Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project – Ed Vormister Part 2 of 3
Interviewer: Jo Oliver
Interview date: 11/03/2019
Jo: So, Ed I understand you were involved with films too. In the area…
Jo: Films t- can you tell us a bit about that?
Ed: How that all started, was ah, when Jones took over the Town Hall. I was there, as a electrician. I did all the wiring and everything for it. An’ I’d… see that was in 1938, 39 I was just com-, more or less come out of me time. I had no money, the apprenticeship in those days was the 1st year was only 7 and sixpence. And I had to be… it’s only 3 years now, but in those days, it was 5 years. And you got half of a journeyman rate. So, when you went from 5th year journeyman, you’d won the lottery, because your, salary doubled. So, this is how I come to be involved in the theatre.
Now I got to know Irish Jones who is the manager of it.
And I said to him. ‘Any chance of getting a job here as an Assistant Operator or something’.
He said. ‘What are you interested.’
I said. ‘Yeah I am.’ I wasn’t much interested in it, but I was interested in the money. I wanted; I wanted more money. I was, because I was, I’d been goin’ with the girl, for couple years then and I thought…
When the theatre opened, He said. ‘You still interested in that job.’
I said. ‘Yeah!’
He said. ‘Well coming in on a Sun… on, on Saturday an’ be a- assistant.’
So, I didn’t know anything about filming or anything like that, so I turned up and filmed it and unbeknown to me at the time… but he was a projectionist on Saturday nights all week they used to run Matinee night every day. So, when it came Saturday night…
That operator from the Civic went to Corrimal. And Morris Jones he did operation, in there, and I was doing the assistant. I suppose it wouldn’t be any more than about 6 times. You know, he was just show’n’ me, what he do’n’ and what was do’n’ and an’ everything, ‘n’ he’d get me to change over one. You know, while we was there.
An’ this Saturday night, he said to me. ‘Righto, your right. You know what to do.’
I said to him. ‘I couldn’t run that!’
He said. ‘Oh. You know, you know, you know it all backwards.’
So, away I went. I used to make a blue, you had, everything had to be done, in clockwork, miss a one you off the sheet. It wasn’t easy to start, because you had… the turntable with music on it, you had to strike the arcs up on the, on 2 machines. One had the Queen on it. And the other one had the, news reel of whatever on it. So, when you dim the lights, the lights down, down. You had to stop that record switch it over onto the machine where the Queen was, hit the sheet with the Queen. Hit the… button to ah, open the curtains, an’ you had to race around and get the other machine on there. If you just miss one little cue, you were off the sheet.
An’ after I, been doing this for about… I s’pose a couple years, I s’pose I… An’ I use to be off the sheet when I was trying to start, because I’d miss out on one of these things, curtain didn’t open properly, I was… an’ I would go off. And it got a… word around, the town. Oh! Destroyed oh they, they break down every time you go there. You see, so, Morris Jones didn’t like that naturally.
So, he said to me. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I don’t like to say this, but I like you to go, out to do Balgownie.’ He said. ‘I want the… put the original operator back in again on a Saturday night.’
I stick out there and I went out there. An’ oh it was real junkie stuff in there, I was think’n’ oh. I said. ‘Oh. jeez I don’t like, after dealing with what was at the Savoy. You know with good equipment there, and I had to put up with this.’
So, he said. ‘Look you do what you want to do. We she just… set it up the way you want to we’ll pay for you to get it going.’
So, eventual he talked me into it. An’ after I thought about it. I thought. ‘Oh, why not, it wouldn’t matter if I went off the sheet out there.’ ?unclear? I thought. ‘Oh yeah! It will suit me perfect. So, I took it up.
That’s how I became the operator out there. An’ after I’d been running it about 6 months I suppose, I looked at those machines, and I said. ‘Jeez, you know, I think I could make one of these things.’ I knew that I had make… get some castings. You know, to get it started and I got mixed up with a fellow that worked at ah… at the foundry.
He said. ‘Come on and I’ll show you how to make it.’ So, I got… that’s how I interested in it. I could start casting stuff from there.
