre and still keep my day job. My regular job was at Lae Electrical Service. I had to fix a power generator on Suambu plantation (John Goads) that night or they would have no lights, fridges, etc. I was given only two minutes to think about it. This was a problem when I had to do overtime at my regular job, which didn't occur very often at all. I think he didn't like to fill in for me in an emergency. I will let your readers make up their own minds. So I left the Huon Theatre, the job I loved, and still do, which I began while still at high school in Lae.”

Mr Dudgeon still has many fond memories of working in the Huon Theatre including earthquakes, volume problems, and taxis.

“ Earthquakes would affect the screening of a film,” he said.

“ I remember once during a Saturday matinee, there were two shocks that day.

“Sometimes the projectors would have to be re-aligned by adjusting the mounting bolts on the floor.

Stamps from the Colonial Days :

aussie 10-12-2002 09:27 PM

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“I include the following incident to clear up any misunderstanding of an event that people might remember that took place one Saturday matinee afternoon.

“ I had just begun the Afternoon Matinee Session when for no reason at all, the sound from the No. 1 Amplifier (there were two of them powered by bottles that glow in the dark, valves) went to very low volume.

“I turned up the volume to full boost without effect.

“I switched to the second amplifier, there was no improvement.

“I rang the office below, the boss was away, the show had to go on, no amount of twiddling or banging the panel would fix it.

“I was not authorised to dismantle any equipment.

“Wouldn’t you know it, two hours later, at the very last reel of film, there was a click, and a ball bearing popped out of the master volume switch, the sound screeched up to full volume, so I just adjusted it back to normal.

“I felt sorry for the audience.

“They may have thought I had made them suffer, but it was accidental.

“I have never forgotten this incident!

The old Lae Post Office area :

aussie 10-12-2002 09:29 PM

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“ Several times, we had to get the taxis to move away from the projection room.

“Some of them would get on the two-way radio and ask the radio operator back at base for their next fare - paying passengers.

“Sometimes they would become quite vocal and swear.

“This would be picked up by the speaker leads, be re – amplified, and sent back to the speakers even louder.

“We heard some lovely and lively conversations sometimes, but the female part of the audience would not have approved.”

“The projectors that we used were called Gaumont Galee, 35mm frames, which passed 24 frames past the gate per second,” he remembered.

“ The light that was produced to project the images onto the huge screen - largest in the southern hemisphere at the time - was from passing a 35Amp current at about 48 volts DC between two carbon electrodes, covered in an overlay of copper coating.

“ There was a shorter electrode which protruded through a three - inch hole in the centre of the parabolic mirror.

“ The longer electrode was placed in front of the other.

“My duties were, upon entering the projection box (room), turn on the main three - phase switches, house switches (where the audience sat) amplifier switches, and lastly the three projector switches.

“Read the diary for any special instructions. Man, there were plenty of comments passed in this book.

“Get the sound system working, (records only in those days) prepare the projectors, thread up the 20 minute reels of film, set up the lamp housing (light source), put either wide screen or cinemascope lenses in the projectors, and change the gates to the correct film apertures (cinemascope or wide screen format).

“ Do the slide check over.

“We used glass slides for advertising.

“ This slide machine also had a carbon arc source.

Stewart Theatre Lae Ticket :

aussie 10-12-2002 09:30 PM

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“When the film began to roll, the house lights had to be lowered by raising a thumping big rheostat, then switch the curtain motor to open. Don't forget to turn it off or the 50 feet - plus fan belting would burn out.

“Watch for the timing marks at the end of the first reel, then switch over to No. 2 projector, wait for the end of the reel to arrive on the bottom spool, remove it and replace it with reel No. 3, take the first into the rewind room and rewind it so it would be ready for the next nights showing.

“Then do all the same again all through the night until the end of that nights showing.”

Mr Dudgeon was sad to hear that the venerable Huon Theatre was burned down in 1995, marking the end of an era, and that there are no more cinemas in Lae and the whole of PNG for that matter.

Lae with the airport in the centre :

aussie 10-12-2002 09:31 PM

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Now in his 50s, Mr Dudgeon wants to share this story with the people of Lae and PNG, so that they will know the important role cinemas played in PNG’s short but colorful history.

He asked that friends email him at or write to him at PO Box 54, Warra, Pc 4411, Queensland, Australia.

“Good projectionists never die, we just fade away,” were his final remarks.


Aerial View Overlooking Lae City :

Scott Martin 12-12-2002 06:10 PM

Couple of quick stories about going to the "flicks" in the 1960's and 70's....

Lae story: If you needed to leave the confines of the theatre to visit the snackbar, go the toilet, or at intermission, you were given a "passout", a printed piece of cardboard about the size of a credit card. This card allowed you back into the theatre. Any kid worth their salt would try and keep this card, and any other cards they could get their grubby hands on. Some kids had quite extensive collections. As the theatres regularly re-used these passouts what you would do was turn up at the theatre, see what card was being used, check your collection, and in you went......

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