ARTHUR WILLIAM STERRY
ACTOR, MANAGER & FILM DIRECTOR
1883 - 1944
ARTHUR WILLIAM STERRY was born in Collingwood, Victoria, Australia in 1883. Arthur's mother was Elizabeth McFarlane (Watt) from Tasmania. His father was William Sterry. By trade, William was a baker and pastry cook and had a chain of pastry shops in Melbourne. Arthur was the eldest of five children. He had three sisters: Elsie, Ida and Ruby and one brother, Fred.
Arthur was particularly fond of animals,
shown here feeding the "wild" Kookaburras
Unfortunately Arthur's father, William, developed an alergy to flour and had to sell his bakery business. In 1885 the family moved to Albury for a short time and then to Wagga.
William Sterry is listed in the 1901 census for the County of Wagga, District of Wagga Wagga, Sub-District of South Wagga living at Baylis Street. Living with William are 2 males [his sons Arthur and Fred] and 4 females [his wife Elizabeth and daughters Elsie, Ida and Ruby].
In Wagga William opened two shops. One, an emporium on Fitzmaurice Street, sold mainly furniture; the other was a smaller second hand furniture shop over the bridge near Wagga railway station. Arthur, together with his brother and sisters, often helped in the shops and here Arthur developed a life-long love of second hand goods and antiques.
The emporium had four large wooden rollador shutters each about seven foot wide. Next door to the emporium, was Cuskey's Tailor Shop. Cuskey was Polish and didn't speak much English. Arthur's sister Ida married one of the Cuskey sons.
STERRY'S HUGE FURNITURE ARCADE NEAR LAGOON BRIDGE, WAGGA
Every description of New and Second-hand Furniture, Linoleums, Prams, Go-Carts, Stoves, Cooking and Laundry Requisites; all kinds of Tools, Tents, Tarpaulins, Harness, Saddlery, Vehicles, Clothing. Anything and Everything Bought, Sold or Exchanged and for Hire. CASH OR TERMS. [From The Progress of Wagga Wagga and District]
Sterry Furniture Arcade, Wagga, 1914 (operated by William's widow after his death)
Not much is known about Arthur's schooling. His sisters went to school at Gurwood St School, Wagga until 6th class, according to his niece Gwen Eastment nee Locklock.
In 1901, at eighteen years of age, Arthur with his brother Fred left for Melbourne to live with his uncle, James Watt. (The Sterry and Watt families were quite close. James later established a large wheat and sheep station at Rainbow, Victoria called "Golden Grove".) Arthur obtained a position with J.C. Williamson, an American stage and film entrepreneur.
In 1904 Arthur married for first time to Madeline Victoria Higgins Ingram. Arthur was just 21. At the time Arthur Sterry was living at 36 Dover St, Richmond but his usual residence is given as 17 Jervis St, Richmond where he and his brother Fred were probably staying with his uncle, James Watt. Arthur's occupation is shown as clerk. Madeline's present and usual address is shown as 133 Chestnut St, Richmond. Occupation shown as Dresser. Married by Andrew Hardie, Presbyterian Minister, Richmond.
Arthur appears to have his own dramatic company in 1905, where he performed in Lockhart, near his hometown of Wagga. The dramatic company was managed by J C Williamson. He is presumeably then living in Melbourne but the company may have been based in South Australia. A review of this performance in the local newspaper, The Lockhart Leader and Urana Gazette June 1905, is included below.
Lockhart has lately had more than its full share of amusements. It cannot be expected to spend its income in helping to keep up various travelling shows that have recently visited us, and, as a consequence, some of them are bound to be disappointed. The performance of the 1 act drama, “A Parson’s Vow,” by Arthur W Sterry’s Dramatic Company, on 14th June inst., was not witnessed by a full house, though, considering the weather and the state of the roads, the patronage accorded was fair and certainly as great as could be expected. The curtain raiser, “Counsel’s Opinion,” went a lot better than the drama, for in this little Miss Elsie Morrison appeared and captivated her audience. The billed description of her as a “clever child actress” was fitting, for she possesses histrionic ability to a remarkable degree in one of such tender years. With the exception of about three characters impersonated by members of the company in the drama, there was room for a lot of improvement. The acting of Messrs Sterry and Mac…way was exceptionally good, and a second part taken by Mr Sheldrick was well carried out. Perhaps it was the good acting of these that made the contrast the more noticeable, for certainly the acting of the others struck one as being decidedly mediocre.
