“There was the experience of going down Saturday afternoons to watch the movies. For the first half of the movie they’d sometimes show cartoons, and there was always a serial with a cliff-hanger. You’d see the car going over the cliff and the next week they’d show you how the guy escapes before the car went over the cliff.

“In later years, the only things they could show that would bring people in, were the semi-porn movies. I remember, it sticks in my mind for some reason, ‘Sex Lives of a Nun’, that was the name of one of the movies.”

– Ron Southall, Kembla Radio Service, 12 August 2016

Photo of the outside of the Whiteway Theatre in the 1930s from the collections of the Wollongong City Libraries and the Illawarra Historical Society. 


Building history: In 1915, the Port Kembla Amusement and Investment Co Ltd came into being and an amusement hall – a weatherboard structure on brick foundations, 90’ by 40’ and lined with fibro cement (aka asbestos) – was constructed. Above the doorway to the hall “’blazed in electric light letters the word ‘Empire’.” In 1922 the new owner, Mr Shipp renovated the building as the Amusua, as designed by popular theatre architectural company Kaberry and Chard (who also designed Anita’s in Thirroul and many a Sydney theatre). From 1923, the building was considerably refurbished and renamed The Whiteway in c.1928.  Several features from this time survived throughout its life, including the decorative plaster panels with a lamp above each exit door side of stage, and the blue moulded swags along the top of the proscenium, widened to accommodate Cinemascope. In 1936, Wollongong Theatres leased the cinema and worked with Crick and Fuse Architects to extend the dress circle to increase capacity to 1145 people, giving final form to the building. Wollongong Theatres bought the theatre in 1955, running it until closing shop 10 years later. In 1965, Nick Markides of Louis Film Co Pty Ltd purchased the property for “the showing of continental films of the more risqué kind” and in 1976, Kosta Dimitrovski (aka Con Vassil) bought the theatre and the licence and showed Restricted films until its closure in 1982.

Source: Gauffered Velour – a history of motion picture exhibition and picture theatres in the Illawarra district of New South Wales, by Robert Parkinson. (Published by Australian Theatre Historical Society Inc, 1995.)

Photos of the Empire and the Amusua from the collections of the Wollongong City Libraries and the Illawarra Historical Society.