What I used to do is go down to Dwyers valve grinds and rebores an’ all that sort of thing. The cars in those days they used to get a valve grinder to decoke at 10,000 miles, a rebore 30,000 they had 44-gallon drums of old pistons, that they’ve taken out of these cars when they rebore them. An’ so, I went down there an’ I got a bucket full of them. An’, an’ started a, foundry up in the back yard there. An’ I use to do a lot of castings up there. With these old pistons. And that’s how I started it on.
An’ from then on, every Saturday night when I was out there. I use to measure up… put the callipers on everything and measure up… What I’d learnt then. I could make that during the week. So, every week I, I made a little a little bit more. So, it got to the stage where I was really wrapped in it. I got really interested in it an’ I’d work on it every night till 11 o’clock. Happened, I, I how the wife put up with it I don’t know, but she did. An’ Saturdays and Sundays I use to start about, half past 9 or something like that in the morning. I’d work there 11 o’clock. So, I put a lot of hours, thousands of hours in it, and it took me 14 months, before I got to this position, where you saw it there.
When I had it finished, I had to make a, an amplifier for it. Which I did. I made the amplifier for it. An’ ah, because when I tried on my machine it didn’t work, I took it out to Balgownie and tried it on there. It didn’t work out there, so well it’s in the amplifier, got’a find out how to get the thing off the film on to this. Mixed up, I got so many people that sort of had knowledge of it, I got 2WL in the finished, and they gave me a circuit for working the photocell to get it off the film. So, from then on, I made up my own lenses of old cameras or anything like that, to get the sound off the film.
Pretty poor sound but it was a sound you know. An’ people didn’t care about that so long as they come an’ see pictures for nothin’ they could, come in an’ see how I use to run it in the garage.
Any how I reached a point where I thought. ‘Look I can’t get people coming out and watch this.’ Because I had Deanna Durbin on it as a matter of… one night, and she sounded terr- absolutely terrible [chuckle]. ‘Oh dear!’ I said. I said to the wife. ‘Look I’ve gotta do something about this sound, if I’m going to get people to watch it.’
On these projectors, there’s so many people… pictures in those days it was all pictures, and every… thousands of cinemas… Film companies have an inspector used to come down, ’bout every 3 months. They go and check your machine out, they’d say. ‘That sprockets gotta be replaced.’ Very strict, very strict, and I got to know the inspectors come round there and, I was telling them about… I didn’t say I’d made one or anything.
I said, ‘Where do they get this thing from?’
‘Oh, Is- Isdales makes them.’
‘Oh, do they?’
Oh so, I was… I was right then, so I took the measurements for the; from light source to the film, from the film to the photocell and I had all those written down. And I went up to Ilesdales and asked them, could I ma- could they make up a sound lens for me.
They said. ‘Yeah, you’ll have to send me all the measurements.’ And I pulled them out of me pocket, went ‘there’s the measurements.’
‘Oh, that’ll be right.’ So, they wanted 10 pound to make one of those up. They made it up eventually. And Oh! Jeez it was perfect; the sound was as good as the theatre. And of course, from then on, I started running pictures then… that was in 1944 to ‘46 I ran every S-, every Sunday night. I used to bring the film home from the theatre every ah, Saturday night and I use to run the film the main film of what I wanted to hear on Sunday night. And I get 28 people in there every Sat- every night.
Jo: And, where, where did you do that Ed? Where, where did you run the film.
Ed: Well this shed at the back was projected into the garage. And that’s where they ah… that where… I’d made that into a theatre and I ‘course the projector was in the workshop, was in another room sort of thing it worked exactly as it would, in the, in the theatre. So…
Jo: And did an- did they know you were doing that, at the theatre?
Ed: Oh No! It had to be kept very, very quiet. And in fact, Morris Jones who you know, I was working for there. He didn’t know, he knew I’d built it. And he said to me one day there he said. ‘You know, you got me worried.’
And I said. ‘Why what’s wrong.’
He said. ‘You start damagin’ film out there. You know, they shut us down close us down. You start damagin’ film.’
I said. ‘Oh, look Morris I don’t want that to happen.’ I said. ‘Look you’ve never seen it have you.’
He said. ‘No, I haven’t.
An’ I said. ‘Well can have and have a look at it, and if you think that I’m going to start damaging film on, on it I won’t use it.’
So, he said. ‘Yeah I’d like to do that.’ So, when he came out, he was absolutely amazed, because it was exactly the same. He said. ‘You make all that.’