The company, however, only profess to be amateurs from the friendly “Crow City” and it would be unkind to expect too much. Mr Sterry seems to possess the material for a good company, and we feel sure that, under his able management, better things can be looked for in the future. We have little doubt, should they visit us again that, given better weather conditions, the patronage accorded will be more encouraging ... [With much thanks to Arthur's nephew Chris Madden for digging this one out.]
Arthur appears to have also maintained a business interest in Wagga. He is listed in Sands Directories: Sydney and NSW for 1906, along with his father:
Sterry, A.W., Agent London, Melbourne and New York, Tailoring Co., Wagga Wagga
Sterry, W, General Dealer, Wagga Wagga
Arthur travelled extensively with his stage shows. In the item below, he is listed along with a Miss Olive Bourke, his future wife.
On Tuesday [Nov 1 1907] Messrs Sterry and Nield opened a three night's [dramatic] session at Peak Hill and presented Miss Ollie Bourke, the Irish/Australian actress to a pleased and fairly large audience. [As reported in the Peak Hill "Express" and published in "A History of Peak Hill and District" (1989)
In 1909 his marriage to Madeline Ingram ended. They were divorced in Melbourne in 1909.
About 1910 Arthur moved to Sydney. He appears in the History of Australian Theatre database for Sydney, 1911. At that time he was probably working for Philip Lytton.
Philip Lytton was an actor, dramatist and entrepreneur. Originally Charles Ernest Phillips, Philip Lytton married actor Madge Hope. Philip began his theatrical career about 1900. (AusStage database) He had dramatic art academies in both Sydney and Melbourne and by arrangement with J. C. Williamson, Lytton provided the opportunity to 'audition' new performers by giving them a part in a real production of Lytton's in Sydney. In this way J C Williamson liked to foster local amateur talent.
Philip Lytton ran tent-theatre companies which took drama, comedy and burlesque to country towns throughout NSW from 1907-23.
"The Theatre Magazine", which Lytton helped to founder as its predecessor "The Player", includes a long article written by Philip Lytton on Drama Under Canvas in its December 1, 1915 edition [pp3-5]. Lytton developed the concept of tent theatre for personal medical reasons that required he lead an 'open-air life'. As it was impossible to get a succession of ordinary hall dates for performances in country towns, especially if performances took advantage of the crowds associated with local agricultural shows, theatre under canvas was an obvious solution. Indeed it had been first used by Sara Bernhardt on a tour of America to defeat the combined might of the local theatre managers in that country.
Lytton frequently had three companies operating at one time, employing seventy five to ninety people and the transportation of two hundred tons of stuff. Shows might be concurrently playing in New South Wales, West Australia and New Zealand. The companies usually ran for eight months of the year and followed local country shows as people then came for both the show and the theatre and both benefitted. Lytton personally managed all his companies, travelling thousands of miles to solve problems that arose and running up huge telegram ills.
The tents were oblong-shaped so they appeared something like an ordinary theatre and were constructed in sections that could alow for different size audiences ranging from 750 up to 2000. When at its full capacity, the tent would cover an area equal to that occupied by Wirths' Circus. The tent had a 40ft square stage with a proper proscenium arch, collapsible chairs for the audience and even dressing rooms for the cast. Prices of admission were 4s., 3s., and 2s.
But theatre under canvas could be a risky business because of possible bad weather conditions. At time gales that struck were enough to tear the tent to shreds and replacement tents were stored at different centres, such as Sydney and Wagga in NSW and Rockhampton in Queensland. The life of a tent was only about eight months. One rain storm at Rockhampton put four feet of water in the tent before the evening show had commenced. Lytton at time had big losses, as much as £2000 in six weeks.
The companies usually played towns one after the other that were reasonably close to one another, perhaps playing one town in the local hall the next under canvas. One town might be played for a week under canvas and the next in a hall while the tent was moved and set up for the next. Buit was possible to arrive in a town at two in the afternoon and have the tent set up for a perfomance that evening, with the extra support of extra local labour. Occasionally they did big jumps for ecxample Longreach in Queensland to Narranderra in New South Wales, a distance of over two thousand miles.
