Amusu Theatre | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Amusu Theatre

Item details

Name of item: Amusu Theatre
Other name/s: Amusu Cinema
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Recreation and Entertainment
Category: Cinema
Location: Lat: -33.18482784 Long: 148.69389083
Primary address: 17 Derowie Street, Manildra, NSW 2865
Parish: Dulladerry
County: Ashburnham
Local govt. area: Cabonne
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Orange
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT1 DP131348
LOTA DP962957
LOTB DP962957
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
17 Derowie StreetManildraCabonneDulladerryAshburnhamPrimary Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Cabonne CouncilLocal Government 

Statement of significance:

An important example of a small half hall purpose built cinema in a rural town with a very small population, which has been continuously operated under the one ownership since its construction in 1936. (Thorne, Tod & Cork 1997)

The cinema is a tangible link with the earliest days of the movie industry and its impact upon communities, especially those in rural Australia, throughout the 20th century. The building contains a collection of movie memorabilia, fixtures and fitting which evokes an understanding of its social and cultural significance. The building and its contents, as a total package, is a rare educative and evocative resource
Date significance updated: 02 Sep 99
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: Allan Tom
Builder/Maker: Jim Fullerton
Construction years: 1936-1936
Physical description: Exterior - Art Deco style facade featuring a distinctive stepped parapet typical of that found within many small country towns. Within the two story high fibro facade is featured a small central sash window. Within the upper sash is the word 'Amusu' in decorative lead light coloured glass.

Behind the facade is an industrial hall constructed from corrugated iron for the walls and gable end roof. The upper portion of the building, facing the street, houses the first floor projection room, inclusive of its historic working equipment.
[Cabonne Shire Village Heritage Study 1997]

Interior - The interior of the hall contains original fixtures and fittings, circa 1930s - ticket office, geometric light shades, flip-up sprung leather seats (including twin 'love' seats), embossed tin lined projection room, two circa 1936 Westrex projectors, plaster mouldings, on the stage linked 'A' and 'T' symbols of the theatre, and around the walls various exhibits, such as movie posters from 1930s to 1990s, old 33 inch sound records, original projectors and paraphernalia from the times of Allan Tom's 'travelling picture show'.

Overall Presentation - The theatre evokes a unique atmosphere with its sloping timber floor, seating and circa 1930s features. This atmosphere is enhanced by screenings of archival footage of cartoons and newsreels, circa 1940s, in addition commercial current releases on Saturday nights.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Generally the structure is sound. Leaks in the roofing iron have caused ceiling damage. Seating needs re-upholstery. Some rewiring and service upgrading was undertaken for a fire safety audit in 1990.

The equipment continues to be working order.
Date condition updated:27 Aug 10
Modifications and dates: The theatre has never received remodelling in the conventional sense, but was routinely upgraded over the years within its original style - that of an unadorned, rather plain country hall-type cinema with some art deco elements (Thorne et al 1997). Although Allan Tom was always keen on new innovation - cinemascope screen, better sound equipment, etc, the retired models were kept for display within the theatre.
Further information: Due to the originality and nostalgia of the Amusu, the theatre was chosen by Hoyts Entertainment & Media in 1987 as the location for a promotional video; presented by Good Morning Australia host, John Barton.
Current use: Theatre/Cinema
Former use: Theatre/Cinema


Historical notes: Summary [source in part: Thorne et al 1997]
Movies were first screened at Manildra around 1910. In 1914 they were shown in Fleeting's Hall, Derowie St. Starting during the silent era, Allan Tom quickly adapted equipment for the 'talkies'. Known as a travelling picture show pioneer, Allan Tom toured the central Western and goldfields areas of NSW from the early 1920s into the 1940s - to areas as far afield as Cobar, Bourke and Hillston. During the Depression he showed movies in a tent, providing desperately needed support and entertainment in remote areas.

