The Coroneo Family in Scone
Featured Image: The Civic Theatre in the early days
I’m motivated to post this blog as I watch with rapt fascination the progress of the restoration of our Scone icon; the Civic Theatre. This is no small task! Good luck Andrew McPhee! The Art Deco building captures more than any other the focal pinnacle of our social culture and built heritage. It draws most favourable comment from visitors and attracts more photographs than anything else with the possible exception of the Mare & Foal Statue. I duly acknowledge the pioneer Coroneo family as my fellow migrants and the contribution they have made to our local community and also nationally. We have much for which we should thank them and be forever grateful. I have only met two family members; a charming young advocate from Armidale named Anastasia who is a close friend of my similarly Scone-bred lawyer daughter Kirsty in Darwin! On a different occasion I was present at a meeting with Mrs Hellene Coroneo when on the UHSC.
Professor Minas Coroneo and the Bionic Eye
Epsilon Magazine: Vol 1: Issue 14: October 2006: p.29.
The Coroneo’s were the first of the shop-keepers of Mediterranean or Central European origin. They made a mighty impact on the town when they built their highly decorated shop and refreshment room in Kelly Street. It was a new type of shop selling a new type of goods. Who had ever been served with chipped potatoes accompanying their steak before? Where else could one buy very well-cooked fried fish in batter? Or ice-cream sodas, or Sundaes?”
Growing up in Scone as the son of the cinema proprietors could not have been all that bad – indeed as it turns out I believe that I have had, thus far, a very fortunate life. From an early age until I left Scone at 16, I saw a lot of movies. This, before videos and some before television – most before the age of the gratuitous violence and debauchery that Hollywood now relies on to sell its product (however in the movie this morning, Peter Finch was handy with his fists and had an eye for the girls). I cannot be certain quite what this did to my psyche or to those of my brother and sister. However it is perhaps no accident that we all finished up in eye care – in optometry and ophthalmology. I had developed a fascination with light and lenses and ultimately sight and the eye – an organ considered to be at the pinnacle of evolution of sense organs.
Andrew Coroneo, whose family sold the Civic Theatre to my parents recounts a childhood encounter with Scone’s Pittman gang from which, on one occasion, he escaped by climbing a pepper tree. A gang member, Skinny Crackett said “Let’s get Andy, he’s a dago”. Bruce Pittman, gang leader replied “He’s not a dago, his father owns the picture show”. At least the Pittmans had some sense of priorities.
Another event that may not be well known is that on the 22 May 1935 one of the first and largest meetings of an organisation known as AHEPA (Australian Hellenic Educational Progressive Association) occurred in Scone. The originators of AHEPA in Australia were Greek shopkeepers in NSW country towns. Its primary objective was “to revive and marshal into active service for Australia the noblest attributes of Hellenism”. There is a photo taken at this meeting and I believe my father was there and took some notice of this aim.
Heritage Statement of Significance
The Scone Civic Theatre is of State significance as the last remaining intact theatre designed by prominent theatre architects, Crick and Furse in New South Wales. Designed in 1937 and completed in 1938, the Scone Civic Theatre is a representative example of the work of the nationally important cinema architects, Crick and Furse. The Kelly Street façade is an exceptional example of the interwar Functionalist style of architecture in New South Wales, and forms an important part of the streetscape.
The Functionalist interiors (overlaid in Art Deco detail) – the auditorium and foyers remain substantially unaltered, since the theatre has never been remodelled. The intact interiors means there is a high level of research and technical significance. It is one of the few cinemas remaining in New South Wales to retain its dress circle, and has not been converted into multiple cinemas. The interiors provide an important understanding of style and detailing of picture theatre architecture in the 1930s.
The two projectors are original and date from c.1938. These are of immense technical interest, may warrant further research. The original air-conditioning plant remains largely intact and has technical interest as an early example of full air-conditioning dating from 1938.