Arthur worked for Lytton for several years. Some of the more successul plays performed during this period were "The Silence of Dean Maitland" and "The Waybacks".
Arthur appears as an actor on the program for the 1915 stage production of 'The Waybacks' by Henry Fletcher at The Palace Theatre in Sydney produced by Philip Lytton. (AusStage database) Arthur played the role of a comic yokel, Charles Lyons, in "The Waybacks".
The Theatre Magazine [Nov 1, 1915, pp32-33] provides a detailed review of this performance, including that of Arthur.
'The Philip Lytton Co. staged "The Waybacks" at the Place (Sydney) on October 2. Judging by the houses that were still being drawn at the time of writing (October 25) Mr Lytton appears to have something pretty well as good as a money-maker as the Bailey-Duggan-Grant Co. have in "On Our Selection.". The material in the two plays is the same - a bush family .. but fresh ground is broken ..
'.. As Charlie Lyons, in love with Tilly, Arthur Sterry's gag is "By cripes!" He is boisterously amusing, in a bush way. Mr Sterry, however, has modelled his character on Dave in "On Our Selection." This is clearly evident by his walk and the movements of his arms and hands. So Mr Sterry would be well advised to present Lyons along original lines - that is, in making it a creation instead of a copy.'
Arthur's father died quite young in 1909 aged 55. Arthur was then 26. Elizabeth Watt remarried Donald MacInnes in the same year William died. This caused a rift between Elizabeth and Arthur and Fred in particular, who evidently strongly disapproved.
In 1910 Arthur married for the second time to Olive Bourke, an actress whom he had worked with professionally on stage.
In 1912 Arthur purchased a freehold property in Sydney at Onslow Street (now The Plaza) Rose Bay.
Sadly Olive died in 1915 when she was lost overboard off Bustard Head (near Gladstone in Queensland).
BRISBANE, Tuesday. - When the steamer Bombala arrived in port this morning Captain Hurford reported to the water police that Mrs. Sterry, a saloon passenger from Townsville to Sydney, was missing. Her disappearance was noticed yesterday when the vessel was off Bustard Head. Her husband is said to be a theatrical manager now touring in Western Queensland.
The Inquest held in Brisbane on July 1915 found she had committed suicide. Her body was never recovered.
She had travelled to Townsville with her husband Arthur Sterry on the 'SS Bingera' about a month previously. Arthur apparently was about to start a theatrical tour of western Queensland. Arthur told the inquest that she had attempted suicide previously by throwing herself into the Yarra River in Melbourne and had to be rescued. Arthur had arranged for her to return to Sydney to consult a specialist for 'mental derangement', Dr Knowles, accompanied by a friend Mrs Gladys Green.
Arthur last saw his wife on the day the 'SS Bombala' departed Townsville, June 28. Arthur told the inquest he was then leaving for Cloncurry to tour through Western Queensland. Arthur reported that on that last occasion his wife had commented that a person could easily get through the port hole of her cabin. They had been in Queensland for four weeks. She was 32 years when she died.
Gladys and Olive shared the same stateroom on the Bombala. She had known Olive for about two years, having met her previously at her mother's house at Bondi Sydney. They had both stayed at the same Hotel in Townsville for about a week before embarking. Gladys last saw Olive shortly after midday on July 5th in the Music Room on the ship. She only left her for 25 minutes but when she returned there was no sign of her. Gladys searched for her in their cabin and on the deck but could not find her anywhere. She told the inquest that Mrs Sterry was of very slight build and could easily have gone through the port hole.
When Gladys informed the ship's Captain, William Hurford, he directed a search of the ship and then turned the ship around and went back over its course for 7 miles. He posted two men aloft to scan the water but no sign was found of her. The ship was then about ten miles from shore. He told the inquest that although it would have been impossible for anyone to throw themselves from the deck without being seen, it would indeed be possible for someone to slip quietly thorugh a port hole, the port hole being 14 inches in diameter and about two foot six inches above the settee.
The witnesses called to the inquest were William Hereford, Mariner (the Captain), Gladys Green, a friend; Austin Walsh, 2nd Officer; Alex Paton, 3rd Officer; Mary Dingle, Stewardess; Herbert Workman, Steward; Arthur Sterry, Actor; and John Moller, Police Police. All agreed that there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of Olive Sterry and that when she was last seen by her friend Gladys, she was more cheerful and happier than usual.
