The Athenium Theatre in Junee is an incredible piece of physical and cultural history that tells the great story of its township – and the people. The Athenium Theatre has important links to the Migrant stories of Australia in the form of the Laurantus Brothers. The Theatre is a good example of early and rural theatres of the 20th Century, and of the design-work of theatre architects, Kaberry and Chard.
For over fifty years before the coming of local television in 1964, cinema would provide not only entertainment but tacit cultural learning in behaviour, design, fashion and current events, with the cinema venue in Junee providing the facility for live entertainment and social events, such as balls and receptions.
From around 1915 to the early 1960s 116 country picture theatres in NSW were at some time operated by 66 Greek immigrants in 57 towns. Thirty-four new picture theatres were built by Greek exhibitors in these towns. The Laurantus brothers fitted this model, by the 1920s Nicholas had bought the Globe (later Plaza) Theatre, Narrandera.
In 1929 Patrick Cummins of Junee, a well-known entrepreneur and philanthropist financed the construction of the Athenium Theatre providing a state of the art facility for Junee. His intent was to build a theatre as a business venture for his son Benjamin who formed a partnership with Nicholas Laurantus.
The theatre opened on the 10th October 1929 to much fanfare. The Laurantus’ had to work hard, but fortunately, after initial poor quality, sound films rapidly improved and even with the Depression, attendances quickly rose.
The Greek overlay in the form of a trellis & vine leaf motif in the auditorium exhibits significance in aesthetic terms in relation to the importance of the Greek contribution to developing cinema operation in NSW.
George Laurantus renewed the licence in 1938, still a manager, but in September 1940, the renewal application was by Robert Tilby Begg as owner. The Laurantus family would have left the town around the end of 1939, thus ending their association with the Athenium Theatre and marking the end of the Athenium as it was known.
With Council receiving a grant to ‘restore’ The Athenium Theatre following its State Heritage Listing in 2004, Architect Workshop One, prepared new concept plans for its upgrade in conjunction with Phillip Leeson preparing the Conservation Management Plan to guide the restoration process. Detailed drawings were prepared with tenders sought from local Building Contractors and in 2010 Nash Brothers (Wagga Wagga) were awarded the contract to restore the theatre, which when completed gave citizens of Junee a revitalised venue for live performances.
With the venue being under utilised Council in 2018 appointed Noel Thomson Architecture to undertake a review of the Conservation Management Plan and prepare a Masterplan with focus on upgrading the theatre experience for performers and patrons and look to providing a sympathetic extension to the building for additional storage and kitchen facilities. Council were then able to seek further grants and in 2018 received funding for the air-conditioning of the auditorium and for the kitchen and storage extension. With the approval being received from NSW Heritage Council for the new extensions, Junee Shire Council commenced construction with works being completed in November 2020.