Although it’s now unrecognisable as a residential development, local movie buffs may fondly remember the Skyway Drive-in theatre which operated from 1959 to 1989.
Bundaberg Regional Libraries’ heritage research team looked into the history of the popular drive-in theatre which was situated near the corner of Maynard and Fitzgerald Streets.
Development approval was granted by Council for the facility on 30 July 1959 and construction began shortly after the Films Commission and Council granted the relevant approvals and licences.
But the “modern entertainment” venue was more than just movies – it featured a playground, pony rides, a free baby bottle warming service and a dining experience.
The official opening, slated as “the modern way to see movies” was advertised for 19 November, 1959 but was postponed due to inclement weather.
The Skyway Drive-in Theatre was officially opened in front of a capacity crowd by Mayor, Ald. C.J. Nielsen, as reported by the Bundaberg NewsMail on 27 November 1959.
Reportedly, his speech detailed “… that probably the greatest need in the world today was the strengthening of family ties, a resurgence of the feeling of “one-ness” which used to bind families together in past years,” the NewsMail said.
“Drive-in theatres will help to bring back that family spirit because the whole family can drive to the pictures and enjoy themselves.”
The first movies shown were Magnificent Matador starring Maureen O’Hara and Anthony Quinn, and Mystery Lake with George Fenneman and Gloria McGough.
Proceeds from the first night were shared among five charities.
Originally operated by Bundaberg Drive-in Pty Ltd, in the mid-1960s Skyway was purchased by Birch, Caroll & Coyle which remodelled the facility and reopened with a Casino Royale themed evening on 20 September 1967.
The reopening even broke a record, featuring “Bundaberg’s biggest ever cake” – a 36 kg roulette wheel creation, boasting 9 kg of marzipan icing.
“The Skyway Drive-in and the people of Bundaberg really got into the theme and a competition to find Bundy’s own Miss Casino Royale was held,” the library heritage research team said.
“Eight girls were whittled down to 3 finalists – Jan Kennedy, Sandra Torrisi and Sandra Knott.”
Jan Kennedy, 17, was eventually declared Bundaberg’s Miss Casino Royale.
A movie theatre is never short on drama and Skyway had its share – with the theft of the evenings takings, which had been earmarked for charity.
The thieves were eventually apprehended but not without a 30 hour police stake out.
In the 1980s the theatre was taken over by a local consortium before hosting its final farewell in a dusk to dawn movie marathon on Sunday 26 March 1989.
Skyway Drive-in fast facts
- 300 vehicle capacity, later upgraded to 500 vehicles
- The screen was 24.6 m wide and 11.2 m high
- It sat 5.4 m off the ground, at a total height of 16.7 m
- 85 tonnes of concrete was poured for the screen foundations
- One speaker post was provided for every two vehicles – which required 20.9km of electrical wiring
- The drive-in featured “modern” plastic in-car speakers with adjustable volume for each car and a switch for cafeteria direct service to the car
By golly, how could you miss out talking about the playground at the Skyway?
They had a couple of Shetland ponies, saddled up, and hand led around the circular area in this playground.
Winter nights, kick the kids out and we sat in the kiosk area near the projection room. They stoked up this contained fire, and even getting close to that, with a blanket, you still froze.
Then a fog might set in, or rain, and that was it for the night.
Did you find out the name of the projectionist? My parents knew that man and his wife. We used to visit them where they were building a house.
Any takers on that one?
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