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Come On Bro – It’s The Wars!! — A Guest Blog by Dean Mayes, Part 1

Come On Bro – It’s The Wars!! — A Guest Blog by Dean Mayes, Part 1

A celluloid love affair begins, November 1977.

A celluloid love affair begins, November 1977.

“Come On Bro – It’s The Wars!!”
— A Guest Blog by Dean Mayes

Nestled in the rolling green hills of the Latrobe Valley in Victoria, Australia lies a great big hole in the ground.

It’s an open cut mine that, for the better part of a century, has been the source of Australia’s largest deposits of brown coal.

This brown coal has been dug up by massive dredges and fed into boilers at the nearby Yallourn Power Station. The electricity from this particular station powers a lot of homes in Victoria and further on up the eastern seaboard of Australia.

It’s a dirty job but somebody’s gotta do it.

During the halcyon days of the Victorian power industry, a town was conceived and built near the Power Station. The Yallourn township was provided to the workers that toiled in the massive open cut mine and station. It was a fully realized town even before it was built and boasted facilities that were the envy of the district. Beautiful tree-lined streets, comfortable housing, a fully functioning shopping precinct, a hospital, school, police station, pub. Yallourn had it all. And for decades it was a bustling hamlet. It truly was a beautiful town. However there was always this catch…

The town was built on the proviso that one day, the State Electricity Commission (SEC), might need to access the rich coal seam that lay underneath it. And that day did come. In the mid 1960’s there was a revolt by the towns folk against the SEC and for years they protested against their town being dismantled at the whim of some faceless bureaucrats. Money was raised, campaigns were hatched, people joined in to fight for their township.

“Come on bro – It’s the Wars!”

Yallourn township circa 1970's. My first home.

Yallourn township circa 1970’s. My first home.

When I was born into this battle in the mid 1970’s, it was already a given that the man had won against the workers. There was a hell of a lot of life in the old girl even though she was a dame in decline. Yallourn’s facilities were the gold standard. In particular, the cinema – or ‘theater’ as it was lovingly referred to – remains in my mind as perhaps the grandest Yallourn’s architecture.

Built in the 1930’s and overlooking the township’s central gardens, the Theater was a vibrant social center. Featuring two screens, red leather seating, a plush foyer and concession stand, the theater put on some of the greatest movies of the 20th century beginning with “Gone With The Wind” in 1939 (and, as a nice bookend to its life, it screened the same film in 1979).

I’ve heard memories from ex-Yallourn residents as to what films they saw over the years and they are recalled with affection.

The swords and sandals epics of the 1950’s – “Ben Hur”, “Spartacus”. Classics from the 1960’s such as “Dr. Zhivago” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”.

I remember my Dad and his next door neighbor Rob Martin recalling how they ran home in the night after seeing the 1973 stunner “The Exorcist” – so sh!t scared were they.

Yallourn's cinema, 1975.

Yallourn’s cinema, 1975.

For me, I had the pleasure and privilege of seeing a movie there. It was only one movie but it was to have a profound effect on me that continues until this day.

I can still remember the very first time I saw Star Wars.

There are certain events in a father’s life that fall into the category of things you must do. Taking your son to his first movie experience is a must do. Towards the end of 1977, my Dad took me to the Yallourn Theater to see the George Lucas blockbuster.

By the end of that year, Star Wars had become a world-wide phenomenon and on a balmy November evening Dad and I went along to see what all the fuss was about.

I’m sure I didn’t actually grasp the concept of what a movie actually was back then. The whole thing was just one big WOW! moment – as in ‘I don’t know what I’m actually doing right now – but WOW! Just WOW!’

The cinema, circa 1941.

The cinema, circa 1941.

Dad’s cinematic tastes are quite varied although in the years since Star Wars he hasn’t totally connected with the space fantasy/sci-fi genre in the way that I have. Dad was schooled in the classic political thrillers like “Three Days of The Condor”, “The Marathon Man”, “The Conversation” – all films that I like very much. But Star Wars was different for him in that, even he could appreciate that it was truly an ‘event film’. Everyone was talking about it – even the rough and tough coal miners and power station workers. There was something about Star Wars that crossed boundaries. It was accessible to everyone.

My memories of that first viewing are clear but fractured, fleeting vignettes of movement, color and place, though there are three distinct memories that stand out. First and foremost was the foyer of the cinema. It’s lighting was soft but I can remember the old school flashing Hollywood styled lights in the concession area. The carpet in that foyer was deep red, very plush, the kind you could sink up to your knees in. I’m going to take a punt here and say that I had my first taste of popcorn. And I think Dad was a choc top fan – spearmint – but I’ll have to confirm that.

Cinema interior.

Cinema interior.

The cinema itself. Well – that was simply the most amazingly awesome room I had ever been in. Vast and cavernous and the screen – oh my god – that screen!! I was gobsmacked by it. The seats were dark red – very plush material, the kind that were really low set and you kinda disappeared into them.

And then there was the film. What can a 41-year-old man channeling a (nearly) 4-year-old say 38 years after the fact?

 

 

Come back Monday for part two!

Contact Dean on Twitter @Hambledown_Road

This blog was originally published on deanfromaustralia.com. Thank you to Dean for sharing it with us!

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