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Last Updated on July 26, 2021

Remember The Mecca in the 1960s? Meet the Man who screened the Films

Keith Elliott was the man who screened the movies at The Mecca in Rainbow during the 1960s.

After being trained as a Projectionist by Dexter West at Rainbow's MECCA, Keith Elliott went onto an amazing career in TV production. That's just the start of his story.

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Please share this story with your family and friends so that they can read about the Rainbow Township, its history,  and what it has to offer tourists. 

Thank you very much, Don...

Foreword by Don McKenzie

I remember striking up a friendship with Keith at the Essendon Technical School when we were both 13 years of age. My parents called me Donald, and Keith was known to me as Wal, or Wally, because of an abbreviation of his stepfather's surname.

Today we are known as Keith and Don, however I know it is a strain for both of us and we tend to drop back to the old names.

13 from 78 is 65 years. Not a bad friendship.

What did we have in common? Well we drove our cars to school, and living close to each other was a good start. We would be arrested if we told you the full stories, but it sure was a lot of fun growing up with Keith.

We had a group of friends with similar interests. Every weekend we would be pulling someone's motor, gearbox, or diff out because they had expired for some unknown reason.

We both joined the CMF Army unit at D Company Essendon and served 2 years there. Something we both enjoyed.

We both built crazy cars over the years. I moved into Computers in the 1970s, and Keith is still building crazy cars, and loving it. The picture galley I posted on this page will give you a slight taste of his love of vintage cars.

We live in very different parts of Australia now, but we rang each other for our last birthdays. We have stayed in touch, but age, health and location means we don't meet up as much as we would like to. Covid-19 doesn't help at the moment of course.

By The Way (BTW)
On his birthday, the 7th of June 2021, I asked Keith if he would like to add his story about Rainbow to this site. Less than two days later, I published this post. Not too bad for a couple of 78 year olds.

BTW2
Guns of Navarone is Keith's favorite movie. Said he has seen it 30 times, so I used it for the feature image on this post. I like it too!!

Don...

In Keith's words...

My Time at Rainbow

About 1965 I was offered a job as Service Manager at the local Ford dealership "Reg Farrell Motors", at Rainbow which was up in the Mallee where my mate Don McKenzie's father was born and he was moving there to work as well.

Reg Farrell Motors

While I was working at Reg Farrell Motors I was sent down to the Ford Motor Company to attend a couple of Ford Schools. I did special training of the Fordamatic auto transmission and Ford Falcons in general. This was the first time that I ate oysters because after each ford school the company would put on a dinner, and the entree was oysters. All the other guys were eating them, so I ate them as well so not to look stupid. I hated them. I love them now, particularly when I cook them myself.

We had a next door neighbor Ozzie Pache who also worked at Reg Farrell Motors, in spare parts and sales with. He was a Canadian. He drove a yellow compact Ford Fairlane. Then there was Peter Potter in Spares, Franky Orris and Gordon Gebert in the workshop. There were others, but I have forgotten their names.

Fire Brigade and the Local Brass Band

While we were in Rainbow, I joined the Local CFA fire brigade, played Tenor horn and Tuba in the local brass band and I ran the local picture theatre on a Saturday night.

The fire brigade was good fun and most of the blokes had a sense of humor. We had a bit of a laugh when the fire chief's house burnt down. It was just across the road from the station. Then there was the time I arrived at the station first when the alarm went off and got to be the driver.

Our rural truck has a large water tank and the blokes would stand on the side and hang on. Well I took off like a maniac and when I turned the corner, I nearly lost all the guys on one side, the truck leaned over that much.

We discovered later that the truck had a flat tyre on the back and the weight of the water didn't help. Anyhow we got a call before we went much further to say that the fire had been put out. We used to have pie nights. We would sit around at the fire station, eat pies and drink beer.

When I joined the Brass band I started to learn to play the tenor horn which was fairly easy. I eventually switched to the E flat base which is a tuba. I loved playing the Tuba.

The first time we tried to march and play was a real scream. We were marching across the show grounds and when we were half way across our band leader "Tangles", yelled at us to stop. When I looked around I found that were about 30 yards ahead of everybody else. We were in the front row.

