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.
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 !
On the hunt for some more shopfront photographs, I came across the so-called San Francisco Instantaneous Photographic Company. This newspaper advertisement on 4 October 1883 appeared in the Warragul Guardian and Buln Buln and Narracan Shire Advocate. They could have saved on printing ink by shortening the paper’s name, but I digress.
So what was this thing called instantaneous photography, and why were customers and photographers alike excited by it?
The UK’s National Media Museum posted this to their blog in June.
The earliest photographic processes normally required exposures of many seconds, or even minutes, rendering the photography of movement impossible.
However, with the right combination of lighting, subject, lens and plate size, exposures of a fraction of a second, whilst still very difficult to achieve, were possible.
The taking of such photographs became known as ‘instantaneous photography’. Whilst the term was in common usage during the 19th century, there was surprisingly little discussion or agreement as to precisely what it meant.
In practice, it was applied to any photograph which contained an element of movement or which was taken with an exposure of less than one second.
In November 1880, an article in the South Australian Register explained.
INSTANTANEOUS PHOTOGRAPHY— The system of instantaneous photography has been recently adopted by Messrs. J. R. Dobson & Co., of the Temple of Light, Bundle-street, and the result of the improvement is the production of photographs infinitely superior in clearness, accuracy, and general effect to the likenesses taken under the old style. We were shown some sixty portraits of adults and children, and all of them were remarkable for the minuteness of detail as well as naturalness of expression, rendering them very faithful portraits. For photographing children this instantaneous process must be an invaluable aid, as the fleeting expression of a restless child’s face can be taken in a second ; and for adults it is very much more comfortable to sit for only a moment to have a portrait taken, without the inconvenience of having the head pilloried in an iron rest. In the photographs produced by the instantaneous process the natural expression of the eyes, the texture of the garments, and the softness of the lights and shades were particularly noticeable. The only fault some people could find with the process would be that it might too accurately portray the features, but they could remedy that by calling up their sweetest expression, and assume a virtue if they have it not.
This (out of copyright) photograph from the State Library of Victoria‘s collection was taken in Toongabbie, Victoria c 1890-1891 by the aforesaid photographic company. I’m not sure that the woman was calling up her sweetest expression as she looks quite sad, even without the inconvenience of her head being pilloried in an iron rest.
Woman, three-quarter length, to right, lace panel down front of dress, inscribed in black ink on verso: Toongabbie
I just had to add this comment to the body of this post. Thanks to pellethepoet for an amusing story on the discomfort of posing for long exposure photographs.
Sir William Macarthur tells a humourous story of the ordeal for sitters of the long exposure –
“One day,” he says, “an old lady from the country was sitting before [William] Hetzer’s camera. Mrs. Hetzer, whose name was Teckla [sic – Thekla], helped in the studio and sensitised the plate in the darkroom while her husband posed the sitter. When the old lady was ready for the plate, Hetzer called out to his wife, ‘Teckla! Teckla!’ whereupon the nervous sitter jumped up in terror and exclaimed ‘For heaven’s sake don’t tickle me, sir, I can’t Stand any more!’”
from The Story of the Camera in Australia by Jack Cato (Melbourne : Georgian House, 1955), p. 17.
For those who are riding the 21st century wave of skin decoration, here’s a nod to tattoos.
Take your pick – blushed cheeks or a serpent wrapped around your arm.
I’m pretty sure that dragons and butterflies are back, only not just on men’s bodies.
When I’m hunting down future posts for this blog, it’s often a previously unknown word that attracts my attention. I was looking generally for articles on women in so-called unusual occcupations in days gone by. The word that attracted my attention on this occasion was ‘bifurcated’ which means, as I now know, split into two parts.
Mrs Bloomer was a temperate woman and a suffragette. The Evening News (Sydney) of 25 August 1894 takes up the story of how Amelia’s name became attached to this garment that was the forerunner of women’s modern trouser and gym wear, to say nothing of the benefits of eschewing a large hoop dress to enable one to climb on and ride a bicycle. I particularly like that her married life was apparently ‘unmarred by other than the fleeciest of temporary clouds’.
now 76 years old, carries her years easily, her 54 years of married life having been unmarred by other than the fleeciest of temporary clouds. It was in 1851 that she began to wear the costume which is now known throughout the English-speaking world as the ‘ bloomer.’ She was then living at Seneca Falls, New York State, where she was publishing a temperance paper called The Lily. In addition to being a prohibition advocate, the paper also devoted considerable space to the subject of woman suffrage. A Mrs. Miller, who in 1851 paid a visit to Seneca Falls, appeared in the bifurcated dress, and Mrs. Bloomer published a description of it. She and Elizabeth Cady Stanton adopted the style and advocated its general adoption. Mrs. Bloomer wore the costume on several lecture trips, and in this way it became associated with and finally known by her name. By and bye (sic) Horace Greeley took the subject up, and was followed by other editors, the result being that the bifurcated dress became known all over the country as the ‘ bloomer.’
