Putting on the pictures in Mt Barker and Albany

Putting on the pictures in Mt Barker and Albany


A short history by Projectionist Norman Gordon Mills.

from the AMMPT archives, undated.


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Norman Mills










In 1939 my parents purchased a 15 acre apple orchard in Mt Barker WA

At the time I was about 17 and had just left 2 nd year High School in Albany. I put my name down for work at the Mt Barker Co-op fruit packing shed that year , and was waiting for employment, when a vacancy occurred in the Refrigeration and Power Engine Room of the company. I worked as an Engine Room Assistant , mainly sweeping , cleaning the engines and machinery and anything to do with what a new lad was kicked around to do.


The engineer ( the late Mr Les Tucker) was also the Picture Projectionist and used to do the district repairs for radio etc. we also had a Battery Charging service: 2 shillings and 6 pence for a 2 volt-4/6d for a 6 volt, not many 12 volt in those days.


War came in December 1939, and when I turned 18 I joined the R.A.A.F and about spent 3 years in Australia and also Great Britain.


I returned to my previous job in 1946, and became an  assistant to Les Tucker at the Projection bio box. My duties were to carry the 18-20 reels of film up about 10-20 steps of a very steep  ladder and place them in an enclosed film magazine for the boss to wind, and check and prepare the programme. Having done that, I was allowed to spend time cleaning the projectors. One old Simplex and one more modern Raycophone  and one simple slide machine. It was necessary to clean the melted copper coating from the arc lamp and clean the film sprockets with a toothbrush , also the slides and pressure points of the Aperture .

We were employed for picture duties ( separate to Mt Barker Co-Op main employment ) by Mr H H Kanzler of Albany who also operated the Regent and Empire theatres in Albany.

Eventually Kanzler sold out his interest in Mt Barker to Mr J P and K Rourke of Kojonup (Brother – in – law). Mr Rourke also had some school buses in Kojonup, and he used to come down to Mt Barker about once a month in his Pontiac Parisienne to pay us and bring more carbons and spares etc. Sometimes being he would have to pay us some extra as the rates he paid were checked on by ” someone”.

Things went along smoothly until boss Les Tucker suffered a heart attack and passed away aged 47 in about August 1953, and I was asked if I could manage to carry on in both jobs for a while.

About this time Mr Bill Milloms  retired from being the manager of the Pictures and Phil Smith from Tambellup was placed in charge. I continued to operate the box and Phil had his license to cover my work and then I started studying the Blue Book for my license.

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I cannot remember when I became licensed, however it was restricted to Mt Barker as Joe Rourke had movies in Kojonup , Tambellup,  Mt  Barker  and Denmark.  I eventually went up to the city to the Ambassador theatre and was examined (by a Mr Starr I think) and questioned at length about film handling and Safety Regulations and obtained my open state wide license which was about 5 shillings per year to renew! # 429.

A drive- in was built in Mt Barker about 1960 and the district hall movies closed down. I operated at the Drive -In for about 5 years before deciding to move to Albany for our children’s higher school education.


Drive- In duties were a bit more involved than Hall Pictures, as speakers had to be tested and repaired, some cleaning up after the patrons was involved and it was also Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It was financially OK but as I had a boat and travelled to Albany with it on a Sunday, it was necessary to get up on Sunday morning , pick up the rubbish early, go boating and skiing and then travel home and put the boat away and then put the movies on Sunday night. Quite a big day.


My worst mistake in operating was mixing up Reels No 5, 6, 7 of a film where there was a bushfire scene, and  it showed the star recovering in hospital, but the next reel showed him in the bush getting put into the ambulance. Never forgot it. Oh, and the middle fell out of a newsreel once, and I had to drape all the 900 feet of film across theatre seats so I could start rewinding it again.


I didn’t get too involved with the job of slide advertising, which happened prior to the start and at the interval, it was a job for the assistant.

Chas. E . Blanks and later Cyril Cornish used to send us an update list, a recording on a vinyl coated aluminium disc and glass slides which had to be arranged in sync with the recorded message. We got a new list every month, and if by accident you messed up with the timing or sequence, you would shut the record off until you rectified it, although I doubt if the people really listened that much, being content to talk to neighbours and friends .

I remember melting down a heap of the old aluminium discs to cast pulleys and parts for the boat.

I moved to Albany in 1968 and was a bit involved as the ticket  gate keeper at Orana Drive-In, where Phil Smith was manager and operator. Phil now lives in Busselton and is still involved with Alan Jones  and Pictures and Museum at the Town Cinema.

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