Collingwood’s Former Cinema Threatened By Demolition

James Gaunt
Friday 4 June 2021

Residents rushed to protect Collingwood’s former Austral Theatre from demolition as Yarra City Council considered plans for an 11 story apartment building.

Collingwood Historical Society President Karen Cummings wrote to council objecting the proposed apartments on Johnston Street, and said the demolition should not be supported.

“The Austral Theatre meets heritage criteria not only as one of Yarra’s few remaining picture theatres but also as the first and only picture theatre in the suburb of Collingwood,” Ms Cummings said.

The theatre opened as a cinema in 1920 before closing in 1964, but its interior decorations have remained mostly intact.

Currently the building is used as a carpet warehouse, and under plans from developer DPG Corp the building will be partially demolished, leaving only the buildings original facade.

News of the proposed demolition caused an outcry from local residents who distributed 400 leaflets in letterboxes and took to social media, encouraging others to lodge their objections.

Yarra City Council said they had received 84 objections by this week, but expected there would be more which weren’t yet recorded.

Queens Parade Heritage Planning and Traders Group chair Anne Horrigan-Dixon OAM said the developments proposed height would impact Singapore Cottage, a nearby building from Victoria’s gold rush era on the Victorian Heritage Register.

“This is very important to object as the development will set the precedent for this precinct of Johnston Street and Sackville Street…we don’t want 11 storeys in Johnston Street”, Ms Horrigan-Dixon said.

Yarra City Council councillor Stephen Jolly said he was moved by the communities objections, and that while council needed to do more for housing, these developments were not the way forward.

“More housing will fix up the homelessness and the housing crisis in Yarra, but these high rise apartments, they’re not built for people. They’re built for investors”, Cr Jolly said.

“I’m in favor of more housing for people who need it, but these developers try to make out the residents who are opposing them are standing in the face of getting homes for poor people, and that’s just total dogshit.”

Other apartment developments with Yarra City Council such as the Alphington Paper Mill site have set aside a number of apartments for affordable housing, aimed at low income households.

In her objection, Karen Cummings questioned why no affordable housing had been allocated in plans for the Austral Theatre site, and when contacted developer DPG Corp did not respond prior to publication.

With almost 100 objections registered, the matter will be brought to a future meeting of councils Planning Decisions Committee where residents will have a chance to have their objections further.