Diamond couple recalls good old drive-in days
Thursday, 5th May, 2016
By Michael Murphy
Ron and Millie Gray tied the knot at the Methodist Church in Oxide Street 60 years ago today, a milestone most couples can only dream about.
Like most marriages, they’ve had their up and downs, but one thing is for sure, their union has not been boring.
For most of their lives, Ron held down a job at the local Drive-In Theatre. He was there when it opened in the late 1950s, and continued to work there until the gates finally closed.
Ron worked “the field” at the drive-in, directing traffic and making sure everything ran smoothly outside while the magic happened on the screen.
His young family would occasionally join him to watch the stars on the big screen, but Ron said he saw some sights that were probably not fit for family viewing.
“I was at the exit gate one time, and I looked down the drive and there’s a car down there and the bloke is kicking the wheel,” Ron said.
“And I thought what the hell is going on down there, I’ll go down and see him.
“What’s the trouble, mate?” Ron asked the bloke.
“I was up to mischief with the girlfriend and I put the foot up and it smacked the steering wheel off,” the man told him. “Now I am trying to get the wheels to turn so I can drive up to the exit gate, then straighten her up to go up the road.”
Ron helped the guy out and sent him on his way.
About 12 months later, Ron saw the man again, and asked him how he went.
“I’m married now, and here’s the result,” he told Ron, holding up a baby.
Millie, who turns 79 tomorrow, said she enjoyed watching the occasional movie with Ron, but when she was having her first child, she was on a strict diet and the smell of the food wafting from the canteen drove her nuts.
But she did eventually enjoy the some of the tasty tucker from the drive-in. Ron would pick up “the girls” who ran it and dropped them to their homes when it closed, before heading back to close up after the last movie finished.
“He used to come home during his break with Chiko rolls,” Millie said. “I used to eat them in the dark because I didn’t like the look of the insides of them.”
Ron, who is now 85, said the drive-in was immensely popular, with more than 500 cars making the trip out on the racecourse road on some nights, lining up all the way back down the road like “brown cows”.
Even when the drive-in was full, when all the speakers were taken, he would get people pulling up asking if they could park to the side, sometimes even double parking to watch the movie.
One bloke pulled in beside the canteen one night in a panic, he couldn’t get his boot open. Staff had to pry it open with a screwdriver, and three burly blokes jumped out.
Ron said he let the boss handle it.
“They were the good old days,” Ron said.
The Grays were also heavily involved in greyhound racing, and they still have relatives racing at the local track. Ron began training greyhounds for his father and aunty when he was a teenager, and his interest grew from there.
Ron had hundreds of winners, but one of his best was a dog called Condor Gift, who made the trip to Melbourne and won three races in a row at Sandown, and then a couple at Sale. The Melbourne trainer who was looking after the dog wished he had met him earlier.
Life wasn’t smooth sailing for Ron early on, a car accident left its mark on him when he was 21 years-old.
He was travelling toward the big creek just before Silverton with his uncle, aunty and brother in the car.
“I was going down the road in the night, toward Black Hill Creek and next minute this big truck came out on my side,” Ron said.
“I tried to get off the road, and his big tray on the side took me mudguard, took me right wheel, took the steering, and then took me arm.”
Ron climbed up over his door which was busted and buckled in the wreckage, and yelled out to his uncle: “Uncle George, I have lost me right arm.”
His uncle flew around the car, grabbed him and laid him down. Ron’s arm was hanging on by a sinew and they laid it across his chest.
It was his dominant right arm, so he had to learn to use his left.
A nurse at the hospital was the first to encourage him. She asked Ron if he wanted to put a few bets on. Ron said he did. So she made him write them out with his left, and it started from there.
He became a dab hand.
“He prints beautiful and writes beautiful and draws beautiful,” Millie said. “Absolutely beautiful.
“And our grandson thinks it’s marvellous,” she said.
The Grays have a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren. Their youngest grandson lives in Mount Gambier.
“We were down there for holidays, and my grandson brought his mate in,” Millie said.
He introduced his young mate to his grandma and poppy, and the boy was looking Ron up and down “like kids do”.
And the grandson said: “It’s alright, my poppy has got one arm but he draws beautiful.”