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Byron Shire
February 4, 2023

Compliance shuts Brunswick Picture House 

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TheBruns Picture House may be forced to close if Byron Shire Council gets its way.
TheBrunswick Picture House may be forced to close if Byron Shire Council gets its way.

Mandy Nolan

change.org petition has kicked off in response to the recent closure of the Brunswick Picture House, which was served with an ‘Order to Cease Operations’ by council staff last week.

The Echo understands it is owing to complaints from a neighbour.

Owners Brett Haylock and Chris Chen are devastated that this historic Brunswick Heads landmark, originally designed and operated for public use back in the 1950s may have to close. They opened in Easter with what they thought was full approval from council under existing rights for a place of entertainment.

This should have meant they did not require a DA, yet council staff insist the owners were advised in October 2015 that there were no continuing approvals (for use as a theatre/cafe etc), ‘as the previous approvals had been abandoned for more than twelve months when the building was occupied as a second-hand store in about 1986.’

Council’s legal services co-ordinaor Ralph James told The Echo an outstanding issue is that ‘currently [the theatre] has a fully operable cafe which has never been approved and the cafe is open outside of the hours when movies are being shown’.

He said, ‘Our aim has always been to encourage the lodgement of a DA. It was not to close the Brunswick Picture House down.’

Yet the Brunswick Picture House purchase was a huge win for Brunwick Heads residents – they have passionately embraced this iconic new venue as a vibrant creative hub.

Haylock told The Echo, ‘The community had resigned themselves to the fact that this was going to be turned into apartments or some commercial development. But I was the schmuck who came along with a romantic dream to restore the building to what it once was.’

Chen and Haylock are not big developers. They are artists with international accolades in the cabaret scene that includes two Laurence Olivier awards for a show that has been seen by over five million people worldwide. It’s not every day that world internationally lauded cabaret acts decide to base themselves in a sleepy coastal village and provide entertainment for the locals.

They operate a few nights a week and lights are out by 10pm.

So why did they chose to renovate the Brunswick Heads Picture House?

Haylock says, ‘We have been working from West End to Broadway (with cabaret show La Soiree) with no base, we had no intention of settling anywhere and I stumbled across this place and instantly had this life changing.’

‘I am still as in love with it now as I was the first day! I pursued it like some crazed man. Over a nine-month period with hundreds of people working around the clock, all unpaid, and mostly artists.

‘They contributed to this epic transformation. It made no financial sense; we are not big business, we are a collective of artists working towards restoring a theatre.

‘These days we are not conditioned to theatres being re-opened, we are conditioned to theatres being closed.’

Haylock is passionate about maintaining the integrity of the site and believes the building should be heritage listed.

‘We see using the building for its existing purpose is part of safeguarding its heritage.’

While the cinema stopped operating 30 years ago, the Picture House dates back to 1952 and sits in a commercial zoning.

It seems ironic that resuming the building’s original public purpose should cause conflict when towns like Byron Bay have so many illegal holiday lets in operation.

The Brunswick Picture House is a 200-seat venue that mainly shows films.

Family films 

On Sundays they screen family films. For free. In fact 50 per cent of their programming is aimed at families.

Twice a month they present a cabaret that rivals anything you’d see on London’s West End.

Brunswick Heads has now has an arts precinct that employs local performers and theatre practitioners, works with community drama groups and circus schools, without one cent of funding.

In a tourist economy where competing towns jostle for ‘uniqueness’, it seems ludicrous to shut down what can only be described as Brunswick Head’s artistic gift horse.

To stay operational The Brunswick Picture House are currently seeking legal advice and the support of the community.

The petition to reopen the picture house can be found at http://chn.ge/2cxkrEz.



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  1. Sadly these guys have gone feet first. As cute as the concept is, still sits in a street full of residents.
    A Street which they regularly block with self promotion, They have failed to provide a single car park, yet Fingal Street , since their arrival has become a nightmare to park in. The council should just rezone the whole Street and be done with it for and on their behalf.