I said. ‘Every bit of it.’
‘Oh, God!’ He said. ‘What about making another one, an’ openin’ a theatre somewhere.’
You see. An’ I said. ‘Oh, No! Ones enough for me. Oh no more.’ So that’s how came that way. An’ reason for it was…
And Sunday night after I’d finished with the film. On Monday morning 1st thing. I used to start work at half past 7 in the morning use to take a film down at the railway and send it off to Sydney. And that suited him because he didn’t have to worry about that film because I’ve sent it back to Sydney and he was quite happy with that.
But when he ah, saw the machine he couldn’t believe it, but it was even years after I stopped using it. You know, I often look at it, and I said. ‘How the hell did I make that, you know, I could not believe that I’d made that. But ah… I went from 1944 to 1946 when T.V. started to push its nose in. As people started to get T.V. then. An’ they wasn’t coming out in a cold shed, that’s fair enough in the middle of winter to watch my film.
But ah, we had some… a variety of real good nights we had. Oh, gee we had some funny nights there. I was the most popular bloke in Wollongong I can tell you. ‘What about coming to the pictures Saturday an’ Sunday.’ ‘Oh, booked up this week you can’t get in this week. Next week I’ll have a…’ I was never short of people coming in there. Great fun, we had a lot of fun out of it. The wife uses to say. ‘I don’t know every time you have it on there’s someone else there. So, I don’t know. Every time someone else, and not always the same people coming all the time.’ So, 28 sitting down there. And I had one time there I had 34 in there, and they were standing around the wall and everything there was, something I want to see.
Jo: What happened to your project and where is that now?
Ed: T.V. came in Picture Shows started to get closed down everywhere and someone along the lines got to know that I had this machine… I’m going… see closed down in 1946 so round about the 1950’s 60’s it was just sitting up in the shed there not getting used, just sitting there. Similar I had a film there that I use to, use as a demo. You know someone wanted to see something I put this film on as demo. An’ it got round that I had this thing. Sound and film archive in Canberra got on to it, and they wrote a letter asked me to donate it to them, going up to 1970’s. Wrote back, and I said. ‘Look I, I really don’t want to, let, leave it, let it, leave it, at this stage.’ Cause I do use it as a demonstration and so forth. So, I turned it down.
More years went by and it was only 10 years ago I was getting a bit old on it and everything. An’ I was said. ‘What are you going to happen to this, are you going to go in someone’s shed or something’. So, I thought, gee I’ll write back to these people, so I wrote back and, and told ’em, an’ sent a copy of the letter that they sent me. Eventually I got word back from them that they’d like to come and see it. So, someone, all the heads come up, from down there, an’ I had to put a reel on for them, do you know this absolutely staggered. You know to see the thing going like that. So, I handed the whole thing over holeless bowlless over to there. Now they intend, intend to do. When they took it, they took everything. They took the, the amplifier, an’ all the rewinding gear, everything. What I have heard the last I heard of it, that they still gonna set it all up down there, the way I had it here. Photos of it an’ everything like that. An’ they gonna set it up down there. So, naturally I thought I’d get me name put on it. So, I got a plaque put on. An’ I put a screwed this plaque on the front of it ‘Made by E Vormister 1944.’
See because all that gear now, there must be tons an’ tons of a film about. An’ it’s not use any more, films not used any more. It’s all on disc now. But ah, they brought out a safety film, about 19- just after the war, just about… it use to be nitrate film which was highly inflammable. If you put a piece of film in front of it about half a second, it’d catching on fire, you know it was very highly inflammable.
Jo: An you were involved in the protection of Wisemans Park Ed, can you tell us about that?
Ed: The amateur film comp- people here association here, use to [clears throat] have a… Continental baths used to use that to hold their ah, competition. But comp- Continental baths was 50 yards and everything’s on 50 meters. Well they approached council to make it into that. An’ said, ‘oh better to… build a new one. Could they give them a site if they build it there, and I suggested Lang Park.
So, they started up there system to get some money from everywhere, an’ they called a public meeting, they got quite a few thousand dollars, I think that the Steel Works put in $5,000, an’ oh there was money coming in from everywhere an’ it nearly had enough money to even start it.
