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David in the cinema
David in the cinema
Back stage

Theatre Royal

Thursday, August 14, 2003
If you want a real cinematic experience — a movie all to yourself with silver service … we've found it!

Castlemaine was a farming district in the 1830s, but the discovery of gold at Specimen Gully changed the make-up of the town and its pastoral landscape when 30,000 hopefuls arrived to dig for their fortunes. It became the thriving marketplace for all of central Victoria's goldfields.

Not enough rich quartz reefs were found, unlike the bounty in Bendigo and Ballarat, and Castlemaine's importance came to a halt.

The centre of the town remains pretty much as it was in the 1860s, when its gold supply was exhausted and most of the population moved on.

It is a charming and relaxed town with a few claims to fame — it was the original home of the Castlemaine XXXX beer-brewing company, still produces a sweet from the early gold days called Castlemaine Rock and has been Australia's hot-rod building centre since 1962. It is also home to a diverse group of artists.

In the 1800s, the Theatre Royal was the entertainment centre for the goldfields and is still there in all its glory in the Market Square. Apart from being a marvellous venue for travelling performers from around the globe, it was used for meetings, receptions, soirees, balls and recitals. It linked the town culturally to the outside world.

It burned down and was immediately rebuilt and between 1930 and 1980 had just one owner. Like most moving picture houses, its popularity declined when television arrived and its owner turned it into a nightclub. It wasn't all that successful, but that certainly saved it from demolition.

John and Donna Walter bought the theatre in 1999 after attending a Save Our Cinema meeting. They had their first date at the theatre, but it was now in bad repair. The windows had no glass and water poured down the inside walls.

The Walters totally upgraded the building, added a coffee shop and improved the bar and introduced a range of live shows and films to suit all ages, as well as reviving old tradition. They have a policy of showing every Australian film released — even if it isn't a box office favourite. They also had the wonderful idea of adding accommodation and opened Backstage B&B.

Artists' dressing rooms have been converted into a three-bedroom residence which sleeps eight. The bathroom has a claw-foot bath and is named after the infamous artiste Lola Montez. Her history of strings of influential lovers and terrifying temper tantrums is another story, and while she was booed off most stages for having no talent, the Victorian goldfield diggers were enamoured of her and threw gold onto the stage when she was performing. An enormous portrait of the lady herself hangs over the bathtub.

Two bedrooms are named after the entrepreneur JC Williamson and director Phillip Noyce and the third is made from a cupboard under the stairs, reminiscent of Harry Potter.

The theatre has loads of atmosphere. Passageways are intimate, doors are hung with heavy drapes and stairs are narrow. You can sit on one of the 1930s seats in the balcony or at a cage table in the auditorium while sipping a glass of wine.

A night or two at Backstage B&B will give you a real theatrical experience. There are big brass beds, fireplaces, heating, luxury linen and walls crammed with memorabilia from 1854 to today. Guests can enjoy the cinema all to themselves and watch any film at any time.


119km north-west of Melbourne


Theatre Royal package, including movie, accommodation and breakfast basket, costs $195 a couple.
Please note prices are valid at time of transmission and to the best of our knowledge are inclusive of GST.

More information

Theatre Royal
30 Hargraves Street
Castlemaine 3450
Ph: (03) 5472 1196

Qantas: 13 13 13

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