Alice Springs' Pioneer Drive-In calls it a day


Alice Springs is a town near the center of Australia. Located in a desert region, it gets only 11 inches of rain a year. This would seem to be the perfect spot for a drive-in theatre like the Pioneer Drive-In, which opened in 1965.

On Sunday, Nov. 28, 1988, only two cars turned up for a screening of the double bill Masquerade and A New Life. The operator sent the two cars home, locked up the site, and closed the drive-in. That would appear to have been the end of the story, but a local lobby group formed, Citizens for Outdoor Cinema in Alice Springs. They wanted the cinema to re-open. By the year 2000, they had managed to get the property shortlisted for a heritage order and finally earned one in 2005.

What was on their side was the screen. This was a rare example of a white painted concrete screen for a drive-in. As weeds grew through the original parking area, the screen remained in pretty good condition. In 2011, the site was delisted as a heritage site and a developer announced plans to demolish the screen. The Citizens for Outdoor Cinema were told that they would have to raise A$60,000 to remove and relocate the old concrete screen. That never happened and in June this year, almost 25 years after the last screening, the Pioneer Drive-In finally died as the screen came down.

It is interesting to note that New Zealand has never had a permanent drive-in cinema. It did have what was called a walk-in cinema near Masterton. Patrons would park their cars on the road and walk into the field to sit and watch films on a large outdoor screen, much as happens often now with temporary summer outdoor cinemas in many cities. As a Kiwi, it was a real delight for me, at 24, to experience my first real drive-in cinema at Chullora Drive-In after moving to Australia.

Twice, actor Russell Crowe has come close to making his directorial debut, but it has not happened as yet. But it looks like third time lucky. While in Australia to promote the new Superman film, he confirmed that plans were on track for him to direct his first feature. The Water Diviner is set in Turkey in 1919, after the battle of Gallipoli. An Australian father, possibly to be played by Crowe, searches for his two sons, both missing since the battle. The film is being produced by Troy Lum and Andrew Mason for Hopscotch Films along with Keith Rodger from Crowe's Fear of God films. Crowe was to have been one of the directors on the omnibus feature Sydney Unplugged, which we wrote about over a year ago. That film is currently on hiatus while a lawsuit drags on in Paris. Crowe was born in New Zealand, but has lived in Australia for most of his career.

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