Arts and Culture

5 of the Best Small-Town Independent Cinemas in Australia

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With decades of history and a unique, old-timey atmosphere, independent cinemas take you back in time for an alternative movie-going experience. Whether you want to rewatch your favourite old classic, try something new with a foreign indie film or even enjoy a recent blockbuster, programmes at these theatres are typically diverse in genre, offering something for everyone.

Over the years, these cinemas have become important community hubs, and on top of the movie programme, there is usually a calendar full of special events to support the town’s cultural scene, making it a fantastic opportunity for you to find small artists you might be missing out on.

So grab a bag of popcorn and discover our pick of the top five small-town independent cinemas in Australia

The 5 Best Small-Town Independent Cinemas in Australia

  1. Avoca Beach Cinema, NSW
  2. Luna Palace Cinemas, WA
  3. Swanpool Cinema, VIC
  4. Cameo Cinemas, VIC
  5. The Paragon Theatre, TAS

1. Avoca Beach Cinema, Avoca NSW

Address: 69 Avoca Drive Avoca Beach, NSW, 2251
Pricing: $16 for adults, $12 for seniors and $11 for children
Instagram: @avocabeachtheatre

This history of the Avoca Beach Theatre started in 1948 when brothers Mervyn and Norman Hunter decided to create a homemade screen and invite guests to bring their cushions and enjoy an outdoors movie session. Soon after, the improvised open-air cinema turned into a 500-seat venue, and the theatre was born.

Today, the single-screen, family-run cinema seats 300 people, and it is one of the most picturesque theatres you’ll ever visit. Open every day, it screens both Australian and international productions and hosts regular live events with musicians from around the world.

The Avoca Beach Cinema is licensed to sell alcohol, so whether you want to sip on a delicious drink before or during your movie, make sure to visit the Cafe & Wine Bar and choose between one of the many craft beers and premium wines available.

What to Do Near Avoca Beach, New South Wales

  • Head in the water at Avoca Beach. If you’re feeling adventurous, take on the waves at this popular surfing destination or if you just want to relax, bring some snacks for a picnic by the ocean. Either way, the beach is only 5 minutes away by car, so there is truly no reason not to go!
  • Glide through the calm waters of Avoca Lake. Nestled between Avoca Beach and North Avoca, the lake is perfect for kayaking, pedal boating, canoeing or even just for a refreshing dip, especially if you’re with little ones. You can hire water sports equipment at Aquafun and finish the day with a well-deserved barbecue.
  • Explore Terrigal. Only a 10-minute drive from Avoca Beach, this coastal town is worth visiting, not only for its idyllic beaches but also for its trendy cafe and dining culture. Get a nutritious vegetarian meal at Bamboo Buddha Cafe or opt for the classic fish and chips at Terrigal Beach Fish & Chip Co. Are you travelling with your partner? The Cowrie is the perfect spot for a fine dining date.

2. Luna Palace Cinemas, Leederville WA

Address: Luna Leederville, 155 Oxford St, Leederville WA 6007
Pricing: $21 for adults, and $15 for seniors and children
Instagram: @lunapalacecinemas

Open in 1927 and originally called the New Oxford Theatre, Luna Palace is part of the leading independent cinema chain in Perth and its eclectic programme features a mix of contemporary, arthouse and classic films, spread over eight screens.

Throughout the year, Luna Palace organises special events, from musical screenings and live stream Q&As with directors and actors, to screenings of timeless productions like The Room, A Stitch In Time and Studio 666. The theatre also hosts themed film festivals, including Flickerfest’s International Short Film Festival and the Jewish International Film Festival.

During the summer, the Luna Outdoor Cinema opens, with a wide selection of award-winning films and events, including wine tasting nights. The open-air cinema is fully licensed, so you can enjoy a beer or glass of wine while you snack on a mouth-watering cheese board at the Luna Lounge Bar.

What to Do Near Leederville, Western Australia

  • Relive old video game memories. The Nostalgia Box Museum is only an 8-minute drive away from Leederville. The museum exhibits the evolution of console games from the 1970s all the way to the 2000s — taking you behind the scenes of classics like Space Invaders and Super Mario Bros. And, of course, you’ll get to play all your favourite games and feel like a child again!
  • Get a drink (or two). Leederville has a bustling bar scene, so you can’t leave without visiting one of the many pubs, cocktail lounges, breweries and wine bars. There is truly something for everyone, but if you’re looking for some suggestions, try The Exchange Brewing Co., Chancery Lane or Pearl Diver.
  • Discover Perth’s Aboriginal Heritage. Go Cultural Aboriginal Tours & Experiences organises groups tours in Perth, lasting 1 to 2 hours, where you’ll get the opportunity to experience a traditional welcome and learn about the way of life of the Whadjuk people.

3. Swanpool Cinema, Swanpool VIC

Address: 2386 Midland Highway, Swanpool, Victoria 3673
Pricing: $14 for adults and $8 for children (under 12)
Instagram: @swanpool_cinema

Swanpool Cinema has been open for nearly 30 years and its programme features a wide variety of arthouse films. Although the not-for-profit cinema is stocked with modern audio-visual equipment, there are still old-school projectors that can be used to take you back in time with old classic screenings.

