History gets lost so very easily because of the frailty of human memory and uncovering the truth can be frustrating because we don’t always know the right place to look and the right question to ask of the right person. There are times, however, when a eureka moment happens. Today is one of those days.
A myth has grown that the Broadway Theatre was originally located in the Torrens Wilcox Mofflin Building. An understandable misunderstanding since a plaque recording a brief history of the theatre is located in front of the university doors. I made inquiry about this and was assured that yes indeed, the theatre was right here. I knew this could not be the case because I am old enough to remember the theatre when it was called The Phoenician Club. Nirvana played there. There was some very good music there. The Phoenician Club fronted onto Broadway. Besides, the Wilcox Mofflin building was a warehouse and factory, perfect for university classrooms, but quite unsuitable for a large theatre space without extensive remodeling, and the old warehouse still has its original floors.
So I went looking. A couple of weeks ago I found a set of photographs that looked like they were from around 1950. There were eight buses full of people on a very rainy day. They were parked in Broadway with the theatre in the background. Banners on the buses said that it was the Acme Theatres Social Club Picnic. There are no cars or trams in the street so it must be a Sunday. Sunday’s were very quiet in Sydney back in those days.
Today I found another photograph from that event. It is a close up of a single bus in front of the theatre and it clearly shows that that day Bob Hope in Monsieur Beaucaire was playing. That would date the picnic to November or December 1946. The film was released on 4th September in the US and back then it took about two months for the prints to arrive in Sydney on a ship, and for local posters to be printed. The beginning of November is the earliest this film could have been seen.
It is a eureka moment to be able to date something like that and it is a fascinating view of history. All eight buses were full and yet it is pouring with rain. They could have been inside watching Bob Hope, but they were determined to go on a picnic. The World had not long suffered the horrors of World War II and these people could finally relax after the austerity and fears of the war years. This is the magic of history, being able to bring back to life a day so long ago and tie it to a place. An article about the old cinema will be appearing on the history pages soon.