A silent movie theatre adds charm to this humble town, writes Catherine Bugeja.
Noosa may have its celebrated beaches and the chic, shiny Hastings Street but 25 minutes inland is a small town, home to two Australian icons so unassuming, you could almost miss them.
Sitting like a pearl of honey alongside the bustling beehive of the Bruce Highway, Pomona welcomes its visitors with a blink-and-you-miss-it sign: "Home of the King of the Mountain and the World's Only Authentic Silent Movie Theatre."
The mountain makes its presence immediately known, crouching imposingly alongside the quaint, modest town like a closed fist, with ancient cracks and crevices lining its weathered skin. The battered rock looks happily retired to a life of Queensland sun, with the occasional visit by blistering winds and unannounced thunderstorms. But on the fourth Sunday of each July, Mount Cooroora takes centre stage, with thousands of visitors descending on the town to watch the extremely fit, or extremely crazy, run to the top of the 438-metre peak.
When the mountain isn't enduring the frenzy of angry sandshoes, it holds its own as a popular mountain walk. It's a hot, hard hike and takes us just under an hour to reach the top, which showcases a spectacular view of the hinterland and surrounding shire. On race day the mountain is conquered, up and back, in less than half an hour. What started as a small-town wager between locals in 1959 became an annual tradition, now boasting five race categories. And yes, the King of the Mountain has its very own – very famous – soundtrack, courtesy of Midnight Oil.
Coincidentally, Pomona's other attraction is famous for the exact same reason. However, far from the beltings of a rock band, its soundtrack is the melodic ebb and flows of an eight-rank theatre organ.
As the only fully operational silent movie house in the world, the Majestic Theatre adorns Factory Street like a shiny keepsake on a dusty shelf.
Built in 1921, the curtains of the Majestic first parted for stage plays, concerts and even boxing matches before it was licensed to show silent films in 1923. The modest Queensland town embraced the big screen, women flocking to see Hollywood's first male sex symbol, Rudolph Valentino, and men scratching their heads wondering what all the fuss was about. In 1931, the first “talkie” made its debut and the theatre evolved to distract audiences from the reality of the Depression and provide a welcome respite for nearby army troops preparing for a world war.
But the Majestic was soon outshone by the bright lights of television and large commercial cinema complexes. The theatre needed a new lease on life and it came in the form of Ron and Mandy West, who honoured its history by restoring it as authentic silent movie house in the late 1980s.
We arrive on a Thursday morning in the middle of summer and are welcomed with sincerity by Ron himself, who will be playing the organ. The movie is The Black Pirate, starring Douglas Fairbanks, originally released in 1926 in Technicolor. Standing in front of the comfortably scattered audience, we are treated to our first story of the morning as Ron explains the history of the theatre as though recounting the life of a treasured friend. Although the theatre became a community-owned enterprise in 2006, it is drenched with the feeling of being lovingly family run for so much of its life.
Before he takes to the organ, we're encouraged to participate – in the 1920s the movies were silent but the audiences were not.
Today the crowd is much more subdued but there is the odd chuckle and a couple of good Aussie sledges at the villain, a murderous pirate who has killed our hero's father, forcing the hero to go incognito as the mysterious “Black Pirate”, who joins the pirate ranks to bring them to justice. And, of course, there is a hearty cheer when our hero gets his gal. As the movie takes its twists and turns – including a bungled escape attempt sending our lead for a walk along the plank – the organ dances along with the action. Ron's fluttering fingers and creative composition represents such a unique craft it's a shame you've forgotten about him the minute the movie starts. It's only as he hits the final note you are struck with a heartfelt appreciation and applaud him as naturally as you would a piano concerto.
We step out into the bright Queensland sun, feeling like we've just woken up. It takes a while to adjust to a full-colour world and shake the irresistible urge to hum along with each step.
Pomona is a 25-minute drive west of Noosa Heads on the Sunshine Coast in south-east Queensland and 166 kilometres north of Brisbane.
WHERE TO STAY
If you're not one for the budget-pub basics on offer, bed and breakfast accommodation is your best bet in Pomona. Inn the Foothills offers good-value accommodation on a picturesque property. Prices start from $120 a night. See innthefoothills.com/hill/.
The Majestic Theatre runs a Fork 'n' Film meal and movie night every Thursday for $25. For full program details, see www.themajestictheatre.com.au.