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 !

good luck with your Cup selections

Is there anywhere else in the world where a horse race “stops the nation” and provides a local holiday for the city in which it’s held.

It’s Melbourne Cup day tomorrow and this richest handicap horse race in the world attracts much attention from regular and non-regular punters.

It seems that nothing has changed. This is from Sydney’s The Arrow on 29 October 1904.

The caption reads:

HOUSEKEEPER: “Oh, if you please Sir, an Astrologer says he has called by appointment, and there’s a Fortune-teller waiting to see you, and a tipster wants you in the back yard”.

CUP ENTHUSIAST: “Yes – yes – I’m working out an infallible guide to the winner of the Cup by the law of chances, but I’ll see them if they can throw any additional light on my selections”.

Melbourne Cup cartoon

remembering the pianola

The inspiration for this post came from this pianola I saw in the Charters Towers Zara Clark Museum. I’m guessing the holes punched out in this pianola roll play a ballad of the slow variety given the visible lyrics …. through the long, dark hours. No knee slapping round the piano with this one! I’m sorry to say that my searching hasn’t uncovered the likely song on this roll. Perhaps someone can inform us.


The pianola or player piano was a popular home entertainment unit in the early and middle twentieth century if you could afford it, preferred perhaps if your piano playing skills were limited or non-existent.

From The Adelaide Chronicle of 30 March 1929 is a mouth operated mini-version. A few steps up from the kazoo don’t you think?

Pocket Pianola

Head over here to The Pianola Institute for a comprehensive summary of the history of the pianola. This catalogue was created 3 years after Edwin Scott Votey produced his pianola. Many player pianos had come before, but this one seemed to kick off their popularity.


Cover of the first Aeolian Company Pianola Catalogue – New York, 1898.

This theatre advertising slide is from 1929 and is in the collection of the John Oxley Library at the State Library of Queensland. (out of copyright). Coincidentally, given the Charters Towers connection above, this slide was likely projected in a theatre either in Charters Towers or nearby. Perhaps the player in the museum was bought through W F Greenhoulgh.

Player pianosAnyone old enough to remember a few sing-songs around the pianola, and the boxes of piano rolls stored neatly away in specially designed timber furniture?

the annual lumper’s picnic

Got to love this picture in The Sunday Times (Perth) – 17 March 1929.  The annual union picnic was a big deal in years gone by.  These waterside workers and their families often held their picnic at the zoo.  Wonder if any of the ginger beer went off like the home-made variety brewed in family sheds and laundries often did.

Gallons of ginger beer

on yer bike

New Swiss bicycle 1864Here are a few illustrations of 19th century bicycles and related matters via The Chronicle of 24 October 1864, The South Australian Chronicle of 31 August 1895 and The North Queensland Register of 9 February 1898 respectively.

The safety bicycling skirt demonstrates the lengths (literally) some people went to for the sake of modesty.  Note the description – “completely hiding the motion of the limbs so ungracefully apparent in an ordinary skirt”.  What would they think of today’s modern track cyclists?

Patent safety bicycle skirt

Modern street scene

David Webster’s Tea Rooms

David Websters Tea Rooms in Brisbane 1900

David Webster’s Tea Rooms in Brisbane, 1900, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

This image by an unidentified photographer was taken in 1900.  It illustrates the attention to detail and marketing skills of a man called David Webster, creator of Webster’s cakes and biscuits.  Originally a baker of bread, he introduced machinery to make his product and soon held a large share of the market in and around Brisbane.

Articles and advertising (it is sometimes hard to tell the difference) in Brisbane newspapers of the time showed Webster as the consummate networker. The company catered at many sporting and large social events including tea rooms at the races and community picnics.  Many organisations held their evening meetings in his tea rooms. In their early days, Webster and Company won government tenders to supply bread to public institutions.  David Webster had the odd skirmish or two in the industrial commission and the courts, and in 1898 was fined 2/6 an ounce for short-weighting his bread by 15 ounces after the original hearing was deferred when it was pointed out that he was a supplier of bread to the judge.  (Brisbane Courier – 4 October 1898).

bread case DW

The series of articles below gives an indication of the range of products and services the company provided.

The Brisbane Courier – 22 December 1900

DW - 1900 item part 1DW - 1900 item part 2

The Brisbane Courier – 6 December 1912

David Webster's Dainties - 1912

Cairns Post 28 October 1930

Webster's biscuits

The Courier Mail – 4 February 1936

The Webster family company also instigated the historic and much loved Shingle Inn recently resurrected in the newly renovated Brisbane City Hall.

Shingle Inn plans

On the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary, an article about Mr and Mrs David Webster appeared in the Courier Mail – 11 December 1936.  Six months later, David Webster died.

