Harry Houdini in Australia

Geelong Advertiser Houdini

This photograph of Harry Houdini, held by the State Library of Victoria, appeared in The Australasian on 19 February 1910. Houdini (or Ehrich Weisz as he was known to his mother) was about to jump, handcuffed, into the Yarra River in Melbourne off Queen’s Bridge.

A month later, his aeronautical exploits were being reported in the Sydney Morning Herald (22 March 1910). His claim to be the first successful aviator in Australia was later challenged. This item at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney is a starting point to the discussion and mentions a short flight by Colin Defries on 9 December 1909 which went unrecognised at the time.

SMH 22 March 1910 - Houdini

Harry didn’t stop there. This poster, again from the State Library of Victoria, showed that Houdini’s capacity for self-promotion was equal to his escapology and aviation exploits.

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From the Sydney Morning Herald again on  2 May 1910.

HOUDINI IN THE AIR.

A SENSATIONAL JOURNEY.

RECORD FLIGHT AT ROSEHILL.

Houdini made a record flight in his aeroplane at Rosehill Park Racecourse yesterday.   A crowd of several hundreds had gathered, and shortly after half-past 12 they were rewarded for their patience with the sight of the weird-looking machine circling gracefully round the track at a height of nearly 160ft.

Houdini made a successful start, and his plane, driven by the powerful 60-80-h.p. E.N.V. motor, leaped to a height of about 20ft. It then dipped, and rushed towards the ground at a rate bordering on 40 miles an hour. The public gasped, while a number of women screamed, for it seemed as if the aviator were rushing to certain destruction. A neat turn of the lever controlling the planes, however, altered its direction to a nicety, and the machine soared gracefully skyward, until an altitude of 150ft was reached.

But his difficulties were not over. The machine rose until at a height of 200ft it turned and met the wind full in the face. It quivered, and fell swiftly towards the ground, as the engines had stopped. It looked as if Houdini’s last moment had come. The crowd was dumbfounded, but when only a few feet from the ground the plucky aviator managed to start his engine again, and the plane rose once more. Houdini then circled round the race track twice, finishing up by sailing over the grand stand and dropping easily to the ground on the opposite side.

It was a splendid flight. A better demonstration of modern aeronautics could not have been provided, and the public cheered heartily, many rushing to seize Houdini by the hand when he reached the earth.

“That’s my fourteenth fly in Australia,” Houdini mentioned as he landed, “and I am satisfied.” He was carried shoulder high by the excited crowd. The machine, which was practically uninjured, excepting a slightly bent tube, is now to be dismantled, as Houdini is taking it with him to America.


60 years since Australia’s first drive-in theatre

drive-in-theatre

On 17 February 1954, The Argus ran a feature on the first drive-in theatre in Australia, some twenty years after they were introduced in the USA.  The writer of the piece paints an amusing picture of future clients happily, and perhaps shabbily, ensconced in their own vehicles while catching up on their cinema idols.  This particular drive-in closed on 22 June 1983.

ITS COMFORT LIES IN ALL THE THINGS YOU CAN DO

At dusk this evening “Skyline,” Australia’s first drive-in theatre, will open in Toorak Road, Burwood, with 1,500 picture-goers snugly seated in their own cars in a ten-acre auditorium.  Probably the most interesting development in entertainment here since the advent of sound pictures, the drive-in theatre provides the ultimate in relaxation and comfort for movie patrons.

The key note is informality. Unlike the ordinary cinema-goer, you can smoke to your heart’s content, crack peanuts, wear slippers or shorts or a dressing-gown, come unshaven, or do your knitting. What’s more, you can bring along liquor-provided it’s drunk in moderation. And if you don’t care for the movie . . . just settle back for forty winks and snore your head off. You’re in your own car and can’t disturb a soul.

There are no gossips in the seat behind to irk you, nobody to squeeze past your knees just as the villain draws a bead on the hero. The programme is continuous, and you may come and go as you please.

