60 years since Australia’s first 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.


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 !

picture palaces: Imperial Picture Pavilion in Lutwyche

This is the Imperial Picture Pavilion at Lutwyche in Brisbane – photo by F W Theil – copyright expired.

Imperial Picture Pavilion at Lutwyche in the Brisbane Queensland

John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 115450

On Friday 1 April 1922 Brisbane residents could have made their way by the Kedron Park tram or car (plenty of standing room for motors) to this cinema to see the silent film “Humoresque”.  This pavilion of moving pictures provided room under cover for 1500 people.

Lutwyche Humoresque

Musical accompaniment to the film was provided by Mrs Lambert Knight on piano and Miss Allen on violin.  There’s a review of the film here at Cinema Becomes Her by Allison McCulloch.  Not to be confused with the 1946 version (with sound and colour) starring Joan Crawford and John Garfield.


Bert Bailey – more than the Dad in “Dad and Dave”

Theatrical all-rounder Bert Bailey was born in New Zealand and came to Australia with his mother as a small child.  He is most well known for his portrayal of “Dad” on stage and screen in Steele Rudd‘s On Our Selection.

The Mercury of 6 Nov 1937


AUSTRALIANS at the moment are very “Dad and Dave”- minded, and it is undoubtedly this fact that has led Associated B.E.F. to the decision to reissue “On Our Selection,” Australia’s first talkie produced by Cinesound some five years ago, with Bert Bailey heading the original stage cast.  “On Our Selection” will probably be released at all metropolitan theatres and there is little doubt that it will be well received.

Twenty-five years ago, in May 1912, “On Our Selection” was first presented as a stage play at the Palace, Sydney, and today, more than a quarter of a century later, the story of  “Dad,” “Dave,” and all the rest of the famous Rudd family is still popular.

When he died this item appeared in The Advertiser – 1 April 1953.  His papers are available as a research resource at the National Library of Australia.

Note:  Leo McKern and Geoffrey Rush played Dad and Dave in the 1995 version of On Our Selection..

Dad and Dave Come to Town poster image courtesy of moviem.com.

Newsreels – Cinesound Review

The first Cinesound Review newsreels were screened in Australian cinemas in 1931.

This ad from The Advertiser of 14 November 1931 teases cinema goers with the lure of

“intimate pictures of the Principals and Counsel in the Field divorce case.   In the first issue of The Australian Reporter – Cinesound Review”

The Field divorce case filled the pages of newspapers through 1931 and 1932.  It lasted 87 days in the court room and gleaned thousands of pounds for Sydney Field’s lawyers, demonstrating the salacious treatment of divorces where fault was found.  An appeal by Mrs Field even went to the High Court.

More pedestrian issues appeared in this edition screened at Brisbane’s Tivoli Theatre days later.

Brisbane Courier – 30 November 1931

One of the most enjoyable features on the programme is a Cinesound review. Australians will welcome this pictorial record of recent events in various parts of the Continent, described in the “talking reporter” style by an Australian, in the native way. In this week’s budget one sees Phar Lap‘s departure for overseas, hears Arthur Mailey and Don Bradman talking about Eddie Gilbert’s bowling, and even gets the late news of the crash of the air mail plane, Southern Sun, accompanied by “shots” of her departure from Hobart, Melbourne, and Sydney.

Sydney Morning Herald – 21 Nov 1931

The Advertiser – 27 Nov 1931

Over at the National Film and Sound Archive 88 newsreel clips are available to view online, including silent footage from as early as 1908.