60th anniversary – Australia’s first drive-in shopping centre

On May 30, 1957, thousands of shoppers attended the opening of Allan and Stark’s Chermside Drive-in Shopping Centre in Brisbane’s north.

Opening announcement for the Chermside Drive-in Shopping Centre. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 108973. (In copyright)

Opening announcement for the Chermside Drive-in Shopping Centre. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 108973. (In copyright)

Set on 28 acres (11.33ha), it promised a shopping experience that would be “both fun and a thrill”. The £600,000 shopping complex was heralded as the first of its kind in Australia.

Scale model of Allen & Stark's department store, Chermside, Brisbane, Queensland, April 1956. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 191380. In copyright

Scale model of Allen & Stark’s department store, Chermside, Brisbane, Queensland, April 1956. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 191380. In copyright

Fifteen minutes before the centre’s opening, the carpark – which catered for 700 cars – was full and motorists began using surrounding streets to park. At 9am, Queensland Premier Vince Gair “performed the opening by turning the key to the Allan and Stark entrance from the mall”, The Courier-Mail reported.

Publicity for the Chermside Drive-in Shopping Centre. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 108974

Publicity for the Chermside Drive-in Shopping Centre. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 108974

Advertisements had boasted that Chermside Drive-In Shopping Centre was “a new kind of store … dedicated to your suburban family living … where you can drive in and park with convenience”.

The centre offered 26 shops, including a florist, a milk and doughnut bar, a fruit and vegetable shop, a newsagent, a butcher’s shop, a beauty salon, an optometrist, a chemist and more. The centre also had its own children’s nursery, so that busy parents could drop off their kids while they shopped in peace.

Window shopping at Chermside Shopping Centre ca. 1957. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 191381. (In copyright)

Window shopping at Chermside Shopping Centre ca. 1957. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 191381. (In copyright)

The Brisbane Telegraph reported that more than 15,000 people visited the centre on the opening day – 20 police were on hand for crowd control. According to The Courier-Mail, the opening had “all the trappings of a Hollywood premiere – prominent personalities, brass bands, popping flashbulbs … and crowds”.

Brisbane Cash and Carry, a self-service grocery store, was so popular that people were admitted in relays. Over 1,500 sample bags were given away with goods to the value of 5 shillings (approximately $7.60 today). The sample bags included items such as balloons, comics, custard powder, pickles, jellies, Pine-O-Clean and marcaroni. The new Brisbane Cash and Carry also boasted seven check-outs and “wheeled baskets known as gliders”.

“Every suburb should have [its] own shopping centre,” Premier Gair enthused.

Site of the new Chermside Shopping Centre seen from the air in 1967. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 42898. (In copyright)

Site of the new Chermside Shopping Centre seen from the air in 1967. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 42898. (In copyright)

Westfield Chermside currently occupy this site.

The image of the scale model of Chermside Shopping Centre is featured in the Freedom Then, Freedom Now exhibition, which runs from 5 May to 19 November 2017 at the State Library of Queensland.

Freedom Then, Freedom Now is an intriguing journey into our recent past exploring the freedoms enjoyed and restricted in Queensland and examines what happens when collective good intersects with individual rights. Freedoms often depend on age, racial or religious background, gender, income and where you live. Freedoms change over time and with public opinion. This exhibition draws on the extensive collections of SLQ to reminisce, reflect on and explore freedoms lost and won in Queensland.

Myles Sinnamon – Project Coordinator, State Library of Queensland