  2. Sadly, my young family and myself left Brunswick Heads and Byron Shire one year ago. We miss Brunswick, but not Byron Shire and the farcical council that runs it (running it into the ground). I lived in Byron for 43 years – the gloss is fading….

  3. Absolute bloody madness from a council that is struggling to grasp one iota of common sense. we have had all sorts of festivals foisted upon us that do disrupt our daily lives and apparently we can’t tolerate a little theatre that shuts by 10.00pm. Wake up and smell the roses BSC, you are a laughing stock.

  4. wholeheartedly agree with this venue continuing to operate with cinema, live cabaret shows and cafe. it is an asset to Brunswick.

  5. I have been waiting years for the Byron council to wake up to themselves but after 30 years they are getting worse not better.
    These little charming sea side towns need to keep their character unlike Byron that not what it used to be can’t be bothered to go there anymore.

  6. Absolutely stunned!! As a long-term Brunswick Heads resident, I was overjoyed to hear that the old picture house was being preserved and kept operational by a crew of artists and performers. What an asset for our small town and one that continues to deliver great entertainment and family fun. I am incredulous that the council want to shut it down by enforcing yet more rigid bureaucratic hurdles the owners have to jump over. As for the complaining neighbour …….bah humbug! What is happening to this place????????

  7. On a recent visit to Byron Bay we went out of our way to visit the Brunswick Picture House. I’d heard about it from friends in Melbourne and wanted to experience the nostalgia myself.

    There would have been no other reason for us to go to Brunswick Heads – if the council cant see that this is an asset to the area then there must be serious problems with the way council is run. Nowadays Local Governments help people to generate creative economies in their municipalities – not shut them down! Get with the times Byron Shire…and support your community to do great things

  8. Hang your head in shame BSC. One selfish neighbour is ruining the best thing to happen to Brunswick Heads in years. The cinema has great community vibe going, much needed in this area.
    The new owners should be getting awards for what they have done with the old theater, not having to deal with idiotic bureaucracy and the pettiness of their whining neighbour.

  9. I lived in a flat next to the theatre for a while back in the 70’s. They were showing the ‘shining’ and every night I would hear jack saying ‘here’s johnny’ with the axe thru the door!! Theatres make noise and if you choose to live next to one expect it. The neighbour will have a lot more noise from shops or apartments not to mention the parking!! Boys, put in your DA They are a fact of life sadly. One neighbour vs 3500 signatures assures a win.

  10. This Echo article seems one sided. Have all the facts been examined and reported? What exactly are the neighbours objecting to? Is it the noise? The cafe aromas? Lack of available parking space? Or something else. Although I love the Picture house I would be interested to hear all sides of the story before I sign a petition please.

  11. Whether you agree or disagree with our Planning Laws, the owners were required to submit a DA. They were informed by Council about this requirement. If they legally want to operate then they need to submit a DA. Otherwise if they operate illegally they leave themselves open to prosecution and an extremely hefty fine.

  12. Disgusting. This was such an uplifting place with the availability of a comunity space to be used not only for entertainment. I saw a really good documentary there and met the Director which was an amazing opportunity in an intimate setting. Destroying vision and initiative to serve the comunity is a really sad state of affairs.

  13. There will never be enough parking for residents in that part of town. Council cant keep up road maintenance anywhere in Byron shire . A business such as that wont be happy until they get people overload .just for profit. Keep Brunswick Heads for the residents. Or change the name to Gold Heads.

  14. Everyone one else has to abide by Council laws, so should they. Pretty arrogant attitude to come along and do what they want and then give the locals crap for complaining when they are in the wrong.

    Yes, this place could be good for the community, but the negative affects need to be assessed as well as the positive.

  15. It all sounds like a good idea but maybe in the wrong place (?). Of course, keep it legal but also keep the folk running the place to their word – keep it as a family business – there’s a lot of ‘junk’ out there that can do more harm than good. If the owner/leasers are honest and uphold their side of the ‘selling’ points could be a winner. The restaurant sure would need to be up-to-par inside and out.


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