DOUBLE FEATURE: Merv and Elaine Cousemacker celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary last year.
DOUBLE FEATURE: Merv and Elaine Cousemacker celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary last year. Adam Hourigan

Story of the man behind Yamba Cinema's projector

FOR decades, Merv Cousemacker's passion for film bought joy to people across the Clarence Valley.

His theatre screenings provided the perfect setting for first dates, family bonding and playful popcorn fights.

Mr Cousemacker died earlier this month, aged 83.

If you watched a film in the Clarence Valley before the digital age, there is a good chance he was the man behind the projector.

Mr Cousemackers's love affair with film started when, as a nine-year-old, he had to fill in for his uncle who operated a touring cinema show on the east coast in the 1930s and '40s; a business that would later became his own trade, through the '50s and early '60s.

It was also in the early 1950s that he began courting his future wife, Elaine, who had him pegged as husband material years before.

After a six-week engagement they married at St Matthew's Church in South Grafton, and on June 7, 2014, the couple celebrated 60 loving years of marriage at their family home in Tucabia.

"Everyone thought I was pregnant but I wasn't," Elaine told The Daily Examiner last year.

"You couldn't live together without being married - it just wasn't done - and with his parents going away for a holiday we had to get married."

Not long after settling into their first home, a small cottage in Ulmarra for 25 shillings ($2.50) a week, the pair set up Vogee's Takeaway Food Shop in Ulmarra.

Soon they were showing pictures in the Masonic Hall for two shillings (20 cents) a seat. As the business evolved the couple began hosting weekly screenings at Copmanhurst, Tucabia, Glenreagh, Brushgrove, Lawrence, Ulmarra, Iluka and Red Rock.

In the 1970s and '80s they went on to operate the Picture Palace in Maclean.

While it is now just a memory, the cinema's name is still ingrained in the pavement.

"One of my greatest memories was filling the theatre there, which seated 1200 people, twice screening Born Free," Mr Cousemacker said in an interview with The Daily Examiner in 2013.

His biggest dream was realised in the early 1980 when the couple started their own cinema in Yamba.

According to daughter Debbie McCredie, who slept under the movie projector as a newborn baby, was very conscious of his duty to his patrons.

"He believed if someone took the time out of their life to come to his cinema, it was his duty to give them the best show possible," she said. "Sometimes this even meant driving through storms and even flood waters to get to the cinema to open. If you belonged to a charitable organisation, sporting group, or school in the Lower Clarence Valley, chances are your group would have benefitted by a fundraiser which was held at and sponsored by the Yamba Cinema."

Debbie took over the family business when her dad retired in 2005, but he was never far away.

"He was in and out all the time, keeping up to date with what was happening around the place," she said.

"Screening movies was Dad's life, his passion, and the Yamba Cinema is his legacy to the community."

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