Koorda Drive-In for your June Long Weekend

Have you made your plans for the upcoming June long weekend? How about a weekend in the Wheatbelt, with your Saturday night spent in the open air, under starry skies at the Koorda Drive In? Only 3 hours from Perth Koorda is located along the Wheatbelt Way and combining a night at the Drive-Ins as a part of your camping trip or weekend away would make for a memorable experience! Check out the details on our Events page.

The Shire of Koorda built the drive-in and paid for it with a loan of £2,500. It opened in October 1965. Paddy Baker was the first lessee, and he employed two local men, Len Thompson and W.J. (Jim) Weymouth, to operate it for him. Baker sent the films up from Perth, and Thompson and Weymouth would send them on to another of Baker’s drive-in circuit, at Trayning: Koorda opened on Friday and Saturday, and Trayning on Sunday. The venue, which held 110 cars, filled several times: Len Thompson remembers three overflow nights on The Sound of Music, and two nights on Gone with the Wind.

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There was seating for about thirty inside the kiosk, and the people from the township often used this: cars would come from all around the district. The gates opened at 6 p.m., when the kiosk started serving meals, and the film would start at 8 p.m. Lil Weymouth was cook until she died, and then the kiosk was let out on contract, as it had not been a great money-spinner. While they were on the local power supply the voltage might drop away 30-40 volts, and the conversion from AC to DC also entailed a drop in voltage: if the voltage dropped the automatic feed on the carbon arcs would also stop, the arcs would pull apart and the light would fade on the screen.But it was not such technical problems that led to the demise of the drive-in: like most such venues, Koorda closed because of the drop in patronage after television. Where they had been getting about ninety cars on a good night, and perhaps thirty to forty even on a bad night, after TV they were lucky to get six people! So the venue closed about 1983.

In 1987 it re-opened: Steve Marvin of Perth screened once a month at first, then less regularly in the nineties, selecting dates to fit in with other community activities in the town. The Shire still owned the venue and renovated it in the mid-90s, so that it looked quite smart. The speakers hung from their stands in a sign of faith that vandals would not interfere, and patrons still traveled from other towns in the surrounding districts whenever a show was on. Chris Simmons reports that the Drive In operated monthly over the summer for several years, and that Chris was himself the projectionist for part of this time, coming up from Perth to screen at Mukinbudin on Friday night, then on to Koorda on the Saturday night. Chris was screening at Koorda over the summer of 2000-2001.

The Koorda Drive-In was one of many built in the 50’s and 60’s. There were over 80 in WA at their peak, as Drive-Ins were very popular. However, Koorda is one of only three Drive In’s that is still operating in WA.  The Koorda Drive-In has a capacity of approximately 110 cars and still uses the original Westrex NTS RCA in car speakers, although FM radio transmission has been added. The FM radio transmission sound system is of superior digital quality.

The original Simplex projectors (manufactured/built in 1929) are still operational, and one is now housed in the diner downstairs for public viewing, these projectors are one of the oldest operating machines in Australia. The sound-heads are the original Westrex type and date back to 1927 when “talkies” were introduced. The sound system is still valve technology through some of the original Westrex, RCA & NTS speakers which hang on the car windows as in the past but a digital FM transmitter has been installed to provide superior sound through the modern car radio systems. The huge screen measures approximately 22 metres wide and 20 metres high and was refurbished by local townsfolk in 2002, they completely rebuilt the frames and panels, then a coat of paint to give us the terrific screen we have today. In regards to our iconic history making projectors, the oldest operational in Australia utilising 35mm films, this operation system was unfortunately faded out in 2014. In February 2015, Koorda converted to the newer digital system which offers a clearer picture and is more user friendly.

Overnight accommodation in Koorda can be booked at the Koorda Caravan Park, Koorda Hotel, Yalambie Units or head out to one of the three campgrounds at Mollerin Rock, Newcarlbeon  and the Native Flora Reserve.

By Wheatbelt Way on 21 Apr 2015
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