1916 - 21
In 1916 Arthur married Mollie Marguerite Madden in the Congregation Church, Balmain. Molly came from a rural family. Her father, James Madden, supposedly made his fortune in the Bendigo (Victoria) goldrush and owned several properties: "North Brundah" (Grenfell), "Clybourne" (Peak Hill, NSW) and "Rosehill" (Trangie, NSW) Mollie and her sisters attended "school" on the property and had a governess. James was a great gambler and each year would spend three weeks or more travelling down to the Melbourne Cup (Victoria), a good deal of the journey on horseback.
Arthur was still working for Phillip Lytton in 1916. Arthur appears in the cast list for a production by Philip Lytton of 'Robbery Under Arms' by Rolfe Boldrewood at the King's Theatre in Melbourne for a six night season commencing Saturday 1 April 1916. Arthur played the character of Warrigan.
In 1917 Arthur's first child, Arthur James Kevin (but always known as Kevin), was born. Arthur and Mollie were then living at Martin Ave, Bondi.
About 1917 Arthur's working life also changed dramatically. Arthur left working for Lytton and Lytton gave Arthur the stage and film rights to a play called "The Man They Could Not Hang" as a farewell present. In 1913 Philip Lytton had bought the rights to the play, written by Frank Devonport. It was based on the life story of John Lee of Babbiecombe in England. [The Theatre Magazine, Sep 1, 1913, p36] Lytton produced a film version of the play but it was not a success and he saw no future commercial value in it.
However, Arthur and his business partner Frederick Haldane took the film on the road and turned it into a great success. The two partners made their fortune. They even took it to New Zealand in 1920 where the film established a record for takings in New Zealand. No copy of this version still exists today.
Arthur and Mollie took the young Kevin with them when they toured "The Man They Could Not Hang" in New Zealand. [The only occasion that Kevin ever ventured overseas.]
Over the next several years Arthur and Fred became identified with it, delivering lectures with it and providing commentary.
Arthur was making his fortune and acquired the property at Martin Avenue, Bondi in 1922. This was actually four separate blocks on the corner of Simpson St and Martin Avenue totalling about half an acre. It extended down the hill some 120 metres. He built two semidetached houses on the blocks. On the purchase details he describes himself as a Film Producer.
Advertisements and reviews for the film appear in country newspapers all over NSW. The one below appeared in the Lismore "Northern Star" on Saturday 5 October 1918 and is typical of the somewhat ebullient reviews they received.
Federal Hall Pictures
The most sensational life's drama ever staged, the life story of John Lee, will be told tonight at the Federal Hall by Arthur Sterry [lately of Lytton's] during the screening of the events of his most remarkable career. Those who attended the Star Court last night to hear the lecture were more than pleased with the evening's entertainment. This picture must not be confused with a picture of similar title shown in the Federal Hall some time ago, it being an entirely different production, which attended with the brilliant lecture was entertaining throughout.
Arthur's son Kevin recollects a little about Haldane, Arthur's partner.
"Haldane? I don't know much of his background. I remember him. He used to come to where my dad was living at "Clyburn" (Martin Ave, Bondi) - and he was there very frequently as a partner. All dressed up. He was a solid guy and over six foot. Wealthy. He looked wealthy. Well dressed. Tie, vest, felt hat - you'd hardly ever see him without the hat the tie and a watch on a bit of a chain. A cane even. But he wasn't a fop. But he gave the impression of being well heeled.
He went to America. I'll tell you a story about him. And he came back to Clyburn. In those days they started off with radio with the cat's whisker. You could just hear it. Most of the radio even in those days - you had to have ear phones - those old fashioned ear phones. He came back to Clyburn and set up this set with a big horn on it - the music came out of this horn shaped speaker. We were so tremendously impressed by that. I'd say about the mid twenties - I'd be ten.
Haldane came over fairly regularly. He got on very well with my mum. He'd bring us kids presents back - when he came back from any of these trips. We had a dining area and a front parlour. Where father retreated with one of his business associates."
During this period, Arthur produced a film version of "The Waybacks" in 1918. No version of this film still exists today although the script survives.
