A journey from Melbourne via Lithuania and Italy to the incredibly unique Roxy Theatre in Bingara NSW has been quite a fascinating one for Sandy McNaughton.
Along the way she met Mark Byrne, a young Queensland bloke working with the Twynam Agricultural Group and subsequently ended up living in an equally unique home, ‘Gunnee’, near Delungra, which was owned by Twynam.
The interview, or probably more of a chat over a few wines and Yamba prawns, was conducted on their magnificent Federation style verandah – a later addition to this great country house, built in 1874. JJR Gibson, who built this home, described it as the ”best in the New England” at the time.
Today, ‘Gunnee’ is owned by Mort & Co Feedlots of Toowoomba and managed by Mark. Originally the property was 60,000 acres. In 1908 the property was divided and auctioned. Now a 7,000 acre feedlot with 10,000 head, it has not lost any of its original grandeur. Some 20 odd years before the main house was built, a number of stone & basalt outbuildings were constructed, including a dairy, stables, Cobb & Co mill, chapel, schoolhouse, men’s accommodation & billiard room. All the woodwork throughout the home is cedar, including the impressive ceilings.
Sandy and The Roxy Theatre happily collided. At the time when the local Council were looking for a manager, Sandy arrived with a background that appeared perfect for such a role. Sandy has studied Lithuanian, Spanish, Italian & Russian. At the age of 20 she took off overseas from home in Melbourne, planning for a 12 month stay and lived in Lithuania and Italy for 8 years.
With a Diploma in Arts Management and an advanced certificate in media/cinema studies, she has organised festivals, exhibitions and events in Melbourne, Lithuania and Italy … so why not take on the Roxy, which she has done with remarkable passion.
The Roxy, which first opened as a cinema in 1936, was built by three Greek immigrants in an Australian Art Deco style. It forms the centrepiece of three buildings, and sadly, the architect of this splendid complex remains unknown.
But the Roxy was to experience turbulent times, and it closed in 1958 and lay dormant for over 40 years. In 1999 Bingara Shire Council purchased it and found the interior remarkably well preserved, with two original projectors still in working order.
We can be thankful for the vision of the Council for rescuing this historically significant building, as there are few of their type remaining. Those enterprising Greek immigrants would indeed be tapping their feet in the aisles as they watched a diverse range of cultural offerings.
As Sandy said, it is a great privilege to be involved in continuing the vision that was created so many years ago. Sandy was delighted to tell me that the Roxy Café will soon reopen as a 1930s style Greek café and has been able to source old café furniture of that period. She remembers a time when virtually every country town had such a café, and half of them seemed to be called The Acropolis.
As we ponder on yet another serve of Yamba prawns, not wondering at all how they got to this place some 20 km from the small country village of Delungra, Mark and Sandy comment that between their diverse worlds of art and agriculture, they have indeed met an interesting mix of people. And there are few better places in which to entertain as Gunnee, set in acres of garden with a circular carriage way.
Meanwhile, Mark will get on managing this extensive property and Sandy will keep bringing great productions to rural NSW. And I will go on dreaming about big, fat, juicy Yamba prawns.
Story by David Purvis-Smith.