According to the Canterbury Council website, the small suburb of Belfield (previously visited here, here and here) “experienced a small increase in population between 1996-2001 due to new dwellings being added”. I’m guessing that population increases are like blog hits to local council, because they’ve given the go-ahead to plenty more dwellings and sacrificed one of Belfield’s most iconic structures in the process.
It may not look like much, but this is Belfield Plaza. It replaced a BP petrol station (extant only through the site’s driveways) but kept the initials. The servo itself replaced a series of houses, and the cycle gives a great insight into the changing needs of society over the last century or so. I’m not entirely sure when the plaza was built, but if I had to guess I’d say mid 80s.
Shopping arcades are a mixed bag for kids. If there’s not a newsagent (for cards and comics), a milk bar (for junk food, video games and ice cream) or even a mixed business (for the best of both worlds), there’ll be tears before bedtime. My grandparents lived in Belfield, so I spent a lot of time here as a kid, and I can honestly say that Belfield Plaza’s offerings didn’t interest me one bit…until the video shop moved in. Time for an anecdote…
This video shop (the suburb’s third!) was an independent one, and for a kid it seemed huge. It was how (along with granny’s membership card) I was able to discover favourites like Aliens, Batman and, memorably, The Terminator (I’m a dude – deal with it). I’d seen T2 on TV and was keen to see the original, so I barreled into the video shop and asked the guy, “Do you have Terminator?”
He stared back, blankly. “Schwarzenegger?” he replied.
It was my turn to stare blankly. What other Terminator was there? “Terminator…” I repeated, suddenly unsure if I’d gotten the title correct.
“Schwarzenegger…?” he asked, experiencing the same dilemma. “Hadoken!” yelled the nearby Super Street Fighter II machine, breaking the awkward silence of the standoff. It seemed to break his trance, too. “Action’s up the back.” I ran towards the back of the shop as he called out “Excellent film, too,” as if going for the hard sell was necessary. Thanks, video shop guy. If you ever read this, know you did some good in this world.
The video shop moved out around 1996 and was replaced with a paint store. Who makes these decisions? As with the rest of Belfield, the plaza continued to decline throughout the 90s and into the 2000s, where it felt like a relic. Belfield Plaza’s one success story was Mancini’s, a wood fire pizza restaurant which moved from the plaza to the adjacent corner of Downes Street, itself a former video shop. Mancini’s now has the ultimate vantage point from which to watch as the plaza which nurtured it through the tough early days is pulled down and replaced by a generic retail/residential combo.
Yes, I realise that once upon a time someone might have felt the same way about the BP as I do about B. P., and that these were considered generic once upon a time. But Belfield Plaza, and in particular that video shop, I’ll never forget. The hours drained playing Street Fighter, the many movies discovered and rehired over and over, the woodfired pizzas on a Saturday evening after a day in the pool…it all happened here, and now it can never happen again.
Looks like Clancy’s finally has some competition…
From Belfield’s worst to Nature’s Best. I wonder if Belfieldians are starting to wish it had just stayed a BP?
By the mid-1930s, the suburb of Campsie already had a cinema. The open-air Campsie Palace was opened in 1910, and over the next 25 years had become the Excelsis, and finally the Odeon. When the Orion (“Theatre of the Stars!”) opened in 1936 it was seen by some as overkill, but today it’s the last man standing, albeit in a different form.
Opening in March 1936, the Orion had close ties to the RMS Orion, an Orient Company ocean liner launched from Brisbane in 1934. A mural depicting the liner sat in the cinema’s lobby for the first phase of its life. The first films screened were Love Me Forever starring Grace Moore, and Lady Tubbs starring Alice Brady. The theatre received extensive renovations in 1949, by which time both actresses had died. Our old friends Greater Union got involved in 1953 and, typically, ran the Orion into the ground by operating on a restricted policy. Movies were only shown on Fridays and Saturdays, and the reduction in profits saw the building close as a cinema in 1959. I’m beginning to think that GU intentionally ruined these suburban cinemas just to ensure that moviegoers would flock to their multiplexes, but surely I’m just being cynical…right?
In 1964, a year after the RMS Orion was destroyed for scrap, the Canterbury Town Hall was demolished, and the Canterbury Council eyed the Orion as a possible replacement. Since the cinema closed, it was being used as a public meeting place and neighbourhood centre, so it made sense, but for one reason or another it never happened. The Council didn’t forget the ‘Theatre of the Stars’ though (oh, unless you count the years of neglect between 1959 and 1984), and in the 80s began restoring the building for use as a function centre. Renamed the Orion Centre, it can be found in pretty good nick today.
Extensive though the renovations may have been, it’s easy to see the building’s cinematic origins.
The art deco style is unavoidable inside.
This mural offers another hint of the Orion’s former life:
There may not be any stars on Orion’s belt these days, but the centre’s sense of style certainly evokes a time when a whole galaxy was constantly viewable from Beamish Street with a projector as a telescope.
Built in 1931, the Belfield Hotel has seen better days. Specifically, open ones. For many years now, this pub has sat closed. Eerily, the front bar still has all the chairs, pool tables and stools set up. Glasses still sit on the bar. It’s like the patrons and Lloyd the bartender just vanished one night when the clock struck twelve.
Around the back of the Belfield is the pub’s former gaming room, ‘Lasseter’s Lounge’, which now serves as Belfield’s watering hole. It’s more like a pokie room that also serves beer. The Canterbury Council is proposing that the building be heritage listed, and I’m presuming the proposal involves sending a copy of The Shining to the powers that be with a note attached reading ‘SEE?’