Country towns often did not have halls in those days to show films or plays and they were commonly performed in tents, often in association with large, annual agricultural shows which brought large numbers of people into towns from remote and often isolated country areas. Arthur's son Kevin recollects the touring tent days.
"What were the tents like? They weren't as big as a circus tent. But some of them would hold five hundred people. They'd hire all these chairs. They took all their equipment early in the piece by train. Imagine all the organisation. They had to remember all the props that they needed, all the scenery, all the dresses - it all had to be packed. They took their own stage. You'd ask what sort of a man could be in charge of that. Eventually they found they could do it easier by trucking everything. They'd take two or three trucks. But the roads in those days - some were good for a mile or two out of town - and the rest were dirt roads. They would get themselves bogged. The tents had to be erected - even in wind or rain. They used to get local people to help them out. They used to have a man in the town who could say who was dependable and reliable.
A few of the tents burnt down. The touring companies had rivals. A lot of companies would have a certain area and they reckoned it was theirs. There was room for plenty of others at the Shows too. At Show time there could be any number up to five. There might be a stage show in one; a burlesque show in another; it might be drama in another. But some of them got very niggardly when an extra one came and they weren't in their group. When some stranger came in, sometimes a mysterious fire started and burnt his tent down.
Everyone would come into town to go to the Show. People would go from one thing to another. They had an audience that was already there for the Show. You might go to the Show in the morning and go and see a play in the afternoon."
This recollection by Chris Madden (the son of one of Mollie's brothers, Patrick) of the following stage act is also probably from about this time.
"I remember dad telling us that at one time Arthur had a sideshow called 'The Oyster that Smoked a Pipe'. In the tent there, sitting on a wooden table, was an oyster with a pipe clamped in the shell. On cue a few puffs of smoke would blow out from the pipe. The trick was that there was a hole bored down the oyster stem, through the wood of the table top, then down the leg and under the floor so that someone underneath could blow some cigarette smoke right through. It seems they were never discovered and run out of town!"
Arthur's son Kevin Sterry describes some of the organisation behind these tent theatre productions:
'Transfer of the equipment and players was mostly by trains and later by road transport. The crew usually stayed in local pubs. Arthur had particular organisational ability and was soon group manager, with responsibility for the overall (and extensive) organisation required for a country tour. This was no mean task. Booking dates for each town on the tour had to be arranged; posters sent ahead; accommodation organised; trucks had to be readied and serviced; all tents and properties had to be packed. Once on site, locals were commonly employed to help erect the tents, stage and seating. Final rehearsals had to be organised. Attention to detail was always important, such as ensuring that acoustics were improved by dampening the tents shortly before the performance.'
Arthur remained very close to his brothers and sisters throughout his life, on many occasions helping them out. Kevin recollects one particular family occasion ..
"My dad used to stay at his sisters place -Elsie - at Junee. Elsie's daughter Gwen was particularly close to Arthur. They used to have these plays down there. When dad arrived there, all the posters were going around. He was always doing this and doing that. And she'd help put up posters all over town. And he asked her one day if she'd like to act in a play. And she was so thrilled. She was going to be on the stage! Dad said this part you'll be able to do easily. You don't have to be scared about it.
The night came and she was thinking about all the people watching her. This play was "The Waybacks". Now in the play version - dad later made it into a picture - there was a scene showing where they were with the blacks. So what Gwen was - she was ten at the time - she was supposed to be a black piccaninny. So they covered her all over with black charcoal. She had to sit on a log and say nothing. And she still thought it was marvelous. She still thought he was a marvelous uncle. If it had been me I would have never spoken to him again.
Gwen has her own remembrances of this particular performance of "The Waybacks" and other things.
" 'The Waybacks' was on a tent stage in Junee circa 1916 with actress Rose Rooney. I was coloured black and sat by a fire while comedy presentation continued. Adapted from 'Dingo Flat' by Henry Fletcher. One of Arthur's team was Bobbie Le Brun, who often worked with him although younger born about 1801.
Both were friends of George Sorlie."
[George Sorlie, originally a vaudeville entertainer, bought out Philip Lytton's travelling tent-theatre in 1917 and went on to become a wealthy theatrical entrepreneur.]
