THERE are rare moments in historians’ lives when they discover something truly exceptional and exciting. One such moment occurred about two years ago when Condobolin resident Alan Press contacted Orange and District Historical Society.
He said he had an old silent movie about Orange, and would the society be interested in seeing it. Would we?!
An assistant projectionist for Western Cinemas four decades ago, he was there when the Strand Theatre, on the corner of Summer and Peisley streets, closed down because of competition with television, which arrived in Orange in 1962.
He was told to clean out the rooms on the upper level used by the projectionist and as storage areas. There he found a spool of film and some tins containing reels, all on old, dangerous nitrate stock that should have been taken to the tip and destroyed.
Something made Alan hold onto it, and when he moved to Condobolin in 1966 he took it with him. It was stored firstly under his house, where the cool, dry atmosphere helped preserve it. Later he put it in a cardboard box in his shed.
“It was brittle and volatile so I couldn’t project it to see what was on it,” he said.
In August 2007 Alan had almost decided to dump it again but instead, contacted the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra to ask if they would like to have the film.
They digitised it and found that it was a movie all about Orange, a glimpse at the people, streetscapes, buildings and institutions – the very fabric of Orange life – in 1927. They were delighted to be given such a rare piece of Australia’s history but needed help to determine where the inter-titles should be placed (they were all at one end of the movie).
A group of historical society members, led by Ross Maroney, looked at the movie frame by frame and, thanks to Ross’s encyclopaedic knowledge of Orange’s history, they were able to advise where the inter-titles should be put.
Through a piece of simple but vital detective work, Ross was even able to say exactly when the movie was made. An avid movie-buff, he saw on one of the stills which films were being shown at the Australia Theatre (Paradise for Two and The Notorious Lady) and matched them to an advertisement in the Leader newspaper.
In the movie you will see Orange as it used to be when it was a town of about 8500 inhabitants – its schools, shopkeepers, aldermen, mill and bakery workers, shop assistants, firemen, girl guides and scouts.
Some people are clearly recognisable – the mayor Alderman Arthur Colvin, jeweller Henry Hansen, champion bowler Charlie Curran and comedian ‘Fatty’ Danby among others.
The society is screening the movie on Wednesday, August 1, at Odeon Cinemas in William Street. Alan Press and his wife Val will be guests of honour.
Tickets (which are selling fast) are available only at Collins Booksellers at 230 Summer Street (they will not be sold at the cinema on the night). The $20 cost includes a souvenir program, drinks and finger-food served from 6pm, with the movie starting a little after 7pm.
Alan Press, two representatives from the National Film and Sound Archives in Canberra and Ross Maroney will be happy to answer questions after the screening.
It should be a very special occasion as well as a major fund-raiser for the society, so that it can continue its work of researching and preserving Orange’s history in all its forms.
Please note that the National Film and Sound Archives is not able to offer copies of the DVD for sale at this stage, but we hope to do so in the future.
If you have any inquiries about the event, please contact me on 6362-8647, email: email@example.com, or Phil Stevenson on 0402 412 188, email firstname.lastname@example.org.