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Byron Shire
March 4, 2021

Farewell Norma Keir, Brunswick Pictures lady

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Norma Keir working in the garden at her property in Fingal Street Brunswick Heads.
Norma Keir working in the garden at her property in Fingal Street Brunswick Heads.

Longtime business owner and resident of Brunswick Heads, Norma Grace Keir, passed away on November 25 last year. Here is part of an obituary submitted to The Echo by her daughter Gaye.

In 1973, Norma found herself with an empty nest and the need for a new direction in her life. The all-consuming property development on the Gold Coast had forced Norma out of Surfers Paradise where she’d lived for most of the previous 25 years.

While deciding what to do next, Norma’s husband Graham made a suggestion that resulted in giving Norma what she would later describe as ‘the best years of my life’.

Graham, a life-long picture theatre man, had obtained the management rights of the cinemas in Brunswick Heads, Mullumbimby and Byron Bay, and Graham asked Norma to manage the Brunswick cinema while he handled the negotiations with the film exchanges in Brisbane.

So Norma arrived in Brunswick Heads in December 1973, looking for a place to live with her two small dogs.

Once Norma settled in, she was struck by the similarity between Brunswick Heads and Surfers Paradise as it had been in the pre-development days – a seaside haven with friendly people and a relaxed lifestyle. Norma also recognised the potential to build the cinema into a thriving business as it was the only regular entertainment in the town.

Norma and Graham renamed the theatre the Brunswick Pictures and Norma set about recruiting local people to help with the work.

Boundless energy

Norma combined her organisational and PR skills with determination and boundless energy to make it all happen.

She managed the staff, kept the cinema spruced, ran the candy bar, and was regularly seen around the district updating poster boards. She was always there come show time, welcoming people and making sure everything ran smoothly.

In 1976 Graham and Norma took up an option to buy the property in Fingal Street from Walter and Rose McDonald, the previous cinema operators. The property included not only the cinema but also the adjacent house, which became Norma’s home after three years at Tree Tops Caravan Park.

Significant role

Norma split her time between the cinema and her home next door, and it was a regular sight to see Norma in her garden, mowing, watering, planting, weeding, or hand-clipping the edges (much to the amazement of passers-by in Fingal Street).

The Brunswick Pictures played a significant role in the lives of the local community during the 1970s and early 1980s, particularly holiday-makers who regularly flocked to the seaside fishing village for its camping, swimming, fishing and relaxed lifestyle.

People came from all around the district to have a night at the movies, including then deputy prime minister Doug Anthony, who regularly spent his Christmas holidays in his northern rivers home.

A number of factors conspired to bring the Brunswick Pictures to an end. Graham’s health deteriorated, the major cinema chains invariably got preference for first-release films, and the advent of the video player made it more and more difficult to keep the Brunswick Pictures viable.

In 1985 the cinema closed, with Graham dying two years later. Norma, ever resilient and resourceful, rented out the building for various uses over the next 25 years, but never as a cinema. The requests for her to start showing pictures again never stopped.

Eventually, Norma reluctantly moved to southeast Queensland in mid-2012 to be closer to support services and her children.

Norma died peacefully in Wesley Hospital in Brisbane on November 25, 2013, and in accordance with her wishes was privately cremated.

Norma is survived by her three children, Jeanice, Gaye and John, and four grandchildren.

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