A letter in the local paper gave me a major flashback, to a time long ago when i was a kid. It revolves around the summer holidays, and the local open air movie theatre at Burrill Lake, this was heritage listed but has now sadly been knocked down. You can’t let a little bit of history stand in the way of a sub division can you?.

Burrill Lake open air theatre holds some of the most vivid memories of my, and my family’s childhood’s. Every summer my family would up stakes and camp at Bungalow park for five weeks.

Each night from our tent you would watch the procession of people heading to the theatre, all walking zombie like, as if extras from the movie ‘The night of the living dead’.

The veteran, and professional theatre patrons could be spotted as they carried pillows with them, to cushion their vulnerable posteriors from the abrasive canvas seats, and to stop themselves being concussed, as they reclinded their
heads back onto the 3 inch plumbing pipe that held the
backs of the seats up.

The real smarties in the crowd also brought aerogard insect repellent spray to keep the mozzies at bay, it was not unusual to hear the slapping of ankles and arms, then a call of ‘Pass the aerogard!’.

How i envied the posh people who had their canvas deck
chair seats reserved, by having a piece of timber
Padded with a dark mustard, vinyl covering placed along
the seating.

I remember the first time my dad took me to see a film there, it looked pretty rough from the outside with only corrugated walls, but when we walked into the foyer I thought ‘How swish!’, they had a candy bar, I also seem to remember red velvet curtains, a man stood at the entrance to the theatre in a suit with a bow tie!, he took our tickets, and pulled the red curtain across for us to enter.
I remember looking up at dad with a look of shock when we were greeted by the sight of the tin
walls, lampost support pillars, a VERY rough cement
floor that petered out to a dirt trail, and the
(in)famous seats.

As i sort of described before, the seating consisted of wood posts at either end of a long row, the front post lower than the back, canvas was stitched around plumbing pipe that ran across the posts so it was like a long line of deck chairs.

Being exposed to the elements (did i mention that this
theatre only had about a third of the seats under
cover?, the rest was down the front in the open air)
the canvas seating, and especially the stitching would rot,
becoming weakend.

Without a word of a lie i remember watching a war movie with my dad one night, and we heard what sounded like someone’s pants tearing, only to have the seat in front of my dad give way as the top stitching split. The lady in the seat fell strait
Backwards, and her head landed in my fathers lap!.

We were always treated and sat in the undercover part, quite often it would start to rain in the middle of the movie, and you would laugh and think ‘Suckers!’ as the crowd down the front fled up the isle to sit on the cement floor.

I recall watching ‘Romancing the stone’ and ‘Give my regards to Broadstreet’ in the summer of 1984/5, probably the last time I went to theatre. I remember a scene in ‘Romancing the stone’ where they were in the arid desert, and from outside the theatre came a flock of seagulls, drawn to the light being projected into the night sky. The birds danced and swooped
in front of the screen, it was quite surreal.

I don’t think it was uncommon for seagulls to crash into the screen some nights.

Whenever it was time for a new movie to be shown, the octagonal film containers covered in stickers would be left
outside the shop on the main road to be picked up,
again such vivid memories.

One thing that held a special fascination for me (no
idea why, maybe it was the seeds of my future movie
poster collecting hobby being sown) but I always loved
the day when the people would come around, and paste up the new posters for the forthcoming features. I remember
they were pasted up onto blank squares of tin. Outside
the shop they had a special frame and board to paste
them on, but in the camp ground the tin was nailed up
between two tree’s just near the amenities block.

I couldn’t wait for the poster person to come along with their tin pot of glue (probably cornflour and water) and big wide brush and slap the goo over the old poster, lay over the new one, then apply another coat of the clear paste. By the end of the summer these posters would be about half an inch thick with all the layers of movies past.

I can still smell the paste, and I loved going over to them after it had rained, and poking my finger into them as they were like a big gooey sponge (I was only a child remember ha ha) I do remember one movie poster being for Ringo Starrs
‘Blindman’, a spaghetti western, I’ve since purchased
that poster, tho the one I saw posted on the board is the one with all the memories.

It’s tragic the theatre had to be torn down, tho suppose it was inevitable, I mean they don’t make waterproof, digital, 5.1 audio surround sound sytems do they?.

The Tingler xoxo

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  1. Sue Swan says:

    Hi Tammy,

    The photo of the people watching the movie, is that Glenn?


  2. Rod Dewey says:

    My family holiday rented then purchased one of the 5 ‘Lakeside Cottages’ opposite the theatre. This was late 1950’s to the 1970’s. I was the ‘lolly boy’ walking the aisles selling sweets to the patrons. Mr Riley was the operator of the theatre. He would pay me 10 shillings for sales less theft from the local louts who would throw sixpence into my lolly tray and take a shillings worth of chocolate. The tray was suspended in front of me with a leather strap around my neck as support. I helped Mr Riley in winter lighting the coke fires in old dunny (toilet) cans. We would then push a steel pipe through the can top and carry into the theatre and place in a space under cover to heat the ‘posh’ area under the roof covering. Sometimes the strange noises were the possums climbing over the corrugated iron walls to search for food amongst the patrons.
    On theatre nights when I was not on duty we would dress in warm clothing, take a cushion and a blanket to keep us warm in those low slung canvas seats. The lower front door area was made from bark but in high King tides the front door area flooded. Mr Riley built a fibro entry on the upper end (rear) of the theatre and made a kiosk /entry foyer.
    In later years Mr Riley ran a small theatre in the centre of Sydney near Martin Place.
    Mrs Riley looked after the ‘Lakeside Cottages’ across the road in Balmoral Drive.
    The Bond family were also regulars

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