He moved into Reid's Hall in 1923, then onto the Memorial Hall, Kiewa St after its construction in 1925. He built the Amusu in 1936 in Derowie St with seating for 300 on one level. The name Amusu was derived from contact with an equipment supplier in early 1930s. Allan Tom collaborated with a local school teacher to draw up the plans. Tom's passion for sound meant he had to ensure the theatre would have good acoustics. For this reason he lined the theatre with Donaconna board, a material imported from USA. Tom employed a local Manildra resident to build the cinema Jim Fullerton. For two decades he also operated theatres in Millthorpe and Tullamore.

Allan Tom battled through drought, flood, depression, advent of clubs, television and video, finally reducing his screenings to Saturday nights only. Not withstanding his advancing years, he continued to operate the Amusu until his death in 1995, aged 93. The Tom's family continues operating the theatre, despite a temporarily closure to undertake safety repairs.

In addition, the Tom family has strong historic links to early squatter days and the first discovery of gold. Nationalism is commemorated in incorporation of 'Australia' within the names of various members of the Tom family, including being Allan's middle name, and having links to the Australia Theatre in Orange.

1822 William Tom Junior [d. 1904) born to 'Parson' William Snr and Ann, nee Lane, Tom of Cornwall UK
1823 Tom family arrives in Australia
1824 Tom family granted land at Sidmouth Valley
1829 Nicholas Tom born [d. 12 October 1888] to 'Parson' William Snr and Ann Tom
1829 Western Lands restrictions lifted; William Tom applies for land at Lewis Ponds Creek north of Orange; one of 1st to venture West of the Blue Mountains; family build Springfield (still stands toady); William Tom Snr becomes a lay preacher and hence known as 'Parson Tom', and manager for Borecabonne station then in the ownership of Sir Rev. Samual Marsden's daughter; Marsden brings the 1st merino flock across the Blue Mountains to Borecabonne station [an RNE listed place]
1843 Tom brothers, John and William Jnr take stock overland to Gippsland to run called 'Tom's Camp'
1850 William Tom Jnr with John Lister find 2 gold nuggets weighing 2oz each on a claim in partnership with Edward Hargraves, near Ophir [Biblical reference to King Solomon's mines] and hence begins Australia's 1st gold rush
1858 Nicholas Tom marries Eliza McGraw [d1906]; raise 6 children
1967 Sydney Australia Tom born [d.1954], 5th child to Nicholas and Eliza
1894 Sydney Tom married Emma Westfield Hastings Glazier [known as Wes b.1870 d.1931], daughter of James Glazier and Emma Lewis who held the licence for Intermediate Hotel, Murga - a Cobb & Co changing station and post office
1894 James [Jim] Tom born to Sydney and Wes; drought
1895 first moving picture screened in Paris
1901 Federation of Australia
1902 January 27th Edwin Allan Australia Tom born to Sydney and Wes at Bushman's Dam, near Parks, NSW; drought
1905 Sydney & Wes Tom move to Manildra
1905 first official demonstration of radio transmission by Marconi at Port Lonsdale, Victoria
1906 fist motor car to Murga
1914 Tom's garage and carriers commences business (still operating in 1999); being underage Allan Tom uses a horse and cart
1915 At 13 Allan Tom leaves school to commence work in father's bike shop
