Long-time residents of Canberra will remember the old Starlight drive-in cinema that used to be at Watson, near the end of the Federal Highway, with its bright neon sign proudly glowing for all who entered Canberra to see. Brand new residents of Canberra will have no idea what I’m talking about. The younger generation probably have no idea what a drive-in cinema is.
The Starlight closed in 1993 with the big neon sign standing (unlit) for almost 20 years until it was damaged in a 2012 storm and removed by authorities. It has since been lying in an ACT Government depot, basically rotting away until recently when a self-appointed ‘Rescue Committee’ called on the Government to fix up the sign and reinstate it, preferably in its original spot.
According to coverage by the Canberra Times, it will cost over $30,000 to restore the sign, a fee the ACT Government has agreed to cover. The sign will be put up, but not lit as the owners of the Starlight apartment complex, which now stands where the cinema once was, voiced their opposition to the sign.
The ‘Rescue Committee’ is fighting for the sign to be lit up once it’s restored and has denied this will create a false impression for tourists telling the Times that it sat for nearly 20 years without doing this. Perhaps this was not the case as the sign was not lit up for the 20 years that it sat on the side of the road. The owners of the Starlight Apartments have said in a statement that lighting the sign could, as well as confusing visitors to the Capital, ‘create an adverse glare for nearby residents’. If that sign is right near the windows of apartments, the residents will want to move out as quickly as possible – no one wants a neon sign shining through their windows at night.
The sign is heritage listed as it ‘remains as the only tangible reminder in the ACT of the iconic era of drive-ins’.
Even with the ‘heritage listing’, I can’t understand what the point of reinstating the sign is. $30,000 is a lot of money to be spending on something that will bring in no tourism or revenue to the ACT. No one is going to visit Canberra to get their photo taken in front of a sign for an old drive-in cinema. What is the justification of this? I understand that governments have different budgets for different areas and this $30,000 plus has obviously come out of the appropriate budget, but for what benefit? It will probably get graffiti all over it and then damaged again once another big storm hits. Why not clean the sign up and put it in the museum? This way it can be appreciated by many whilst being protected from graffiti and wild weather.
The ‘Rescue Committee’ driving this just seem like a bunch of people who used to frequent the drive-in and are really having trouble with the concept of letting go.