Run entirely by volunteers, the 1950s-style single-screen theatre typically offers double features during Saturday and Sunday nights, and it hosts regular matinees, fundraising events and short film festivals.

For a quick snack, make sure to pop into the candy bar and enjoy their popular homemade cookies and hot chocolate, tasty pastries provided by the High Country Bakery or a sweet scoop of ice cream.

What to Do Near Swanpool, Victoria

  • Go fishing at Lake Nillahcootie. There are boating areas available to the public from 8 am to sunset every day, so you can grab your spinning rod and try your luck at fishing, or just go for an invigorating dip. Take a blanket and some treats as well, for a picnic by the water.
  • Visit the Benalla Botanical Gardens. These gardens are located just 15 minutes away from Swanpool by car. Make sure to walk past the iconic Rose Garden and admire the wide variety of beautiful flowers and, if you’re up for a walk, do the 4.2-kilometre trail to Lake Benalla.  
  • Explore Benalla’s famous street art murals. Created by artists from around the globe; if you time your visit right, you might be able to attend the annual Benalla Street Art Wall to Wall Festival.

4. Cameo Cinemas, Belgrave VIC

Address: 1628 Burwood Highway, Belgrave 3160
Pricing: $22 for adults, $13.50 for seniors and $13 for children (ages 3 to 14)
Instagram: @cameocinemas

The Cameo was built in the early 1920s and, ever since then, it has become an emblematic social hub for the local community and tourists, offering a mix of blockbuster, mainstream, and arthouse productions. 

The 1930s-style theatre seats a total of 309 guests and has eight screens, including Cameo Outdoor Cinema, which is open from December to March. There is a licensed bar at the open-air cinema and if you’re travelling with four-legged friends, you’ll be happy to know that you can bring them with you to the screening.

Throughout the year, the Cameo holds multiple special events, including Retrospectives of old classics, live theatre performances and even BYO baby sessions on Wednesdays.

What to Do Near Belgrave, Victoria

  • Go onboard the famous antique steam train, Puffing Billy. This famous locomotive will take you on a journey through the lush Dandenong Ranges. If you’re travelling with kids, this is a fantastic opportunity to introduce them to the amazing Victorian rainforest, with nature-filled views they will never forget.
  • Get your heart racing among the trees. Treetops Adventurous Belgrave is Victoria’s first-ever tree ropes course. There are 10 courses to choose from and more than 100 aerial obstacles to take on, as well as 6 vertical challenges for all ages – even for kids as little as 3 years old!
  • Discover the town’s flora and fauna at the Baluk William Nature Conservation Reserve. Choose either of the two walking paths, the Orchid Track and the Loop Track, to admire the beauty of the orchids and perhaps even spot some wildlife.

5. The Paragon Theatre, Queenstown TAS

Address: 11 McNamara St, Queenstown Tasmania 7467
Pricing: Available at the door
Instagram: @theparagontheatre

Established in 1933, the Paragon Theatre was a prominent attraction for decades, with many of their screenings constantly reaching full capacity. In 1970, when home video rental started gaining popularity, the theatre ended up having to close doors, but that wouldn’t be the end of its story. In 2003, Dr Alex Stevenson decided to restore the building and reopen the cinema as a luxury 60-seater, which would close once again in 2012. Finally, in 2017, the Paragon Theatre reopened once again to become the Tasmanian gem that it is today.

The theatre screens are dominated by old-school movies, which you can enjoy with a cup of coffee and a slice of homemade cake from the bar. The Paragon Theatre also organises a variety of special events, including comedy shows and music performances, so keep an eye on their calendar.

When planning your visit to the Paragon Theatre, allow time for some exploring. Take a self-guided tour and go behind the scenes of the art-deco theatre, or join a guided tour to learn about its history in even more detail.

What to Do Near Queenstown, Tasmania

  • Get a panoramic view of Queenstown. The Spion Kopf Lookout, located only a 15-minute walk from the theatre, offers some of Queenstown’s most spectacular views. For the best experience, make sure to arrive at sunset (and don’t forget to capture the orange and pink sky with your camera).
  • Walk the Horsetail Falls track. This track is an easy 1-kilometre path to the waterfalls. Keep in mind that these are seasonal falls and best seen when it rains, but the mountain views alone are worth a visit.
  • Cruise along the Gordon Wild River. Located in Strahan, 45 minutes away from Queenstown by car, the river is a popular destination among tourists. There are cruises departing all day long, so make sure to book one and enjoy a buffet lunch while observing the spectacular nature around you.

Watching a good movie is the perfect way to relax during your trip and take a break from all the walking around and exploring. And with so many independent cinemas across Australia, why not take 2 hours of your day to do so? Book your domestic flights with Webjet and enjoy a movie session like no other at any of these picturesque small town theatres!

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