Arcade games from the past find new future at Craiglie’s Penny Parlour museum

Home Arts Arcade games from the past find new future at Craiglie’s Penny Parlour museum
Arcade games from the past find new future at Craiglie’s Penny Parlour museum

Simon Rogers has been collecting and restoring penny arcade games for most of his adult life. 

Now, he has opened what he claims to be Australia’s biggest penny arcade museum.

The Penny Parlour Museum is located at Craiglie, just outside Port Douglas, and includes fortune-telling machines, amusements, feats of strength and games of skill.

“I first fell in love with penny arcade machines in my youth at the funfairs in England,” he said.

“I grew up in the north of England and I used to go to all the travelling funfairs.

 “I also have a gypsy background, so I also had a lot of friends and family working at the funfairs.”

Simon Rogers standing in front of the palmistry machine at his penny arcade  museum
Simon Rogers has been collecting and restoring penny arcade machines since he was 16 years old. ( ABC Far North: Phil Brandel )

The museum includes machines dating back to 1800s, as well as pinball machines from the 1930s.

As most of his machines are more than 70 years old, there are no instructions, manuals or spare parts to be found on the internet, making them harder to restore. 

“I first started collecting when I was only 16 and so far I have restored over 70 of them and they are on display here,” Mr Rogers said.

“Travelling arcades used to be one of the major forms of entertainment, not everybody could afford to go to the theatre so instead they would go to the penny arcade.”

All the machines on display are now operational and they have all been saved from now defunct funfairs that used to travel across Australia.

Several penny arcade machines attached to the wall at the museum
The new Penny Parlour museum has working arcade machines including Mutoscopes which were a primitive way of showing movies that often included nudity.(ABC Far North: Phil Brandel)

One of the biggest attractions of penny arcades around the early 1900s was the Mutoscope, which works on the same principle as a flip book.

Mutoscopes were coin operated, and the customer would view cards through a single lens enclosed by a hood. About 700 cards would be attached to a reel that was driven by a hand crank.

Most subjects in the Mutoscopes involved nudity and it was an early precursor to commercial pornography.

“When these Mutoscopes first came out they were considered triple-x, they were quite risqué for the early 1900,” Mr Rogers said.

“They were a big deal because you couldn’t access photos of the nude human body back then.

“The travelling arcades and amusement centres had a bit of a seedy reputation anyway, they were the only places that would show these images as nobody else could or would show them.”

A wooden box with a football game inside that people can play for one penny
One of the oldest amusement machines on display at the museum is this football game which came out in the 1880s.(ABC Far North: Phil Brandel)

Mr Rogers’ favourite machine is the “Pussy Shooter” from 1928, which hasn’t been restored but is still in working order.

“You put a penny in, and you get five ball bearings, and you need to knock the cats off the wall and if you get all five cats, your penny is returned,” he said.

Other machines that were popular at penny arcades were the fortune-telling machines that, for a penny, would spit out a card or a photo.

A black and white photo of a women in an old fashioned 1900's bathing costume
The author’s future wife (circa 1925), according to one of the fortune teller machines at the penny parlour museum.(ABC Far North: Phil Brandel )

“We have a machine that tells you if you’re going to heaven or hell, we also have one that can print out a photo of your future husband or wife and there’s a another one that can read your palm,” Mr Rogers said.

“The original penny arcades were made for the lower working classes, and they were a big deal when they would come to your town.

“Unfortunately when video machines and home computers came out in the late 1970s, it was the end of the penny arcade.”

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