9 February 2024

Riverina Rewind: Did you sneak into the Gumly drive-in?

| Chris Roe
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The Sturt Drive-In opened at Gumly Gumly in 1959.

The Sturt Drive-In opened at Gumly Gumly in 1959. Photo: Charles Sturt University Regional Archives.

How awesome were drive-in movie theatres?

Seriously. Was there a better way to see a movie than sitting in the car or on the back of a ute with a couple of scratchy speakers and a backdrop of stars?

From 1959 to 1987 the Sturt Drive-In at Gumly Gumly was the place to be.

Boasting a massive 30 by 40 m screen, the drive-in had parking for up to 400 cars and a state-of-the-art speaker system that clipped to your window and had individual volume controls.

One of three picture theatres in Wagga owned by Hoyts, the drive-in offered a unique option to families with play equipment and supervision for the kids.

The convenience of the drive-in appealed to all ages and the schedule included everything from children’s films to genre-based double-features and even ‘dusk till dawn’ screenings for serious movie lovers.

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Officially, the Sturt Drive-In opened on 11 February 1959.

Around 300 cars rolled out to the opening to see the screwball comedy, How to Marry a Millionaire featuring Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall.

However, on the night before opening, a privileged few were treated to a preview screening of the musical comedy Mardi Gras starring Pat Boone.

The Sturt Drive-In was run by a former Sydneysider named Douglas Cook who got his start in live theatre and switched to movies in the 1920s.

He operated all three Hoyts outlets in Wagga and built the drive-in at Gumly Gumly on 15 acres for the cost of £80,000.

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Australia’s first drive-in opened in Melbourne in 1954 and, with the perfect climate for outdoor movies and a boom in car sales, the craze took off with more than 330 being built across the country in the following years.

You could wear what you wanted, wander to the canteen, make out with your beau and even drink a cheeky beer or two.

Teenagers piled into utes decked out with mattresses and there was nothing more sophisticated than a Bedford truck with an old couch on the tray reversed into place for a ‘balcony’ view.

“Sneaking in” by hiding in the boot was one way to achieve instant legend status, although you ran the risk of getting caught and banned from coming back!

So what happened to the drive-in?

Their decline coincided with the rise in VHS home entertainment and by the mid-80s it was easier and cheaper to rent a video and have a night at home.

Today, there are only a handful of drive-ins operating across the country with the last one in NSW located in Blacktown in Sydney.

Sadly Wagga Wagga’s Sturt Drive-In closed around 1987 and was demolished around 10 years later.

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