Drive-in theatres reached the height of their popularity in Australia during the late 1950s through to the mid 1960s. The Burleigh Drive-In Theatre was the sixth to be built in Queensland and the first to open on the Gold Coast.
In March 1957 the Picture Theatre and Films Commission in Southport received two applications for a permit to establish a drive-in theatre at Burleigh Heads. The successful petitioners were a trio of gentlemen, one of whom was Sir Frank Sellick, Lord Mayor of Melbourne. Construction of the theatre began in September of the same year on a 25-acre parcel of land one mile inland from Burleigh Heads on West Burleigh Road. The earthworks required bitumen surfacing, the clearing of land, the laying of cable trenches and the making of half a mile of kerbs and gutters.
Initially designed to accommodate 500 cars, allowance was made to eventually extend this to 750 spaces. The picture screen, 110ft by 50ft, stood 20ft off the ground and at the time was one of the tallest man-made structures on the Coast. Other facilities included a children’s playground, snack bar, restaurant, offices and an auxiliary power plant to ensure that pictures were not interrupted by disruptions to the electricity supply. Construction was estimated to cost £100,000. The anticipated increase in traffic also necessitated the widening of West Burleigh Road.
On Thursday 12 December 1957, in front of a crowd of around 1,200 people, the Burleigh Drive-In Theatre was officially opened by the Hon. J.A. Heading, Minister for Works and Local Government. In his speech Mr Heading made mention of the importance of such an entertainment facility to the community whereby young families, the aged and the infirm were able to enjoy films from the comfort and safety of their own cars. The first movie to be screened was The Million Pound Note starring Gregory Peck.
Promoted as the largest drive-in theatre in Queensland, the theatre was open seven days a week from 5.30pm. Improvements totalling $26,000 were completed in 1968 and included re-sheeting and re-conditioning the screen, installation of the latest in projection lighting and sound technology, a new dining area and additional landscaping.
The drive-in theatre was a popular local attraction until its closure in 1980 and subsequent demolition. The area then underwent major redevelopment, with the Burleigh Town Centre (later the Stockland Burleigh Heads Shopping Centre) opening on the site of the former Burleigh Drive-In Theatre in 1981.
Sources of information and further reading
- Application for a drive-in theatre (1957, March 6). The South Coast Bulletin, p. 20.
- West Burleigh drive-in theatre (1957, September 11). The South Coast Bulletin, p. 1.
- Coast’s first drive-in theatre (1957, November 27). The South Coast Bulletin.
- At work 100 feet up (1957, December 4). The South Coast Bulletin.
- Burleigh Drive-In opens next Thursday (1957, December 6). The South Coast News, p. 4.
- Officially opened by Minister for Works (1957, December 18). The South Coast Bulletin, p. 7.
- The new look in Drive-ins! (1968, July 17). Gold Coast Bulletin, p. 24.
- Cinema Treasures. 2000. Retrieved September 13, 2017, from http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/53240