1916 Allan Tom travels to Sydney to sit Railway Exams; Jim Tom invalided home from World War 1 and starts car hire business using a Model T Ford and charging 'a bob a mile'
1918 16year old Allan Tom obtains driver's license at Cudal (held continuously until his death in 1995)
1921 Jim Tom takes over the family garage, Sydney Tom operates bike store in front office and Allan Tom runs car hire business
1922 Mr Kendall from Condobolin brings 1st electrical moving picture to Manildra
1923 Allan Tom sets up 1st silent film show in Manildra with loan of £500 at 10% interest from local publican; business starts showing movies with Australian made Cummings & Wilson projector; mother Wes plays piano; when travelling uses HMV phonograph for sound
1925 January 26 first commercial radio station 2UE opens, 5 value radio sets introduced
1926 Allan Tom modifies a Oldsmobile car to act as a mobile projection room and a Chevrolet truck to cart tents, seats and other paraphernalia; Tom brothers buy first radio in Manildra
1927 Allan marries Dorothy (Dorrie) McDonald of Crookwell [b. 8 June 1903 d.1982 of cancer]
at St Saviours Church of England, Goulburn; 5 daughters born Norma Lynette (Lyn) b. 1928 m. Jeff Woohart of Manildra, Gweneth b. 1929 m Proudfoot of Orange, Phyllis Elizabeth (Betty)
b. 1931 m. Maxworth of Manildra and Janet b. 1937 m. Powe of Orange; son Edward b. 1934
d. 1939
1929 Allan Tom supplies sound for Canowindra Theatre
1930 Allan Tom introduces 'talkies' to Manildra by adapting existing equipment
1931 Allan Tom commences regular 4 to 6 week tours of Western NSW and writes own publicity brochures and posters
1932 Allan Tom has difficulty renting halls so buys a marque, folding chairs, pianola
1936 Allan Tom builds the AMUSU at Manildra and theatre at Tullamore.
19?? Allan Tom leases theatres in Wyanga, Trundle and Peak Hill;
Allan Tom installs first street light in Manildra outside the family owned garage
1937 Jim Tom dies and is buried on Anzac Day; Allan Tom forced to run family garage business and employs a crew to run the touring show until 1949
1940 Allan Tom rebuilds the garage next door to the Amusu theatre
1942 Allan Tom buys Frape's Hall to establish the Millthorpe Amusu theatre with Stan Goode as manager
1949 Lynette Tom marries Jeff Woodhart, together they take over the touring show business [until late 1950s]; Allan Tom draws up a petition for outlying school students to be bussed to Manildra and offers to provide the service
1965 Allan Tom takes over NRMA Service van for Manildra, Cudal, Murga, Toogong and Cargo (relinquished in 1992 aged 90)
1983 Allan Tom celebrates 60 years of showmanship, congratulations received from Prime Minister Robert Hawke and NSW Premier Neville Wran
1985 Motion Picture Distributors Association notes that 27 rural screens closed in one year
1987 Amusu used by Hoytes Entertainments & Media as the location for a promotional video presented by Good Morning Australia host, John Barton.
1993 Allan Tom awarded an Order of Australia Medal for services to Manildra and outlying communities
1993 Allan Tom noted as the oldest living member of original band of picture show men who toured NSW
1992 Allan Tom retires as the NRMA's oldest patrolman, aged 90 and being the State's oldest licence holder
1994 May 6 Allan Tom runs his last film and a week later
1995 May 20 Allan Tom dies of a stoke at age 93; daughter and son-in-law, Lyn & Jeff Woodhart, take over running the Amusu
As at May 1999 Amusu still opens on Saturday nights and for special groups