"Uncle Arthur had many records of George Sorlie plus a large HMV gramophone at Martin Avenue. You had to lift the top lid to use it and it had steel needles, which could be replaced by rose thorns to preserve the life of records being of softer nature.
Arthur was also very friendly with Alan Wilkie's Shakespearian Group and we sometimes went to Her Majesty's Theatre in Newtown (Sydney) for Shakespeare and 'School for Scandal'. Also to the Tivoli Theatre for comedy. Sometimes when productions were sold out we could pay less and stand at back of hall.
Many productions were on the road travelling all states doing one or two night stands. In 1930 Arthur went to Toowoomba by car with six other actors. They carried their stage props and luggage in the car. Arthur arrived carrying a toaster and spirit lamp as insurance against the time they might not be affluent enough to buy food and might have to cook in their rooms."
Arthur's firstborn, Kevin, with the
"famous" fountain at "Clybourne",
the family home at Martin Ave, Bondi. Arthur loved making things.
1921 - 30
In 1921, following the success of the first version of "The Man They Could Not Hang", Arthur and Haldane decided to make their own production of the film. The film included several members of Arthur's own family, including his son Kevin as the son of John Lee and his sister-in-law, Nell Madden. It's release in Sydney in 1921 carried the sensational announcement:
|"For the first time in Australia! |
A SPEAKING MOTION PICTURE.
At all sessions - Haldane & Sterry.
Brilliant dramatic actor orators tell the story
while the film is being screened.
Each character speaks the part."
Cast included Rose Rooney and Ron Roberts as John Lee. Photography Tasman Higgins. "When presented on Xmas Eve 1921 ... ... it ran for three weeks ... it had many other outstanding features that made it a novel and praiseworthy production (Eric Read, Australian Screen, p.107) Screened Grand Theatre, Sydney 1921; Melba Theatre 1922; New Gaiety Theatre, Melbourne 1923; Pavilion Theatre, Adelaide 1923; Pavilion Theatre, Perth 1922; Princess Theatre, Fremantle 1922.
During this period Arthur, together with Haldane, continued managing road tent shows and occasionally performed himself. Halls gradually became more common and gradually country towns got proper theatres of their own.
They are listed in Sand's Directory for 1924:
Sterry & Haldane, film agents, 194a Pitt St
In 1924, Arthur's second son, Cedric William (Bill) was born.
In 1927, Kevin, then 10 years old, remembers going by train to Maitland during one school holidays to see one of Arthur's tent shows. Kevin stayed there for a week and still remembers several amusing stories from that rather unique holiday.
"Dad had one fellow there that was a drinker. He always wanted to be an actor but he was no good. But he used to be very good at putting up the tents. And then as soon as he knocked off he went down to the pub. Now my dad gave him a part. "
"In these plays they had to close the curtain while they changed the scenery. This fellow used to come out in front of the curtain. He used to come out with a box of beer. And it was sort of an interruption to what they were doing. He would say, "Excuse me! Excuse me! Somebody has left a case of beer near the front door. Does anyone own it? There's fourteen bottles here of very good lager." And then a bit later he would come out again and announce, "Has someone lost this beer? Theres thirteen bottles." In the end there was only about two bottles left and he was staggering about."
"Dad could tap dance a bit. But he pretended he couldnt. So again between the change of scenery. There was a fellow. I think his name was Bobby LeBrun. Now he was a very good dancer. He used to say that he could teach anybody to tap dance. Could somebody come up from the audience and he would show them how to tap dance in fifteen minutes. And this was how the gag was. Because my dad was planted down in the audience. And of course he comes up. Being an actor he could just fool around. He'd put the wrong foot forward. Again further on between acts he was getting the hang of it a bit. But they did it so cleverly that by the times the three acts were over. Here's my dad dancing with this guy and following all his steps."
" After the play they men went to supper. Sometimes the women went too. On this particular night everything was booked out. The only bed available for me was this double bed belonging to one of the ladies in the play. I'm a ten year old. I remember she comes in in this leopard skin frock at my bedtime. I can remember her just saying, "Get into bed." And then she went off back to the party. And I don't remember anything till I saw her dressed the next morning."
