There was a time in the ‘60s and ‘70s when going to the drive-in was the big weekend treat for the kids.
Have dinner early. Get bathed. On with the PJs. Then off you’d go, all crammed in the Holden. Dad driving. Mum in the front. The kids at the back.
On arrival it was get the sound system sorted. Grab some popcorn and a coolie. If the weather was a little chilly, there’d be a blanket or two for the kids to snuggle up in. And the odd fight over who had stolen too much blanket.
Then it was time for the feature movie to get going on the big screen. As kids you’d always keep an eye out for some bloke and his girlfriend in the next car copping a bit of a feel. If you did, it was giggles all round!
Ah, those were the days. When things were innocent and regular outings to the drive-in were part of the glue that bound Aussie families together.
Aussie drive-in culture goes back to the ‘50s
In 1954 the first drive-in theatre opened in Australia: The Hoyts Skyline in Melbourne. By the time the drive-in was in its heyday in the mid-‘60s there were more than 300 in Australia – third only to the US and Canada, according to www.driveinmovie.com.
But the world changed. As it always does. There was more live footie and cricket on the telly. More entertainment programmes too. The cinemas got fancier and more comfortable. The appeal of the drive-in slowly faded.
Now there are only around 16 left in Australia. There’s even one at Coober Pedy in outback South Australia, for heaven’s sake! Although these days it’s run by volunteers after it ceased to be a viable business many years ago.
Good times on the way again?
For those that have hung in there despite the odds, the good times at the drive-in may be about to return. At least for a while, anyway. Others that have been mothballed and haven’t yet made way for a supermarket or housing development could get a new lease of life too.
The arrival of COVID-19 has changed many things in Australia, including the way we’ll get out and about for our entertainment. Given the requirement for social distancing, presumably cinemas won’t be the place to go for a while yet.
Cue the venerable drive-in. A place where you can get out of the now-claustrophobic house and enjoy a movie while remaining, mostly anyway, within your family bubble. It really is Back to the Future.
Part of the new adjustment to social distancing
“More Australians are expected to visit the drive-ins at any time since the 1970s as they adjust their lives to strict social distancing,” says the Daily Mail in an article published this week.
“With cinemas likely to remain closed and authorities warning social distancing could become the new norm well into the future, settling in to the backseat of a car while tuning in to the movie via radio might be the next big trend in 2020.”
The Adelaide-based Advertiser agrees. In an article headlined “Drive-in revs back up amid great virus shut-in”, the publication notes that the city’s “last remaining drive-in cinema [at Gepps Cross] is going from relic to much needed source of social relief as South Australians are driven indoors amid the fight against COVID-19”.
Not quite the old days, though
But things won’t be quite the same as before. The Yatala Drive-in in Queensland, for example, is preparing to reopen on Saturday 2 May, but with a range of strict social-distancing measures in place to protect both patrons and staff.
“It will be a much different experience than what people have been used to under conditions that will provide a safe environment for everyone,” Yatala says on its Facebook page.
Measures include internet pre-booking of tickets to avoid the need for human contact at the entrance, no children’s playground, vehicle capacity limited to 50% to enhance social distancing and no snack bar.
“Guests will be required to remain inside their vehicles at all times during their visit to the drive-in, with the exception of trips to use the restrooms. People not practising social distancing will be asked to leave the property without a refund,” Yatala says.
And will there still be young couples snogging in the back seats? Possibly. But hopefully with appropriate social distancing…