A life in movies

Geraldine Coughland and Ian Kelleher at the final night of the season for the Royal Theatre.

By Michael R Williams

Growing up Royal

Geraldine Coughland didn’t know a childhood without movies, as her parents owned the Winton Royal Theatre.

Much of her early life was spent either helping mum and dad with the cinema or watching them herself.

“As far back as I can remember, we were made to do the sweeping, the collection of bottles, and the general housekeeping of the theatre after movie nights,” she said.

“It had its benefits, we could collect and keep any change that we found, or any unopened cans or bottles.

“It was always the first up to get to the theatre to scurry around and find any loose change, had the benefit of keeping it.”

Through the 70s, Winton had a deep movie watching culture.

“We would go to the movies at least twice a week, at least for me, and we would see a double feature,” she said.

“And it was just such a big part our family life, not just making sure the theatre was ready, but also working on movie nights, and being locked into watch the movie.

“So we had a broad exposure to all the current movies and the classics that would resurface, back in those days the theatre would operate three maybe four times a week so the genres were really broad.”

Ms Coughland said it was a major part of the Winton culture as they did not have television until the mid-70s.

“It was a place that everyone came; it was a central hub to meet and connect with friends, families and date nights,” she said.

“It was a very important part of the social fabric of Winton.

“That memory for me is an important part of what we’re doing for the community right now.”

As the Cinema struggled to survive financially from the mid-1980s, it would undergo a number of transitions before becoming mostly unused.

Ms Coughlan, along with a team of other dedicated individuals now fight to bring new life to the venue.

“If we can provide an opportunity for people to experience that, to come experience the theatre and its uniqueness – being outdoors and having quality movies – again it provides that social outing,” she said.

Ms Coughland would leave Winton when she was 18 to study, she would spend much of her young adult life with her partner who worked in the mining industry, have five kids in six years, and spend much of her time travelling and working in many different jobs.

Returning home

As Ms Coughland’s mother aged, she would give over the rights to the Royal Theatre to Ms Coughland’s Uncle.

“The community were always incredibly supportive of my mother,” Ms Coughland said.

Ms Coughland’s Uncle would soon retire and move down the coast, that’s when things began to change.

In 2018, Winton Movies Inc was established driven by the passion of a few Winton locals.

“They thought it was important to keep the theatre open, to keep the experience available,” Ms Coughland said.

“Primarily for our visitors, and if we could get it up and well we could have it for the locals.”

In 2017, Ms Coughland was unfortunately widowed; and her children had grown up.

“So, when this non-for-profit formed (Winton Movies Inc), some of my extended family got involved, they encouraged me, because I was looking for something to sink my teeth into, to come and help with the renovations,” she said.

“I knew how everything operated, I knew I could commit and dedicate time to support this group to deliver, and learn about the organisation’s potential.”

Ms Coughland would return to Winton with new skills learned at her various business ventures and jobs she had.

“I basically ended up going for a week and ended up staying the whole year,” she said.

“What I feel is really important to me, is that I always felt like I belong in the community.

“The community were very happy to and engaged with me – when I first arrived – as if I’d never been away.

“Many new me as the candy bar girl or the ticket sales girl or the usher – with Winton, anyone who goes back to these country towns after being away, it’s really special to feel like you fit in as if you’d never been away.”

Moving forward

Ms Coughland and her team plan to spend time developing on the plans they already have.

“We’d like to develop the museum (a museum had been developed in the shop front of the cinema) and call upon the support of the community to assist us with our displays,” she said.

Going into this year, the team at Winton Movies Inc will be looking to train up volunteers to help with the projections and helping with other parts of the cinema.

“We’re building the supporter base, so there are options which will hopefully, give us a revenue base where we can continue to make improvements to the facility and/ or create new events,” Ms Coughland said.

“We’re really excited to continue to build on what we achieved last year and keen for any community input and there are lots of opportunities to get involved.

“We want to encourage people the community to be a part of the cinema and to be proud of it.”

Winton Movies Inc have started a fundraising campaign called “brickcoin”, where supporters can buy a brick to help improve the quality of safety at the cinema.

The brick will have the supporters name put on it and go to other renovations.

If you’d like to help please visit royaltheatrewinton.com.