Husbands who for years have refused to budge out of the home to go to an evening show will relent when they can jump into the car and roll off to the movies without having to “get all dressed up.” If it’s a night out for the family you just pile into the car, pay at the ticket office without getting out of your seat, and let a “car hop” direct you to your parking spot.

The screen, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, towers 50ft. high and 34ft. wide at one end of the large enclosure. It is designed to take not only standard 2-D movies, but also technicolor films and 3-D offerings.

A small loudspeaker hangs on a post beside every parking space. You merely, lift it into your car, attach it to your window or steering column, and adjust the volume to suit yourself. Above the loudspeaker’s volume control is a small switch which, when pressed,flashes a red light on your parking stand and summons an attendant to carry out your slightest whim.

If you feel peckish during the show, nattily-garbed refreshment boys, travelling through the theatre on tricycles, will serve you with hot-dogs, hamburgers, soft drinks, sweets or cigarettes. But that’s not all. If your car develops a mechanical fault there’s the specially selected staff of “car hops” who will fix the trouble.

Drive in program 17 Feb 1954No need to hurry home after the show, either. There are hot and cold meals available in the ultra-modern snack bar inside the big projector-room building.

As each car enters, the theatre attendants give windscreens a thorough cleaning to ensure perfect vision during the show. At the first sign of rain your car’s windscreen will be coated with a special glycerine preparation to make raindrops run off the glass without blurring your view. Even a thick fog won’t mar the show. Heat from portable braziers standing inside the theatre’s fence will clear away all but the most dense “pea souper.”

Later this year, patrons will be able to join in supper club dances after the show, on a dance floor in the middle of the theatre ground. This will be inclusive of the admission price, and music will be supplied from modern dance recordings.

Skyline’s doors are open to any vehicle on wheels, except bicycles and scooters. So if you drive a motor-cycle, utility van, or even a horse and cart, all this is yours – and movies, too !


colonial reporting – padding it out

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On 17 February 1805, The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser published the paragraph below. Before you read it, imagine the possible scenario.

Editor to aspiring 1805 journalist:

“Mind how you go on the road from Sydney to Hawkesbury. There’s been a siting of three gents hanging about near the Ponds.  They stopped a cart.  Put together a few words of warning for tomorrow’s edition, will you?”

Aspiring 1805 journalist:

“On it, Sir”

Take a deep breath and read on.

Punctuation and spelling are as per the original item.

part 1 - bushrangers

suspicion of their being bushrangers. They had been previously observed lurking about the Ponds by a carrier, who passed unmolested, owing perhaps to his having another man in company : they did not, however, take any thing out of the cart they did stop ; nor at this time has any account been received of their offering violence to either passengers or other persons ; from whence it may be hoped they prefer the prospect of being restored to society to any momentary relief that might be obtained from acts of additional imprudence that could at best but render their condition hopeless. It is nevertheless necessary, that the settler as well as the traveller should be put upon his guard against assault, and that exertion should be general in assisting to apprehend every flagitious character who would thus rush upon a danger from which they can only be extricated by timely contrition and their return to obedience. All that have heretofore devoted themselves to this most horrible state of exile exactly correspond in the narration of vicissitudes to which many have fallen the unhappy victims. How deplorable must be the prospect of terminating an existence under all the accumulated horrors of such an exile! without a friend at hand to administer the last kind offices, or to alleviate affliction by humane condolance! parching with thirst, perhaps, but deprived by famine of the power to quench it! instead of the delightful confidence which Christian resignation can alone inspire, each succeeding pang embittered with self-accusation and remorse, heightened by the surrounding gloom to all the agonies of deep despair. If conscious impropriety of conduct inspire the fatal resolution of flying to the woods, this second act becomes a second outrage, and by an obstinate perseverance the very doors of mercy may be closed, and every avenue to hope cut off.