Mr and Mrs David Webster - golden anniversary

DW commenced business

1934 travel poster – surf lifesavers

From Perth’s Daily News of 11 August 1934

Potential tourists with no knowledge of surf life saving may have wondered at these stylised characters apparently doing the hokey-pokey beside the seaside.  The colour photo is an iStockphoto image of contemporary lifesavers drilling with a rescue rope.

Australia travel promotion posteriStock_000003829695XSmall

dance cards and Sir Roger de Coverley

Dance cards or carnets de bals were all the rage in the 19th century whether at a Regency ball or less formal dance events.  This pre-1872 sample is from the collection of the State Library of Victoria.  You can find a history of the cards and associated protocols over here at Historical Hussies.

Dance Card - State Library of Victoria

This Wikipedia sourced image illustrates a quadrille in action.

Wikipedia quadrille

If you’re wondering about the “Sir Roger de C” reference, here’s a description of the dance Sir Roger de Coverley in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. This text and colour illustration is via a Project Gutenberg e-book of the Chapman and Hall edition c 1847 with illustrations by John Leech.

There were more dances, and there were forfeits, and more dances, and there was cake, and there was negus, and there was a great piece of Cold Roast, and there was a great piece of Cold Boiled, and there were mince-pies, and plenty of beer. But the great effect of the evening came after the Roast and Boiled, when the fiddler (an artful dog, mind! The sort of man who knew his business better than you or I could have told it him!) struck up “Sir Roger de Coverley.” Then old Fezziwig stood out to dance with Mrs. Fezziwig. Top couple, too; with a good stiff piece of work cut out for them; three or four and twenty pair of partners; people who were not to be trifled with; people who would dance, and had no notion of walking.

Sir Roger de Coverley - Mr Fezziwig's Ball

From the Library of Congress Dance Instruction Manual collection (hat tip to librarians for that which they choose to collect and preserve) comes this description of the dance.  Click on the link for the complete instructions.

Library of Congress - Sir Roger de Coverley

The Project Gutenberg EBook of A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.net

18th century map samplers – specimens of schoolgirl proficiency

Marcus B Huish was an English fine arts dealer and eclectic collector with a specific interest in Japanese arts.  There’s a short biography of him at this link on the University of Glasgow’s “Whistler Correspondence” site.

One of his works can be found in e-book form here on Project Gutenberg.  This 1913 book includes colour plates as well as black and white illustrations of needlework from the 17th century onwards, including pieces from Huish’s own collection.   The first image below (dated 1630) is a richly coloured piece called The Story of Queen Esther.

book cover - Marcus B Huish

Title page - Samplers

The story of Queen Esther 1630

One section is devoted to map samplers where Huish talks about needlework maps as being in the same class as samplers, in that they originated as

.. specimens of schoolgirl proficiency, which when taken home were very lasting memorials of the excellence of that teaching termed “the use of the globes”.

This 1738 map of North America (by M.A.K)

.. has nothing whatever in the way of needlework to recommend it, but it shows what any map would, namely, how little was known at that date of the Western States or Canada.

Huish comments on the accuracy (or otherwise) of this Map of England and Wales by Ann Brown.

for the purposes of geographical reference [most map samplers] were at all events reliable, which is more than can be said for some of the original efforts; as, for instance, that of little Ann Brown, whose map of England and Wales is reproduced. Starting bravely, her delineation of Northumberland takes her well down the canvas, so that by the time she has reached Newcastle she has carried it abreast of Dumfries in Scotland, and Cork in Ireland! Yorkshire is so expansive that it grows downward beyond Exeter and Lundy Island, which last-named places have, however, by some mishap, crept up to the northward of Manchester and Leeds. It is a puzzle to think where the little lassie lived who could consort London with Wainfleet, the River Thames with the Isle of Wight, Lichfield with Portland, or join France to England. Although one would imagine that the dwelling-place of the sempstress would usually be made notable in the map either by large lettering or by more florid colouring, we have not found this to be the case.

Lastly this 1784 map of Africa

… which seems to have been used as a fire-screen, is interesting now that so much more is known of the continent, for many of the descriptions have undergone considerable change, such as the Grain Coast, Tooth Coast, and Slave Coast, which border on the Gulf of Guinea. The sampler is also noteworthy as having been done at Mrs Arnold’s, which was presumably a school in Fetherstone Buildings, High Holborn, hardly the place where one would expect to find a ladies’ seminary nowadays.

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org

the play’s the thing

From the Sydney Morning Herald of 6 September 1902 by an unnamed correspondent comes a considered article about the fun of games and recreation spoiled by the imposition of too many rules.

It’s a reminder that recreation or play is actually an activity that we are meant to enjoy.

