Situated also 140 kms south-west of Sydney, Bowral is the largest town in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. Prior to colonization, the area was inhabited by Tharawal Aboriginal tribe. It was first explored in 1789, with other exploration parties following over the next few decades. In 1817, Charles Throsby was given land by Governor Lachlan Macquarie and he established a small township named Bong Bong. The arrival of the railway in 1867 led to rapid growth in the village of Bowral (7 km to the south) and by the 1890s it had become a large town. The town’s first hotel was erected in 1862 and its first School of Arts opened in 1873. The Bowral Town Hall was built in Bendooley Street in 1890.
L: Bong Bong Street, ca. late-1900s (Traveloscopy Travelblog); R. Bong Bong Street, ca. 1930s (Southern Highland News)
EMPIRE PICTURE THEATRE
Built by local businessman W.W. Arnett the Empire Picture Theatre opened on14 September 1915 under the lesseeship of W.J. Painter. The two-tiered auditorium could seat 946 patrons for films, theatricals and concerts (on collapsible wooden chairs), while also being able to operate as a roller skating rink as well as a venue for community events such as balls and pageants. Variety acts were often engaged for film screenings and occasionally management would present an entire week or season of live entertainment. Norman Croft’s Gallipoli Strollers (1924) and Charles Allan’s Surprise Party (1928) are two troupes linked to the Empire.
In 1973 the stalls were removed to accommodate shops and office space. A new cinema auditorium was formed from the old dress circle and seating reduced to 350 seats. Twenty years later the Empire was converted to a modern twin cinema.
Image: Opening night, 1915. Source: Southern Highland News.