Alice Cummins – Changing Merredin’s fate

Alice Mary Cummins might have felt completely at home in the 21st century given her progressive upbringing, interest in arts and culture, and an entrepreneurial streak - rarely seen in a woman in the pioneer era.

Alice was a gifted woman with many talents and interests: law, music, travel, arts, culture, history, and business. The only child of Mr James Cummins and Mrs Mary Cummins, her two (out of many) notable achievements are WA’s first female barrister admitted to the Bar in 1930 and Managing Director of Kalgoorlie Brewing & Ice Co. Ltd after her father’s death.

She began by maintaining ledger accounts for the business and quickly grasped all the different aspects of the brewing industry leading her father to comment proudly, “there was nothing Alice didn’t know.”

It was Alice’s idea to start making German-style lager. Despite facing stiff competition from others in the industry, she expanded the company’s operations aggressively by installing new plant and equipment and increasing the number of outlets owned by the brewery. That big risk paid off eventually when Kalgoorlie Brewery’s German lager Hannans went on to sell highly, year on year.

Kalgoorlie Brewery was only one of the Cummins’ family diverse investments, others being farming and mining. James Cummins was also involved in politics and held the office of the Mayor for Kalgoorlie for two years. He wanted Merredin to become a business and cultural hub and went on to commission the building of a theatre in town – eventually named Cummins Theatre in recognition of the family’s contributions.

The materials used in the building of Cummins Theatre belonged to Tivoli Theatre in Coolgardie that James bought, dismantled and then transported to Merredin by rail. Structurally, Cummins Theatre was a building ahead of its time. The specifications for the building was higher than that required to show pictures - the fly tower and proscenium arch was included for professional stage performance.

The main aim for the theatre was to encourage culture in the region and many musical legends graced its halls - AC/DC, Slim Dusty, Marcia Hines, and The Wiggles. Along with musical performances, the theatre also played talking pictures (it was the first venue to do so), hosted balls, theatre, and stand-up comedy.

Decades later, Cummins Theatre remains a cultural hub for Merredin and a proud reminder of the Cummins family who made a significant difference to the town’s business and cultural identity.

Today, Cummins Theatre provides a flexible multi-purpose performance space for touring companies, in-house products, live simulcasts, films and events. Facilities include; a conference room, commercial kitchen, licensed bar and a visual arts gallery accommodating all sizes of events and performances.