Times were good for Arthur and his young family. It was also probably in the '20s that Arthur tried his hand at some rural investment. According to his nephew, Chris Madden, Arthur invested about one hundred pounds in a mob of sheep which were run on Chris' dad's property, 'Avalon' near Lochhart, NSW, for about twelve months. According to Chris when his father first bought the block of land he could not afford to stock it. Chris thinks that Arthur's investment actually returned him a profit of about £5 which wasn't a bad return for a rather risky venture.
1931 - 1940
In 1935 Arthur sold Martin Avenue and purchased a large two-storey house at 71 Penkival Street, Bondi.
This was the time of the "touring talkies". Now partnered with Jack Cameron, Arthur went around NSW country towns in a small furniture van with two projectors and cans of 16mm film. His projectionist was Ray Henry. Jack or Ray would have to drive as Arthur throughout his life refused to drive.
Arthur's son Bill remembers going with his mother Molly, driving their old Dodge, to see a film in 1934.
"Mum and I sometimes went out with the traveling talkies. He was showing talkies from 1934 onwards. We drove behind them. We had the Dodge - the '28 Dodge. Once we were staying at Junee when dad was doing some work for Aunt Elsie - dad liked Aunt Elsie and Gwen. They had the theatre there at Junee. I think I went to the pictures with them when I was staying there. Dad was there for perhaps a couple of weeks. Dad was doing up the house for them. (According to Arthur's niece, Joyce Lowe nee Lovelock, Arthur actually stayed in Junee for six months with his sister Elsie after her husband died from pneumonia in September 1931 and Bill actually went to school for a time in Junee. Arthur wall papered the house and painted 'textured, fresco-like' patterns (using a mixture of paint, 'size' and sawdust which was sprayed on) one metre high along the bottom of the walls. He also rebuilt furniture and brought up new furniture from Sydney. The house was evidently rather colourful and was certainly quite unique.)
I used to help dad get things ready for the interval. He had all these bags filled with peanuts. I used to do all that for him. Thirty or forty bags of these peanuts for perhaps 3d each. We had McRobertsons chocolate. And they were quite nice chocolates actually. They might have been 2/6. They'd be in a tray with a strap. There was one place where I finished selling up all the peanuts and the chocolates. And it was 12 pounds, 6 shillings or something like that. And that was a fair bit of money then."
Mollie Sterry(on extreme left) with her old Dodge. Her son Kevin has his arm on her shoulder and her second son, Bill, is perched on top of the bonnet. The photo was probably taken at the property called 'Avalon' at Lochhart owned by Mollie's brother Patrick. Patrick is on the immediate right of Bill.
Arthur's son Bill pays tribute to his dad's organisational ability:
"Dad used to work out in advance before he left Sydney the towns and how far they were apart; who he had to contact - he had to make a lot of phone calls. Where he could hire the hall from. He had to consider the time the movie had to be returned. He had to have some advertising of movies to be shown in about four weeks time. He had plan his itinerary months ahead - to leave on the chosen date -the first stop was usually Berrima. He used to take the films to Goulburn goal. Mum and I were there once when he showed films there. He was very much cheered and clapped by all the inmates. They gave mum a lovely big bunch of flowers. I don't think we showed "The Man They Could Not Hang".
When Cameron retired, Arthur continued under the name "Regal Touring Talkies". Australian comedies set in the country, such as the "Dad and Dave" films, were popular at this time. The Regal Touring Talkies and all their equipment were finally sold to his nephew and protege, Keith Sterry, who set up a permanent base in Dalgetty, NSW, and the Regal Talkies toured no more.
Nancy Huggett, recently researching the 'touring talkies' in the Cobargo area of NSW, came across a leaflet probably dating from 1938 advertising a Regal Touring Talkies screening at Bermagui NSW. The leaflet was part of the collection of May Blacka, a long time resident of Cobargo. The name of the director of the company is listed as Fred H Sterry, Arthur's brother. It was not previously known that Arthur's brother Fred was involved with the Regal Touring Talkies company. Fred Sterry may have written the promotional review. View reverse side of leaflet here. Many thanks to Nancy for sending.
