Betty Brown and Betti Punnett with Roxy seats saved from oblivion.

Visitors to Cootamundra’s Heritage Centre coffee lounge will be able to sit and have a cuppa in historic seats rescued from the town’s garbage tip and restored to original condition thanks to the patient work of two volunteers at the Centre, Betti Punnett and Betty Brown.

The two seats are from the Roxy Theatre, a beautiful art deco building in Parker Street that was an important part of Cootamundra life for more than half a century, but which was sadly demolished 30 years ago come this October.

When Cootamundra residents Doug and Jenny Hulford saw the seats at the tip many years ago they recognised that they came from the theatre and brought them home but the day came when they didn’t want them in the shed anymore and they rang Betti Punnett to ask if the Heritage Centre might like to have them.

Betti and another Heritage Centre volunteer, Betty Brown, went around to have a look, and in Betty’s words they said “Yay, thank you very much, we’ll have them”.

The pair got quotes for the restoration of the upholstery, and accepted a quote for $715.30 from Cootamundra’s Federation Interiors.

]Betty and her husband Ian repainted the metal frames, polished the wooden arms and fitted timber boards for the chairs to be anchored on, and the finished product was launched at the Centre’s recent 21st birthday morning tea.

Although Betty Brown has many fond memories of going to the theatre as a child and teenager, Betti Punnett rarely went because she played tennis on Saturdays. Betty remembers clearly as a child being given sixpence threepence (pronounced “throopence”) for admission and threepence to spend.

“We didn’t go often, as there wasn’t that much money around, but I remember exactly what it was like,” Betty said. “Those seats, which were covered in a hard-wearing grey fabric, were in the downstairs stalls.

The seats in the more expensive upstairs circle were covered in red velvet.

“Although the back of the building outside was only corrugated iron, the main part of the theatre inside was beautiful art deco. “There was a wide curved stairwell going upstairs to the usherette to put you in your seat, with a landing half way up for the toilets.

“It was a crying shame it got demolished.

The councillors of the time have a lot to answer for, agreeing to the demolition of the Roxy and demolishing our beautiful Town Hall.”

The Roxy was opened in February 1936 and demolished 56 years later, on Friday 2 October, 1992. The President of the NSW National Trust was reported as saying that “the demolition of the theatre was just another case of ‘disaster’ for conservation in the State”.

When the Minister for Planning was asked to place an emergency protective order on the site, administrators in his department stated “it was ‘uneconomical’ to save the Roxy Theatre”.

He was also told “that there were a number of Art Deco style theatres like the Roxy Theatre still in existence” thus the Roxy, “one of a few buildings which still maintained its Art Deco style features, both with its façade and internal furnishings” was reduced to rubble to make room for a car park!

Tom Gosling