Asbestos Horror Show Is Main Feature at Western Australia Cinema

Piccadilly Cinema in Perth, Western Australia

Moviegoers to the Piccadilly Cinema in Perth, Western Australia, hoping for a spot of light entertainment could find themselves involved in a real-life drama soon following the recent disclosure that deteriorating asbestos sheeting on the roof of the building may be posing a risk to patrons.

The Piccadilly Cinema (formally known as the Piccadilly Theatre) is a landmark in Australia. The cinema forms an integral part of the Piccadilly Arcade (a shopping mall) and was built in 1938, linking Hay Street to Murray Street in the Perth CBD (central business district).

In the interwar period, Art Deco was very popular, and the Piccadilly Cinema was one of a number of cinemas built to this design at the time. Once completed, it had a seating capacity of over 1,000 and was the first cinema to have air conditioning.

The ‘Grand Old Dame’ of Cinemas

The Piccadilly Cinema, affectionately known as the “Grand Old Dame” of cinemas, is now the only cinema operating in the Perth CBD and is listed on the State Heritage Register.

Quite by chance, I went to the Piccadilly Cinema recently with a friend. We chose this cinema because it was the only one showing “Iron Man 3” at a time that was suitable to us.

Over 40 years had passed since I had last visited the Piccadilly, which had been a popular venue for me and my family when we were living in Perth. I felt a little nostalgic about going back and was looking forward to the experience.

Turning up a little early for the movie, my friend and I decided to wait in the foyer. We chose one of the two sofas that were provided and were shocked to find that although they had looked firm, they were anything but. The cushion on which we sat collapsed beneath us, and we fell through and into a hole where the springs should have been. A glance over to the other sofa confirmed that another patron was in a similar predicament.

While we were deeply entrenched in the sofa, a delightful old gentleman, clearly proud of the establishment, came over to talk to us about the history of the theater and the recent star-studded premier of “The Great Gatsby.”

His friendliness made it difficult for us to complain about the seating, and after pulling ourselves from the depth of the sofa, we went in to Cinema 1 to watch the movie.

At first glance, the theater appeared to be as grand as I remembered; certainly the ornate features on the walls were still quite beautiful. However, we soon discovered that the seats were worn and not very comfortable. 

As it turned out, “Iron Man 3” was not my cup of tea,  but overall the visit to the cinema was a pleasant experience, and I thought no more of it until I read a recent article in the The Sunday Times about the cinema and the threat of asbestos exposure.

Piccadilly Cinema ‘Totally Unsafe’

In the article, John Flint of The Sunday Times states that the owner of the Piccadilly Cinema has branded the building as “totally unsafe” — not only because of the condition of the asbestos roof, but also due to the run-down state of the building in general. Cinema 1 has already had two ceiling collapses in the past and is set to have another, if the old asbestos roof and gutters are not replaced.

Flint further states that the owner as well as the operator of the cinema believe it to be totally unsafe. The operator, however, refuses to shut the doors due to his fear of being sued for walking out on his lease and the impact this would have on his finances.

Also included in Flint’s article is a strong warning from Robert Vojakovic, president of the Asbestos Disease Society.

“The cinema roof is in a very poor state and appeared to be ‘friable’ in places,” he said. “If the dust can reach the cinema, then there is a risk.”

Flint reports that Vojakovic is quite paranoid about the situation due to his father dying of asbestosis.

Paranoid and Angry

I understand his feelings perfectly. I, too, am paranoid about asbestos. Having witnessed the suffering and eventual death of my husband, Brian, to mesothelioma (an asbestos-related cancer), I am ever aware of the threat of asbestos exposure in our environment and do everything within my power to warn people about the danger and encourage them to deal with it in the appropriate way.

I am angry that the Piccadilly Cinema has been allowed to remain in operation, despite the known risk of asbestos dust exposure.

Now, like so many others who have attended the cinema in recent months, I will be wondering if asbestos dust has made its way into my lungs. 

Whether it has remains to be seen. What is very clear, however, is that once again financial gain has been placed above the value of human life.

This negligence cannot be allowed to continue.

For me, and I am sure for everyone who has been to the Piccadilly Cinema over recent years, the Grand Old Dame has definitely lost her charm.

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Lorraine Kember is the author of "Lean on Me," an inspirational personal account of her husband's courageous battle with mesothelioma. She is an accomplished public speaker in Australia and is passionate about sharing her journey with cancer. Her website can be found at www.lean-on-me.net

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