Location: Bulla Road/Melrose Drive, Tullamarine
Capacity: 862 Cars
Operator: Village Drive-in Essendon Pty Ltd
What do you do if you have a car and want a cheap nights entertainment? Go to the drive-in to see a movie. What do you do if you work in the cinema industry as a projectionist and have a car and want an even cheaper nights entertainment? Visit drive-ins to look at the drive-in !
The girls at the Village Essendon drive-in snack bar in 1962.
My friend Ian and I set off to visit as many drive-ins (and indoor theatres) as possible. We thought we had better look at where each other worked first, and Essendon was where Ian worked as assistant projectionist - when such beasts existed. It was a cool evening with about five cars spread across the 10 acres of ramps when I arrived, Ian was already on site preparing the projectors and repairing speakers. Fred the projectionist
ensured it was all done to his standards. By show time about 30 cars had made it out to Essendon this Sunday evening to see the 53rd revival of "Flesh Gordon". I can't even remember the support but it must have been bad. These prints had seen better days with splices galore and sprocket holes torn throughout the print. The old Century projectors just kept rolling along and let pass even the worst feet of mangled film. Ian showed me the standby generator
which was extremely loud when started in the small brick room - why were they always in small brick rooms?
Nearby was a room that contained about 800 drive-in speakers that were retired when Cine-fi was installed some years before. (In the haste to install Cine-fi at drive-ins to improve the sound, all speakers were removed, it wasn't until this time that the theatre operators realised that not everyone had car radios, so a few ramps of speakers
were re-installed!) After the night at Essendon drive-in we set off for Denny's and some late night steak dinners. They went down well on top of the Village drive-in donuts. Denny's is now gone and all that remains of Essendon are two speakers hanging on a pole in my backyard.
In the early days of the Village drive-ins, the snack bars were run by a separate company and icy cold tomato juice was available.
Essendon was among the first Village drive-ins built and as such was a typical Australian drive-in, loved and even worshipped by the throngs in the early days, then quietly slipping into obscurity in the 1980's. The site was developed into housing and has streets named Forum, Paramount and the like.
Plenty of confectionary to go with the coffee, burgers and smiles.
Ian took some excellent photos from the top of the screen one night and I hope to have some here soon.
Village operated twelve drive-ins in Melbourne (40 in total). The "On The Buses" films were very popular in the mid-1970's and even Benny Hill made it on to the big screen.
If there was a Collingwood drive-in, it would never have been allowed to close. Thanks to Joan and Phil Allen for photos used here.