The first cinema in Australia

What was Australia's first cinema? This of course depends on the definition of "cinema". In a very general sense a cinema is

"a [purpose-built] [closed] space [solely] for the [continuing] [public] exhibition of [projected] [photographic] motion pictures",
where the terms in brackets are potential constraints to limit the extent of the definition.

(Not that there were many possibilities to choose from in the early days.)

By including "photographic", zoetropes, praxinoscopes, and such like can be ignored.

Nowadays motion pictures are assumed to be projected. But before the advent of projection there was Thomas A. Edison's kinetoscope, and this device was first shown in Australia (privately) on Thursday, 29 November 1894 and (publicly) commencing on 30 November 1894, at 148 Pitt St, Sydney.1 There were five kinetoscopes on display in a room, but each could only be viewed by a single person at a time (and showed only one motion picture).

The first projected motion pictures in Australia were shown by Carl Hertz on Monday, 17 August 1896 at a special private screening at the Opera House, Melbourne.2 The first public exhibition of projected motion pictures was on Saturday, 22 August 1896 at the same place (and again by Carl Hertz).3 But Hertz's motion picture showings were only a part of a larger show, and thus the Melbourne Opera House at that time should not be considered as a cinema in the sense of a venue solely for films.

The first place dedicated to projected motion pictures was in the Royal Arcade, Queen St, Brisbane, Queensland where films were shown publicly by Joseph F. MacMahon starting on Saturday, 26 September 18964 (a press preview having been given on the previous night). (This was two days earlier than the opening of Marius Sestier and co.'s Salon Lumière in Sydney.5)

And things went on from there. Other dedicated venues came and went; some were in rooms or halls, some were in the open air. There were also the travelling showmen who would set up in a tent if a hall was not available where they were visiting. The first big cinemas were built in the capital cities starting in the 1900s, and later they were set up in the suburbs, and in country towns. Some of the old cinemas are still being used as such, but most are gone, modern multiplexes having taken over.


[1] 1894-11-30, Daily Telegraph (Sydney), p.6d, AMUSEMENTS., THE KINETOSCOPE.
1894-11-30, The Sydney Morning Herald, p.6f, AMUSEMENTS., THE KINETOSCOPE.
1894-12-01, Daily Telegraph, p.9d, THE KINETOSCOPE.

[2] 1896-08-18, The Herald (Melbourne), p.2e, AFTER THE OPERA.
1896-08-22, The Free-Lance (Melbourne), p.5d, PROSE ABOUT PRO.'S.

[3] 1896-08-24, The Age (Melbourne), p.6f, AMUSEMENTS., THE CINEMATOGRAPHE.
1896-08-24, The Argus (Melbourne), p.7b, THEATRES AND ENTERTAINMENTS.

[4] 1896-09-28, The Brisbane Courier, p.4f, THE CINEMATOGRAPHE.
1896-09-28, The Telegraph (Brisbane), p.4d, The Cinematographe.

[5] 1896-09-29, Daily Telegraph, p.6d, AMUSEMENTS., LUMIERE'S CINEMATOGRAPHE.

Copyright © 2018 - 2020 Tony Martin-Jones Edition 1·1  (2020-02-23)