Driv­ing to dis­trac­tion

Fremantle Gazette - - NEWS - Keren Bel­los

WHEN the Amer­i­can con­cept of the drive-in the­atre hit our shores 65 years ago, pun­ters didn’t need much per­suad­ing to pile into their cars and “take the high­ways to the High­way”.

On Oc­to­ber 24, 1955, traf­fic jammed the streets as peo­ple flocked to Bent­ley for a first look at what was pitched as Perth’s newest and friendli­est en­ter­tain­ment cen­tre.

Al­low­ing cus­tomers to “dress as you please” while en­joy­ing “first-class fam­ily en­ter­tain­ment un­der the stars”, the High­way drive-in proved a much big­ger draw­card than the screen­ing of Ce­cil B DeMille’s drama The Great­est Show on Earth on open­ing night.

Launched by the late John Pye, who went on to build the Ace en­ter­tain­ment and hos­pi­tal­ity group, it was planned and con­structed on a grand scale.

Across a 6ha site back­ing on to Al­bany High­way that was read­ied us­ing al­most 31,000 tonnes of ma­te­ri­als, it fea­tured a tow­er­ing 13m-high 15m-wide out­door movie screen on 240-tonne con­crete foot­ings (it had to with­stand the stormi­est nights, after all), a pro­jec­tion booth, and 650 view­ing ramps and stands with speaker boxes, along with 16km of ca­ble.

There were also 500 bays to hold ve­hi­cles at­tend­ing the sec­ond nightly ses­sion, a kids’ play­ground, mini golf course, cafe­te­ria and as many as 30 uni­formed staff, in­clud­ing car mar­shals, cashiers, car hops and chil­dren’s at­ten­dants.

City of Can­ning her­itage of­fi­cer Ge­off Moor said the area was all dairy farms and small ru­ral hold­ings when the High­way kicked off 22 years after the ear­li­est US ver­sion.

“It was a whole new ven­ture and on land that was orig­i­nally part of the Lid­dlelow dairy farm,” he said.

“To­day we think noth­ing of go­ing some­where that

has burg­ers and chips, but cafe­te­ria-style din­ing was a new ex­pe­ri­ence too.

“The High­way was an in­stant hit and took over from the old open-air pic­ture the­atres, caus­ing the Melody and Queens Park Gar­dens to close.”

The High­way’s success sparked a drive-in craze that swept across Perth, fu­elled by grow­ing car own­er­ship and our love of the great out­doors, not to men­tion a sheer lack of places to go after dark.

A fur­ther eight the­atres — the Sky­line in Floreat, Lake­way in Swan­bourne, Metro in In­naloo and Mel­way in Melville to name a few — sprung up before the end of the decade and an­other nine dot­ted the sub­urbs dur­ing the ’60s.

The for­mat of the “drives” was sim­ple: A news reel or car­toon fol­lowed by com­ing at­trac­tions, the B film, an in­ter­val to stock up on snacks then the main movie, with car-side ser­vice avail­able at the touch of a speaker stand but­ton.

It wasn’t just the big-screen ac­tion but the pa­trons who made them fun; driv­ers smug­gling in pas­sen­gers by the boot load, py­jama-clad kids muck­ing around on rear seats, court­ing cou­ples canoodling be­hind fogged win­dows, ve­hi­cle lights flash­ing at rude scenes and many movie-go­ers get­ting lost mak­ing the long dark trek back from the loo.

Mr Moor said peo­ple would park out­side the grounds to watch shows despite hav­ing no sound, and mid­night hor­ror films on long week­ends were quite a big thing.

Apart from rowdy groups sit­ting on bon­nets, flat bat­ter­ies and driv­ers leav­ing with speak­ers still at­tached to car win­dows, there was gen­er­ally no trou­ble.

“There were also no noise com­plaints be­cause the sound was con­tained to your car,” Mr Moor said.

“The only one I know that had big loud speak­ers be­hind the screen was the Panorama in Ro­ley­stone and they reckon on a clear night you could hear the movies down in Kelm­scott quite clearly.”

Five drive-ins were built dur­ing the 1970s and the Ace­way in Mor­ley started up in the 1980s as the rise of colour tele­vi­sion, home video, sub­ur­ban cin­ema com­plexes and other en­ter­tain­ment venues had an im­pact.

In­creas­ing land prices also made it at­trac­tive for own­ers to sell.

The High­way closed its gates for the last time on June 19, 1994, and is to­day the site of a hous­ing es­tate.

It left only the Galaxy Drive-in The­atre stand­ing in the metro area, where the tra­di­tion has been kept alive by the Basso fam­ily since its launch on Novem­ber 1, 1973.

After part of the carpark was sub­di­vided and sold to a de­vel­oper dur­ing the mid-1990s, it now spans 15,500sqm in Kings­ley, has a 200-ve­hi­cle ca­pac­ity, one screen and plays a mix of new and clas­sic movies four nights a week.

It was con­verted to dig­i­tal pro­jec­tion just over 12 years ago, mak­ing speaker boxes a thing of the past after be­ing re­placed by an au­dio sig­nal to the car ra­dio.

Galaxy op­er­a­tions man­ager Kym­berly Ham­b­ley said the the­atre oc­ca­sion­ally fills dur­ing sum­mer, with mainly fam­i­lies in the crowd.

“These days, peo­ple just sit at a screen, and I know we’re a screen, but it’s a bit dif­fer­ent when you’re in a car as you can en­joy each other’s com­pany,” she said.

“We’re see­ing more and more cus­tomers com­ing in with tents that can be at­tached se­curely to 4WD roof racks and watch­ing the film from in­side their tents or even on mat­tresses in the back of their utes,” she said.

Mrs Ham­b­ley said the screen­ing of ac­tion film The Fast and the Fu­ri­ous was one of the most pop­u­lar, while pa­trons cheer­ing at the end of mu­si­cal drama The Great­est Show­man was a rare sight.

“We’d love for peo­ple to come down and ex­pe­ri­ence the joy of spend­ing qual­ity time with fam­ily and friends in a re­lax­ing en­vi­ron­ment un­der the stars,” she said.

Left: The area was all dairy farms and small ru­ral hold­ings when the High­way kicked off. Above: A snack bar at­ten­dant pro­vides car-side ser­vice to the­atre pa­trons.

Pic­tures: Bill Hatto and The West Aus­tralian

(Top): An evening un­der the stars at the Galaxy Drive-in The­atre back in 1994, and (above) an ad­ver­tise­ment in The West Aus­tralian pro­mot­ing the Galaxy Drive-in The­atre’s open­ing on Novem­ber 1, 1973.

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