The Scone Civic Theatre was built for local public use by the local community therefore has a high level of social significance. Scone Theatres Pty Ltd, a company formed by residents of the district who financed the venture. The Civic Theatre has been a central part of the social and cultural life of the community in Scone and surrounding districts for over 60 years. One of the highlights of the cinema’s history is that the Scone Civic Theatre hosted the Australian premiere of the Australian film “The Shiralee’ in 1957.
The much anticipated and highly valued Scone Civic Theatre will be restored to its former glory in coming years as a major refurbishment is set to begin towards the end of the year or early 2016.
Civic Restoration Starts
Many of the traditional elements of the original theatre will be restored and polished keeping with its heritage value throughout the refurbishment.
The 1938 state heritage listed masterpiece will be returned to its beautiful architectural design and authenticity with a local builder working to restore the building to as close to the original as possible.
Being a building that is steeped in the history of the town and originally built by the community with business house owners, landholders and community members sourcing the funds, approximately 14,000 pounds, to establish the film projection centre, the theatre is a gem stone that is precious to the community and the owners.
It is interesting to note the Gala Opening of the Civic Theatre was on July 27, 1938 and was a charity function in support of the Scott Memorial Hospital.
The theatre is now owned by Minas Coroneo and his family.
The theatre has been in his family’s interests since 1944 when Alex Coroneo was the exhibitor at the Civic Theatre and the lease was taken over by brothers Theo Mena Coroneo and Sam Coroneo.
The Coroneo family view the theatre as a part of Scone’s heritage and an iconic building that they would like the community to benefit from.
The art deco theatre remains basically unaltered and the plan is to restore it to its original appearance.
The upper floor of the cinema will still have a seating capacity of 283, as well as upgrading the downstairs area which is planned to be used as a multi-functional community space for conferences, functions, live music events and more.
The aim is to bring the cinema back to exactly how it was, but with modern conveniences on the inside.
Keep your eye out for further progress updates and a precious chance to take part in the refurbishment in future editions of The Scone Advocate.
Professor Coroneo Awarded an AO
FORMER Scone resident Professor Minas Coroneo has been appointed a Member in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AO).
Professor Coroneo was recognised for his distinguished service to ophthalmology, research and development of innovative surgical technologies and devices, and commitment to eye health in regional and indigenous communities.
“It’s a great honour to be recognised in Australia for the work that you’ve done,” he told the Scone Advocate.
“My only regret is that my parents are not here.
“I think I’ve tried to do my best with the resources available to me and it’s really nice that someone noticed.
“My wife of 38 years, Hellene, has been very supportive and she was just as thrilled with the award as I am.”
The celebrated eye specialist was trained by and later succeeded Professor Fred Hollows at Prince of Wales and Sydney Children’s Hospitals and the University of New South Wales.
He described being mentored by Professor Hollows as a “toughening-up” process.
“I worked with him when he was much less well-known,” Professor Coroneo said.
“He was an inspiration; Fred would really challenge you, he’d often say to me ‘son, tell me something I don’t already know.’
“Eventually I did, recognising patterns of eye disease caused by sunlight; he actually termed this the “Coroneo effect”.
“With Fred, patient care came first and you really needed to be on your toes to provide the best care.”
Professor Coroneo developed a number of surgical procedures that are now used internationally and was involved in bionic eye research.
He and his wife also compiled a cookbook that describes the role of diet in eye health, particularly the Mediterranean diet.
It’s an area recognised to be of great importance in common blinding diseases such as macular degeneration.
Professor Coroneo, who is of Greek heritage, spent his formative years in Scone during the 1950s and 60s before leaving town after completing his school certificate.
His family owned the Niagara cafes in both Scone and Muswellbrook prior to purchasing the Civic Theatre in Scone.
He said it was the perfect place to grow up, and may have influenced his interest in optics.
“I went to Scone District Rural School [and later Scone High School] and did pretty well in the school certificate,” he said.
“I had fabulous teachers and role models; Scone was a place where you could work hard and get ahead.
“My interest in optics probably started with learning to be a projectionist at the Civic.”
Professor Coroneo’s recognition coincides with the awarding of a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) to Dr John Paradice on Australia Day.
Dr Paradice joined former colleagues Dr Toby Barton and Dr David Warden in winning the award.