So, that was on the Tuesday on the Thursday, Squires who was the mayor at the time, they announced that, they was going to build this new swimming pool in McCabe Park. Well stated up an explosion, people objecting about going into McCabe, because people would be walkin’ up and down Crown Street in swimming suits an’ half naked an’ that. Decided that so much against it going into McCabe Park the swimming association had pressure on it. Everybody was against it there.
It was raised at a council meeting and said. ‘What are we going to… where’re going to put it now?’
Parish was an alderman; he just spoke up an’ he says. ‘I’ll have it.’
An’ he says, ‘Where are you going to put it?’
He said, ‘In Wisemans Park’
‘Wisemans Park, oh jeez there’s the answer, right it’s yours.’ And that’s what they decided to do.
So, they drew up plans for it course I didn’t want swimming pool outside me yard. All the, riffraff coming up here, motorbikes an’ [unclear] anyway but not there. So, I started up, got a petition to go around. ‘N’ I went ‘roun’ to all the places. The football club, cricket club an’ they ah… I was gettin’ into it nowhere. Bill Boxell use probably know Bill Boxell, I was very friendly with Bill Boxell. I went to Bill an’ I said to him. ‘What am I going to do with this?’
He said. ‘You got no chance in the world.’ He said. ‘Look they’ve shifted it twice.’ He said. ‘They’ll look billy goats if they go an’ shift it again.’
I said. ‘There’ll be 16 aldermen there you won’t get past them.’ But it got to the stage where they had the plans drawn, an’ I co- wanted to have a look at them. Now without goin’ into final details I managed to get it. Then it was a case of, how we go’n’ to stop it see. An’ then couldn’t do anything with it.
Happen said to me. ‘Have you approached the government about it.’
See and I said. ‘Jeez I’ve never thought of that.’
He said. ‘Connors is the, is the local member, Rex Connors.’
So, I said. ‘Jeez that’s an idea I might have a crack at him.’
And then I said him about wanting to stop this thing going there. So, he said. ‘Righto.’ He said. So, he handed me over to the drawing office. Government draw drawing office so it reach a stage where they were ready to start. I appealed to the head drafts man about it all. An’ he got back to the council, who sent them a letter to say it was only a proposal the plans hadn’t even been drawn. Now that’s the letter they sent me. A copy of the council letter.
So, I packed up set of prints that I- I get a photostat of that letter that the council sent them, to me, I sent a letter in, to say that the surveyors had already gone in, into the park and had pegged it out, ready to put the bulldozer through all the trees. Well, you can imagine what happened then. There’s telegrams in those days, they sent me a telegram to meet me at ah, outside my property here. But there was 3 carloads came down.
Be all the, big timers from up… head draftsman an’, oh God, an’ his offsider or something. The next car I was. The… Minister for Lands and everything he was there. Carload there, an’ the third carload was the surveyors. So, there was 3 carloads, an’ of course we went over to the Park and produced all thing there, an’ ah, he looked down there. An’ he said. ‘What’s down there?’
And I said ‘Oh, that, that’s the bowling club.’
He said. ‘What’s that doing down there?’
I said. ‘Well they built that in…’
He said. ‘When?’
I said. ‘1946.’
He said. ‘Well that’s something else we’ll have to take up with council, that shouldn’t be there.’ They just, after that, said there was no way they ganna put a pool, pool in here. ‘It’s illegal,’ He said. ‘It’s illegal, they can’t do that.’ It was gazetted as a park, right. Made it altogether different.
And um, when I went back to ah, work an’ I was tellin’ them all about it, down there at the lunch there. An’ one bloke said; says to me, he said. ‘Jeez I wish we could get a swimming pool wherever.’
I said. ‘Where are you from?’
He said. ‘Oh, I’m from Dapto.’
An’ I said. ‘There’s a point.’ I said. ‘Have you got a someone in a, in a
club or ah, apex club or rotary club.’
‘Oh,’ he said, ‘bloke in stores is a president.’
I said. ‘Well get them to put a letter into Council straightaway, don’t hesitate, getting it in there. They’ve got the money they’ve got the plans, but they haven’t got a site, you’ll get it.’ And that’s where it went, it went there.
Jo: Well it’s all been really interesting, Ed. It’s been fantastic hearing your memories. I think you’ve done really well. Thank you, thank you very much.