So, did Mrs Miller invent the bifurcated dress / miller / bloomer, or was it someone else?
A few months after Mrs Bloomer’s death Australian Town and Country Journal printed this article on 18 May 1895.
Often when you come across old photographs, it’s difficult to find any detail to add to an understanding of the subject matter. In this out-of-copyright photograph (a glass negative) via The State Library of Victoria (ca 1888-1894), the gravestone inscription provides some clues. The young man, Mark Marston, was almost 19 years old when he died from the effects of a snake bite.
It didn’t take much sleuthing in Trove’s Digital Newspaper collection to find a number of reports echoing the news of this sad event in the Sunbury district in Victoria. Here’s one of those as noted by The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser of 18 March 1880.
The photographic record describes “a middle-aged woman standing beside headstone and grave, iron fence surrounding headstone and fairly well-established garden”. One might surmise that this woman is his mother. A search of Ancestry.com provided the following information.
Mark’s parents (Thomas and Elizabeth Marston (nee Beeson) emigrated from Lincolnshire shortly after their marriage. They had six children, the eldest of whom was a daughter who died in the first year of her life. At the time this photograph was taken, Elizabeth would have been in her mid-late fifties.
Mark was not the only son who pre-deceased Elizabeth and Thomas. Another son Frederick (a railway worker) died at the age of 31. The Argus of 30 September 1893 reported this inquiry into his accidental death.
It’s the centenary year of the production of Australia’s first national stamp. Before 1913, the states had their own stamps and postal systems. It turns out that there’s quite a story to this little stamp with a kangaroo on a map of Australia. The mixing bowl for this story has the following ingredients.
- a stamp design competition held in 1911
- a up and coming politician with a strong ego and point of view
- robust opinions from newspaper contributors
- an election in 1913 that changed the government
- another politician with a point of view
From the blog of Australian Geographic –
… in October, Charles Frazer became the new Postmaster-General. He took an interest in stamps and was shown the winning entries. Later, describing it to Parliament as “execrable”, he swiftly rejected Altmann’s design, and appointed the Victorian Artist’s Association to find an artist to create a new stamp. They commissioned a local watercolour artist, Blamire Young, who began working on the design while Frazer publicly hinted to the press: “If a picturesque stamp can be provided in which an outline of Australia is featured, I am certainly favourably inclined towards it.”
After Young submitted several designs to the Post Office, Frazer took a liking to the ones with kangaroos, finding them to be an apt representation of the Commonwealth, and wrote a note: “1. Get coastline of Aust. 2. Insert Baldy’s Roo (Edwin Arnold, one of those tied for second place in the competition). 3. Produce in colours for different denominats.”
After some more minor changes, the final design was ready by early 1912, though not without some mishaps, including one print that accidentally omitted Tasmania. Frazer, proud of the finished product, announced the design on 2 April, well before the stamp went on sale on 2 January, 1913.
It is to be hoped that Federal Ministers expressed their feelings in a dignified and tactful way on Tuesday when their colleague, the Postmaster-General, presented each of them with a copy of the new Commonweath postage stamp, a reproduction of which appears in our columns to-day. The public was given to understand, beforehand, that Mr Frazer’s design was “simple, yet expressive;” it is to be feared that that phrase may adequately describe the language which all Australians who have any artistic sense will use when they first catch sight of the design. Designs, it appears, were submitted by artists from all over the world, and a prize of £100 was awarded to that one which a committee of independent judges considered the best. Mr Frazer, however, whose modesty is evidently unlikely to mar his career, believed that he could himself, if he tried, beat the prize-winner; so he sat down to evolve “something which he thought would suit the simple tastes of Australians.” Australian tastes must be simple indeed if they are satisfied with the result of Mr Frazer’s efforts. The competing designs have not, of course, been made public; but it may be said with assurance that the prize-winners earned their money very easily if their designs were not more effective than Mr Frazer’s white map of Australia, with the piebald kangaroo endeavouring to look placid though evidently suffering from a severe attack of dyspepsia. Or perhaps the animal’s attitude is not due to dyspepsia, but to the necessity of keeping his ears out of Cambridge Gulf while his tail points to the Federal capital. Perhaps, again, the poor creature is merely conscious that he is marching to his Sedan. There is doubtless some obscure symbolism in the rabbit which has raised its head half out of the mouth of its burrow, in the background, although a magnifying glass is required to reveal the fact this this rabbit has one eye on the kangaroo. It may possibly stand for an intelligent minority keeping watch on a large and foolish majority, but the symbolism is not clear. What is clear is that the whole thing has a grotesquely foolish look, and that not a hint of beauty or dignity is discoverable in it.