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Making and acting in films-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation Going to the pictures/movies-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Amusu is a living icon of the importance in the course and pattern of NSW's cultural history that was played, and continues to play by, film and cinemas. The Amusu has direct association with the life and work of Allan Tom, the travelling picture show man, whose contribution throughout the bulk of the 20th Century to NSW cultural life was recognised by the award of the OM. Few other cinemas in NSW have operated continuously since construction, in this case 1936. Member of pioneer family with direct links to squatting, sheep runs and first discovery of gold at Ophir; association with the evolution of the movie and cinema industry in Australia from the silent era to 1990s; known as 'The travelling picture show man'. [Thorne, Tod & Cork 1997]

Possibly no other continuously operating picture theatre has such historical - albeit historic connotations with its association with a person of Alan Tom's background as a travelling picture show man [from 1923], and being recognised with an AM for his contribution to entertainment in Australia [Thorne, 1999].
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The theatre's small but slightly pretentious facade is an important and recognised part of the streetscape of its small community (Thorne, Tod & Cork 1997).
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The Amusu has strong and special association with central and western NSW for the role it and Tom played in rural communities' social and cultural life The Amusu has provided social and cinematic entertainment continuously to its community for over sixty years (Thorne, Tod & Cork 1997). When on the road, the Amusu Touring Talkies often provided the only entertainment other than the occasional bush dance. Very few, perhaps no other cinema in NSW has operated continuously by the same family since construction - in this case a period of 63 years. Few, if any cinemas in NSW, possess the memorabilia, records of purchases and film bookings for such a long period as the Amusu does.[Thorne, 1999].
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The Amusu has potential to yield information that will contribute to an understanding of NSW's cultural history and the role of cinemas. . The Amusu's importance lies in its ability to demonstrate a high degree of creative or technical achievement in adaptation of then new technologies to harsher conditions within rural NSW. Few cinemas in NSW apart from the Amusu, have arc-lamp projectors dating from the 1930s and 1940s in operational condition (although a number have had them dormant for many years in closed projection boxes)(Thorne, 1999). The building and its contents demonstrates how cinematography developed throughout the 20th century. The still operating equipment is a valuable resource, and retains the ability to play various mediums where such machinery is becoming increasingly harder to procure; collection of cinema objects, once common place, are becoming scarce. Wrapped up in the Amusu is a host of memories and events that made it the social hub of such country towns of the day. The place is very evocative and by just being within the building, people can easily image and experience what it was like to go to the movies in the 1930s.
SHR Criteria f)
The Amusu posses uncommon, rare and endangered aspects of NSW cultural history being a rare surviving purpose built, corrugated iron building with continuous use since being built and by the same family. Although once common place throughout Urban and Regional NSW, early 20th century theatre structures are becoming rare, whether grand 1000 seat or 300 seat capacities. This is especially so when coupled with one still being used for its original purpose. The continuous operation of the Amusu as a cinema, run by the same family, inclusive of its original fixtures and fittings, is rare.
The combination of its building materials, its continuous use and by the same historic family with all the moveable heritage items largely intact, as a total package the Amusu is unique [Thorn 1999].
SHR Criteria g)
The Amusu's importance is contained within its ability to demonstrate the principal characteristics of cinemas as a class of NSW cultural places and the collection of memorabilia and records which traces its life over the last 63 years.

[source: Thorne et al 1995] 15 halls of entertainment (including Schools of Arts and open air theatres) are listed within Cabonne LGA. Of these 9 were purpose built but only the Amusu continues to operated in its original state and has a category 1 classification.
Within the Central Tablelands and Central West Region of NSW 64 such structures are listed in Thorn et al. Of these four (4) are cited has having the highest category 1 rating, being the Amusu, The Palace in Parks (which has been adapted for another use), the Empire/Australia in Orange (which has since been converted into multiple smaller modern theatrettes in 1997) and Strand in Orange (which has been adapted to another use).
In terms of fabric, the Victoria Theatre in Newcastle dates from the 1890s although its decor is of 1921.
Integrity/Intactness: The building and its interior has remained largely uncharged since its construction.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Recommended management:

1. Assistance in seeking finance for undertaking a conservation management plan (CMP). 2. The above CMP should include 2.1 An inventory of all fixtures and moveable heritage items, 2.2 Recommendations and management tools for archival and curatorial management practices eg: via assistance from Museums Australia Outreach Programme (initiated already by Cabonne Council), and via Australian Archives re film footage & storage, and poster/paper collections 2.3 Pay specific attention to options for the on-going operation as, and management of, the theatre and its collection. eg: as a pre-paid tour based experience of the movies in the 1930s, similar to the silent films operation in Queensland 3. Open negotiations with film distributors to enter into a specific contract for heritage cinemas, especially those located in rural areas, and especially for the few still operating like the Amusu 4. Open negotiations with all branches of the motion picture, film and cinema industry to activity support through sponsorship, its fast disappearing links with its beginnings and the living remnants of its early 20th Century heritage. In number such historic places would number between 6 and 12 statewide.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
21(1)(b)Conservation Plan submitted for commentAmusu Cinema Manildra (Sue Jackson-Stepowski, March 2000) Copy of CMP lodged in Heritage Office Library Jun 21 2005
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0130826 Nov 99 13511621
Heritage Act - Icons Project Nomination for SHR listing  02 Aug 04   

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
Movie Theatre Heritage Register for NSW 1896-19961996Category 1 - CountryUniversity of Sydney  Yes

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
TourismAttraction Homepage2007Amusu Theatre View detail

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5044733
File number: H99/00200, H04/00091/1 (ICONS)

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