03 Sep Star Theatre Usher Tells His Story
This article by Tamara McDonald first appeared in The Examiner. Photo above: Former Star Theatre employee Peter Bomford with film posters and an original sign from the theatre. Pictures: Scott Gelston.
The day the Star Theatre closed, staff member Peter Bomford was devastated.
Mr Bomford, of Invermay, was a regular at the cinema from when he was just a toddler.
J17 was his permanent designated seat in the dress circle.
By the time he was almost 16, Mr Bomford mustered the courage to ask for shifts at the Star Theatre circa 1963.
“I always wanted to work at the Star,” Mr Bomford recalled.
Initially, he covered a single shift, and continued to work for free because he loved it so much.
After the boss found out about Mr Bomford’s free labour, he promised him his own free seat forever and put him on the payroll.
“I always wanted to be working on the door, and I started off doing that,” Mr Bomford said.
“Then I was put in doing the advertising and banners and sign writing.”
Mr Bomford’s early memories of the Star feature a vibrant atmosphere and packed audiences.
People were often turned away when the theatre, which could seat more than 800 people, reached capacity.
The feel of the theatre captured Mr Bomford’s heart.
“It was just the atmosphere,” he said.
“It was a beautiful building, when the music was going, the lights were on, it was just incredible.”
But when mainstream television revolutionised entertainment in Australia after it arrived in 1956, the cinema industry suffered.
The arrival of a drive-in cinema in Launceston also impacted attendance at the Star.
The two-storey art deco theatre, which opened in 1937, started to lose momentum.
Mr Bomford said crowds began to shrink about 1962.
As the Star’s profits dwindled, Mr Bomford and two of his co-workers even offered to work for free.
Mr Bomford put his pay, $3.50 a shift, back towards the ticket sales in a bid to help the struggling business.
But eventually the theatre had to close in 1969.
“I stayed right until the end, that was a dreadful day,” Mr Bomford said.
“It just went down so quick.”
Mr Bomford felt he had to leave Launceston.
“After we closed … I had to get out,” Mr Bomford said.
He moved to the mainland and worked in department stores in capital cities.
“It wasn’t long after I went over to the mainland that I heard vandals had broken in [to the Star],” Mr Bomford said.
“They made a hell of a mess, they ripped all the curtains and the screens, really went through the place, and I thought, ‘that’s the end of it’.”
In 1997, he returned to Launceston after his mother’s health deteriorated.
He did volunteer work at the old Star building with the St Vincent de Paul Society.
While Mr Bomford had been working on the mainland, a colleague from his Star Theatre days saw the theatre’s seats for sale in the newspaper.
Mr Bomford’s colleague knew this meant they were cleaning out the premises, so he took memorabilia from the Star, which he passed on to Mr Bomford upon his return from the mainland.
To this day, Mr Bomford has an amazing array of well-preserved memorabilia at his Invermay home.
The collection includes film posters, signs, tickets, takings records and handwritten employee timesheets.
In 1999, Mr Bomford organised a lunch with other past employees of Launceston’s old theatres, including the Plaza Theatre, Majestic Theatre and Princess Theatre.
One married couple that attended had even met each other working together in an old Launceston theatre.
After his return to Tasmania, Mr Bomford continued to frequently lament the loss of the old Star Theatre’s potential.
Mr Bomford, who moved back into the house his father built in Invermay, reflected fondly on his first job and the pride patrons once took in heading to the Star.
“Most of the regulars over here [in Invermay] had permanent seats on Saturday nights, if you didn’t have a permanent seat or a booking you just wouldn’t get in,” Mr Bomford said.
“Everybody dressed up in their Sunday best, it was a real night out on the town.
“It was a great atmosphere.”
When he heard it had been bought and there were plans to revitalise the premises into a theatre once again, Mr Bomford was absolutely thrilled.
Launceston locals Ben Davis, Paul Lee-Archer and Andrew Quaile purchased the Star building in March 2015.
A development application was recently lodged with the Launceston City Council for the Star Theatre’s refurbishment.
The proposal includes plans for a cinema, as well as a cafe and a bar with a focus on Tasmanian produce.
The owners plan to install a small micro-brewery and a second theatre with a more intimate feel in the future.
Mr Bomford contacted the new owners to congratulate and commend them on their purchase.
Intrigued by Mr Bomford’s extensive knowledge, the owners spoke with Mr Bomford about his experiences, insight and memorabilia.
“I’d do anything I can to help them … I think it’s wonderful,” Mr Bomford said.
“I can’t wait [for it to open].”
Mr Quaile, Mr Davis and Mr Lee-Archer plan on opening the Star Theatre in Spring 2017.
“It’s just going to bring so much life to Invermay, I think, especially for young people,” Mr Bomford said.
“I’m all for it … I’d do anything to help the boys,” he said.