It will be said, no doubt, that the ugliness of a postage stamp is a matter of no moment. Mr Frazer evidently does not take that view, since he has given time and thought to the question, and expended some of the public money on the effort to have a good stamp. And he is so far right; there is really a good deal of significance in the heraldry of the post-office. Our postage stamps go all over the world; they become, in course of time, a sort of national symbols; and it is therefore very annoying to find that our country is to be represented in the eyes of the world by a grotesque and ridiculous symbol, and that she will be a laughing-stock even to childish stamp-collectors of every nation. Mr Frazer has no good reason for departing from Imperial usage in this matter. Australia should do as the rest of the Dominions do; we should all alike have the King’s head printed on our stamps, because it is the most obvious and unmistakable symbol of the constitutional bond between the various members of our far-scattered empire. But even if Mr Frazer entertains republican sentiments, and thinks it his duty to express them by means of the national stamp, he might surely have found some heraldic device more noble and dignified than that absurd kangaroo and that humorous rabbit. It will be very unpleasant to reflect every time we post a letter that we are sending out to the world a pink or blue or yellow embodiment of the artistic incapacity of our country.
The Brisbane Courier commented – 3 September 1912
The story of the stamp continues in this excerpt from The Australian Dictionary of Biography from which the image of Frazer is also sourced.
After Labor narrowly lost the election in June 1913, the new government replaced the design of the penny stamp Labor had introduced, although it lasted for most other values for many years; Frazer had originated the design which featured a kangaroo ‘rampant upon a purely White Australia’.
The new government and Postmaster-General took no time at all to replace the kangaroo stamp. Unsurprisingly there were comments on this design. This not to subtle critique comes from The Worker, Brisbane – 10 July 1913
The ‘Courier ‘ published the design of the stamp it is proposed by the Anti-National Fusion Government to substitute for the kangaroo stamp. Without intending any disrespect to the Sovereign, the design is an atrocity, a confused jumble of unrelated and discordant drawings with the King’s head in the centre. The present kangaroo design may not be the final word in stamps, but its emblematic nature, clearness and simplicity show into pleasing contrast with the overloaded and freakish abnormality which the troglodyte Cook Government is about to inflict on us.
The Argus of 29 July 1913 reported thus. Note that the new Postmaster-General could also not resist the urge to tinker.
NEW POSTAGE STAMP : APPROVED COMMONWEALTH DESIGN
Final action was taken yesterday by the Postmaster-General (Mr Wynne) in connection with the adoption of the designs for the new Commonwealth stamps, which are to take the place of the discredited kangaroo issue. Some weeks ago Mr Wynne announced that he had decided to avail himself of the first prize design, submitted by Mr Herman Altman of St Kilda, but a close examination of the drawing convinced him that it contained too many features to permit of effective reproduction. Accordingly, the designed was asked to alter his sketch so as to simplify the features.
This has been done by eliminating the coats of arms of the six States and substituting sprigs of wattle blossom in their stead. A much improved picture of His Majesty the King has also been introduced. The penny stamp will contain no national emblems apart from the wattle blooms, but the twopenny design is to be distinguished by representations of a kangaroo and an emu on either side. A crown will also surmount the stamp of higher denomination. The Postmaster-General stated yesterday that he would expedite the issue of the new stamp as much as possible, but he had been informed that it might be necessary to send to England or America to have the permanent dies prepared. It he found it was impossible to secure the plates in the Commonwealth he would endeavour to carry on the production of the new stamps temporarily by some other expedient, pending the arrival of the engravings from overseas.
In accordance with the decision of the Berne conference the penny stamp will be coloured red and the twopenny denomination will be blue.
Postscript: Charles Frazer died in November 1913. He was 33 years old.