Wongan Hills Drive-In
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Previous Names: Mocardy Drive-In
Life was tough on the road for a touring Picture Show Man. For Vic Basham the most impressive grossing venue on his touring theatre circuit was the Wongan Hill Civic Hall. Wongan Hills is a town in the Shire of Wongan-Ballidu, located in the wheat belt region of Western Australia, approximately 182km north of Perth. The local council with forward planning were about to build an Olympic pool and a caravan park for travellers. So with this in mind he began to formulate a plan to build a drive-in theatre at Wongan Hills.
The preferred location was almost in the centre of town, so central that it was positioned right opposite the railway station. A great place to build a drive-in. Vic purchased the land and began to put the gear together himself utilizing two complete C&W P5 Junior Projectors he had rescued from a city theatre that were on the way to a dump. Later there would be a change to a pair of Simplex projector heads. So together with the help of Brian Parker, as local carpenter, and a fast diminishing bank account, work began on the projection booth. By now we are approaching the middle months of 1958.
The Mocardy Drive-In, Wongan Hills was officially opened in January 1959 trading as Rural Districts Pictures, with a capacity of 150-cars and a screening policy of 5 nights a week. This consisted of three programme changes a week. A special area was set aside in the style of a a traditional picture garden for 40 deck chairs. The grand opening was presided over by Roads Board Chair-person H.L. Shields who praised Vic for his industry and vision. The Mocardy Drive-In was the first drive-in to be built in regional Western Australia. Initially business was very good with packed out performances, and on most evenings customers would be waiting at the gate from around 4pm or 5pm to purchase tickets. As the months progressed business was such that the capacity was increased to 200-cars. The Mocardy Drive-In carried on until the advent of television, which then began making major in-roads into attendances. Locals had begun installing powerful antennas to access television broadcasts from distant Perth.
Vic’s “If you can’t beat them join them” philosophy saw him go into the business of retailing televisions, fridges and washers. This meant taking on the qualifications of a refrigeration mechanic and a licenced electrician. All the while he continued to run the drive-in side by side with his new business. By the early-1970’s Vic had enlisted the support of two of his employees (Ron Harp & Paul Green) to keep the drive-in operating. Advertising in the Beverley Times during 1962 confirms that Vic was continuing to operate the Wongan Civic Hall in conjunction with the drive-in.
The drive-in takings continued to decline, and business was such that a decision was made to sell the drive-in. In 1979 there was a change of ownership and a name change to Wongan Hills Drive-In. The drive-in ran until 1984 when it finally closed and fell derelict. The screen was demolished in 1986 and the land is currently (2022) used to store scrap metal.
In his senior years Vic liked to recall the golden years, and often expressed regret for things long past. He went on “I think a lot of people miss the drive-in’s, maybe it’s something to do with their dating days? It was certainly easier to court the opposite sex in a car than in a couple of theatre chairs. I always reckoned our drive-in at Wongan Hills was the place to be. On cold nights we’d have a big fire blazing next to the snack bar, and everybody would stand around and warm themselves with a hot cup of coffee. It was a good way of socialising and seeing a movie as well. I fear there are those who may never experience the illicit delight of skipping down to the kiosk in nighties and pyjamas for peanuts and crisps, while mum and dad sipped their Mozelle or Swan Lager staring up at the big movie screen in the sky”.
Requiem for a Picture Showman - In 2010 Vic Basham acquired the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, eventually being admitted to the Northam Palliative care unit. Vic passed away from the effects of Alzheimer’s on October 14, 2020, he been actively involved with cinema for 79 years.
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