Olympian Effort

Image: Olympia Theatre c.1920 Front: Neil Bowden, Dick Desmond, Doris Buckley, Jack Sulivan, Mrs Ben Nation (nee Collins), Mark Hunter, Florie Cook, Mrs Millie Murdock, Mrs Lil Fogerty (nee Murdock), Elsie Grant (now Mrs Wilson)

Image: Olympia Theatre c.1920
Front: Neil Bowden, Dick Desmond, Doris Buckley, Jack Sulivan, Mrs Ben Nation (nee Collins), Mark Hunter, Florie Cook, Mrs Millie Murdock, Mrs Lil Fogerty (nee Murdock), Elsie Grant (now Mrs Wilson)

This week is an interesting one. I was scanning some of the old images in the collection and came across one of a group of people at the Olympia Theatre in the 1920s. As you can see, it’s quite a nice sepia pic, but then it struck me that the common local belief is that the theatre is from the old RAAF base and was sold off and moved at the end of the war. However, WWII ended in 1945 so how could it possibly be the Olympia? Either the date on the image is wrong or the “well known fact” is wrong, so I’ve dug around to see what I could find on the history of the theatre.

Probably the easiest place to start is to look at what information I have on the RAAF Base. The excess sheds/hangers from the base weren’t sold off until around 1950, which we know because Connelly Motors was built from one of the sheds. The theatre/gymnasium at the RAAF 6AD accommodation area was located where the Wheat Board is now situated.

Image: RAAF accommodation area 1947 Source: Frank Bonner

Image: RAAF accommodation area 1947
Source: Frank Bonner

Armed with this information I went looking specifically for the Olympia in the old newspapers on Trove. What I found was a rich tradition of dances, movies and musicals dating back as early as 1912. In March 1913, the Spinsters’ Ball was held at the Olympia Hall where over 35 couples danced “until the small hours of the morning”. 1913-1915 The Oakey Musical Union held several musicals and operettas, including “The Geisha” which were received with great enthusiasm by the crowds of locals requesting multiple encores, prolonged applause and “intermingled with loud and hearty laughter from all parts of the house”.

The first mention that I found for movies being advertised was in September 1923 for “Master Pictures Week”. The following year Paramount Pictures held their first annual movie season, an expansion on their yearly movie week, and the Oakey Olympia Theatre participated. Several years later I found mention of the Olympia participating in the “Sixth Annual Paramount Week” (1926).

The final mention I found was in 1939, when Mr Henry Anderson, of Anderson Bros. of the Olympia Picture Theatre, and four other residents of the Oakey district won £6050 in the Golden Casket. Now considering all these events occurred before the RAAF sold off their excess buildings I’m going to have to form the conclusion that, unfortunately, the local belief in the origins of the Olympia Hall is wrong.

That’s all I got this week, see you all next week.

Editors Note 22/2/2016: I was talking with some locals this week and it turns out that the RAAF shed was relocated and built around the old theatre and then the old theatre was removed. Because no big fuss was made and there was no major interruption in “services” occurred I guess it wasn’t newsworthy and so no mention was made. I’m always happy to be corrected by my readers as it means that someone is paying attention.

One thought on “Olympian Effort

  1. Your article about the Olympia theatre is incorrect. Sure, it was built earlier in the 20th century, BUT, the R.A.A.F. disposal sale was circa 1948 at. The 6.A.D.(R.A.A.F. base). Among many buildings sold was the R.A.A.F. theatre which was dismantled and re-erected OVER the top of the existing building. The interior of the original was then pulled down and voila! a much more spacious theatre emerged.. I know this because I was there. I even attended auctions and bought several items at the time. I:am 84 y.o. but my memory is 100% concerning this period.

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