Business of recreation

Of the mistaken impression it is apt to produce upon the foreigner, a curious example is given by Mr Herbert Spencer in a letter he wrote to the    ” Times ” recently. In his book entitled ” Facts and Comments,” he spoke of the excess to which athleticism has been carried in England of late years. “How extreme,” he wrote, “is this predominance of athleticism is shown by the fact that Sir Michael Foster, when a candidate for the representation of the University of London, was described as specially fitted because he was a good cricketer. ‘All cricketers will of course vote for him,’ wrote in the ‘ Times ‘ a B.A. who had played in the same eleven with him.” Of course Mr. Spencer’s object in quoting the letter was to show the absurd lengths to which the devotee of athleticism may be carried. He did not mean to suggest that the choice of Sir Michael Foster was determined by other consideration than his high distinction as a man of science. In a review of Mr. Spencer’s book in the “Revue des Deux Mondes,” the writer says : ” The University of London has chosen to represent it in Parliament the candidate who played the best cricket.” If such a misconception appears in a periodical of high standing, it is not surprising that similarly inaccurate statements are to be found in journals of less pretensions, and that on the strength of them the English character is misunderstood and disliked by the foreigner. Such misconceptions however, are not peculiar to athletics, nor are they to be found only in the foreign estimate of British character and customs. The Englishman is probably quite as in accurate in his estimate of his Continental neighbours.

The objection is not so much to making a business of recreation as to the extreme lengths to which this is pushed, with the consequent introduction of the commercial element.

All recreation in which two or more persons are engaged must of necessity be made a business to this extent, that it must be governed by certain rules, if only for the purpose of preventing waste of time and loss of temper. If, for example, whist is not played in conformity with well-known and generally recognised rules it descends to what the late Mr. Proctor called ” bumble puppy ” whist. The same thing holds good with all those classes of recreation that may be grouped under the general head of athletics, whether played indoors or in the open air. The misfortune is that the tendency always is to multiply the rules and make them more rigid, so that the recreation becomes a serious  business, and all but the experts shrink from engaging in it in the presence of others. They are like the man who declared that he would never be able to put his boots on until he had worn them for some time. Fifty years ago the tyro was not afraid or ashamed to take part in a friendly cricket match on the village green in the rural districts of England. There was no attempt made to bring the pitch to a perfect level. In facing the bowling one never got the impression that one was the target for a ball fired from the cannon’s mouth.

The play seldom reached a high pitch of perfection, and disputed points were settled in a friendly manner, and not always according to the strict rules of evidence. Now that cricket has come to be a strictly scientific game, of national and international importance, the recreation has grown into a serious enterprise requiring for its successful conduct a combination of technical proficiency and commercial skill, and as much forethought and careful calculation as are necessary in the management of a large business enterprise. With the growing practice of discriminating between the amateur and the professional in all branches of athletics the commercial element becomes stronger and threatens to be paramount. In describing the annual contest of one of the principal gun clubs in the United States some of the papers gave elaborate calculations, showing the cost of the birds, and the amount for which they sold, the main point being that the affair was a profitable speculation to the enterprising manager who had control of the business.

We do not know that we have any reason to complain of this. It is no new thing that when recreation in the form of athletic sport is indulged in on a large scale the business and commercial elements intrude. At the greatest of the Greek national festivals religion, athletics, commerce, and literature all played a part. The spectators, numerous as they were, were attracted not merely by the contests, but because of the opportunity the festival afforded them of carrying on commercial transactions with visitors from distant places. The literary and artistic men of the day, when there were no printing presses and no publishers, seized the opportunity of reciting or exhibiting their products to the vast concourse gathered together. But while the tendency to make a business of recreation or to combine business with it is not now, it is to be regretted that the mania for laying down rigid rules for playing different games frequently destroys the pleasure they would otherwise give. Even table tennis has not escaped. When the children of two generations ago indulged in a game of shuttlecock and battledore, and when even those of maturer years took part in it, there were no special rules to fetter the freedom of action or to create a guilty feeling that the game was not being played scientifically. It was so when the new game was first introduced. Now that we have clubs and tournaments and strict codes of law the player is beginning to have the serious and determined look of the professional, and the amateur is almost afraid to be seen playing it in public.

The safeguard for the individual is to be found in the constant remembrance of the true purpose of recreation. If the game does not help to recreate if it is played under conditions and in the midst of surroundings that render this impossible, it is not recreation properly so called. One of the dangers of modern life is that we are prone to let others lay down certain rules for our guidance. We are so much concerned with what we shall eat; and drink and what we shall wear, what form of physical culture we shall practice, what games we shall play, and according to what rules, that life tends to become a never-ceasing round of drudgery performed according to strict specifications. When this is the case recreation has so far become a business that it ceases to be beneficial, and is positively injurious.