It was not unusual for Arthur's country relatives to visit Penkival Street Bondi. Arthur was an hospitable host and was a popular uncle with his nephews and nieces. His nephew Chris Madden recalls such a visit:
"I remember in April 1939 Dad and I and two sisters Delma and Marie went to Sydney on the overnight train. Dad could get a concession ticket to go to the Anzac Day march. (Patrick saw overseas service during the First World War and was a member of the 36th Artillary Brigade in the Austalian Imperial Forces.) Aunt Mollie picked us up about 7 o'clock in the morning at Central Railway Station, Sydney and drove us to Elizabeth Bay to see the Reynolds (Patrick's sister, Nell Madden, married Jack Reynolds). We had our first sight of the sea in the Harbour. The two girls stayed with the Reynolds and Dad and I continued to 71 Penkival Street. Penkival St was a large two storey house. The Sterrys lived downstairs and in the back rooms. There were about four garages along the back fence.
When Arthur came in that night he gave me an apple to peel. He suggested I should be able to do it in a single strip. While I concentrated on doing as he suggested, I was surprised when getting near the end, the apple suddenly fell into four quarters! Arthur was always playing tricks!
One day Aunt Nell, dad, my sister and I went to meet Aunt Tess (another of Patrick Madden's sisters) at Wynyard Station to go to the Zoo. We waited for about two hours for Tess who didn't turn up. So we went home again. Tess unfortunately had gone to the back entrance of Wynyard Station. The grownups said it was typical of Tess to mess things up! However, we went to the Zoo the next day - minus Tess!
We stayed at Bondi for about a week and drove home in the old square Fiat car - I think a 1929 model. Our father must have bought it while he was in Sydney. We used the car until 1942 when it refused to go. As the War was on we couldn't get Fiat parts so we had to go back to using the horse and sulky."
As youngsters from the bush, Chris Madden and his brothers and sisters must have been rather overawed by their first sight of the city of Sydney and its famous harbour and then to finally visit the home of their favourite city uncle who was also a famous film director! However, Chris Madden did not actually get a chance to see Arthur's most famous film of 'The Man They Could Not Hang' until after Arthur's death - and then it was the later talkie version in which Arthur appeared but did not direct. Chris remembers a few relatives being in it - Jack Reynolds played the policeman. Chris believe the talkie version was once shown on TV.
1940 - 44
Arthur had a small shop in the Piccadilly Arcade, Sydney City. The shop, measuring no more than 6 feet wide and 10 feet deep had a serving counter and sold mainly newspapers, cigarettes and lollies. He also acted as an agent selling 'street photos' of people; a style of photo that was very popular at the time.
But Arthur got himself into a spot of bother; even almost getting himself arrested. He decided to earn a little extra money by offering to read personal fortunes. Under the pseudonym of Chundra Singh, he would tell people's futures based only on their birthday and some personal item such as a handkerchief or a lock of hair. His niece, Joyce Rowley (nee Lovelock) can remember watching him with some considerable fascination sitting at home at his enormous 'roll top' desk and carefully writing out people's fortunes using a nibbed pen and ink. Arthur had a book on horoscopes which he copied out. Fortunes cost 2/6. Although luckily not a hanging offence, this was still quite against the law in Sydney in those days. He was eventually visited by the local constabulary and told to desist immediately or face a little time in gaol himself.
Arthur (and his brother Fred) never lost their love of pawnshops and auctions. They continually browsed around Bondi Junction and City second hand shops looking for a bargain. Many of these shops were owned by Jewish proprietors who had a tradition (which presumeably was not well publicised) that any offer made by the first customer on a Monday morning could not be refused. Both brothers used this knowledge to great advantage.
Arthur loved making things. He particularly liked creating garden ornaments out of concrete. He stencilled patterns on curtains and cushions. His favourite design was the poinsettia. He made velvet carrying bags. Arthur even tried his hand at marketing an early Mini Gold course at Bondi Beach. He built it himself. But it was not a financial success.
In March 1944 Arthur both acted and was Stage Manager in the play 'Tobacco Road' by Erskine Caldwell at the Tivoli Theatre in Adelaide, South Australia. The Cast came from the Independent Theatre but under Whitehall Theatre Company. (AusStage database)
In October, 1944, at the age of 61 and four years before the birth of his first and only grandson (and the author of this little piece), Arthur suffered a heart attack and a short time later died in hospital. He was buried in the Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park at Botany, NSW.
In Loving Memory of a Grandfather I Never Met [Robert Sterry]