The tuba was that big I used to have to carry it in the back of my Ute. I had acquired a Morris minor ute by then. Sometimes I would drive about a mile out of town and practice the Tuba. I couldn't practice at home because the neighbors would probably complain.

The MECCA 

While I lived in Rainbow I was offered the job of running the local picture theatre "The Mecca".

Anyway I got a projectionists permit. I was trained by Dexter West and eventually took over the running of the old theater. Dexter West was leaving town so he sold the theatre to the council. The West's used to own most of the town. We only ran the pictures on Saturday nights. All the farmers would come into town, dump the kids at the theatre, then head for one of the pubs. There were only two pubs while we were there. There were three pubs at one time.

I would book the films, edit them and screen them. Then on Sunday morning I would clean the theatre. It was lousy money, but I was desperate for a quid and I loved running the pictures.

Once a year the local high school would hire the theatre for their school concert. I used to shudder every time. Some of the teachers weren't real smart. The screen was made out of some kind of material, and one year a male teacher placed a ladder on it to hang some kind of decoration. The ladder went straight through it and we had to sew it up before the next Saturdays screening.

I once got into trouble with the council because I booked "Alfie" which was a movie about an abortion. I was trying the lure some adults back to the theatre, but they wanted to keep it like a kindergarten.

The seats in the theatre were in rows that went from the centre aisle to the outer walls. The kids discovered that if you pushed over the first row, the rest would follow, so I had to remove a few rows and alter the space so this couldn't happen.

I used to let a kid in for nothing every week and he would go back stage and open the curtain. To open the curtain, you had to pull on a rope at the back of the stage.

During my time as manager of the theatre I decided to rope off the front rows of seats so that I would have less to clean on Sunday morning. One night I had rolled the film and I realized that the kid hadn't turned up to open the curtain, so I ran down the stairs, tore down the aisle and forgot the rope across the aisle. I went arse over tit. I got rid of the rope after that.

"The Mecca". The council had just bought it, changed the name to "Rainbow and District Civic Centre", I preferred "The Mecca".

I actually ran a movie night at the old Jeparit theatre using the film that I had booked for the Rainbow theatre. Well what fun, the old projectors had exposed shutters, and the fire equipment was buckets of sand. Would have made a right mess of the projectors if I had thrown a bucket of sand in them.


My World Expands - The Family, and the House

My wife Anne eventually got pregnant with our first child, Donna Marie, who was going to be Darren Keith if it was a boy.

We eventually got a small loan and we bought our own house in Bow street which was really old and full of white ants, but it was cheap. I eventually got rid of the white ants and started to fix the old place up. The inside walls in the front bedroom was wallpaper stuck over hessian and when the wind blew the walls would flap.

We eventually had this room lined with Masonite and we painted it and turned it into a nursery. The floor in the bathroom sagged in the middle. I eventually replaced it by laying beams across the ground and relaying new floor boards across then. The floor was very close to the ground. I didn't bother using stumps.

Back then I used to scrounge materials from the local tip or from people in the town. Rainbow was a funny clicky place, if you weren't born there it was very hard to be accepted there. I did a lot for that town, but it was still hard going.

I bought an old Fordson tractor to drive an old saw bench that I scored. We needed fire wood for our stove which was a slow combustion which also gave us our hot water. I remember the old tractor, it had steel wheels with spikes for traction and it didn't have a carburetor, so I drove it home with a petrol can sitting on top of the firewall and a rubber hose with a stick jammed in it to slow the petrol flow and it dripped into the manifold and kept the engine running. See back then I was inventive.

While we lived in the old house there was a local drought and I remember I had just finished painting the outside white when a gust of wind blew all red dust over the fresh paint. We had a pink house instead of white.

Television was new when we moved into the house and we had to build a huge tower for the antenna. 


Unfortunately when you changed channel in Rainbow, you had to go outside and turn the antenna, so I designed a system so that you could turn the antenna from inside the house using a crank that I fitted to the floor which turned a set of belts and pulleys. It worked great. I should have patented it.

Then Anne got pregnant again with our second child Kym Leanne who was going to be Shane Anthony. The day she was born I went to work and one of the mechanics told me that I had another daughter.

The whole town new before me. That's what small towns are like, also the mechanics wife worked at the Hospital.

The Boat and the End of my Mechanics Career

I bought an old boat and was trying to make it seaworthy, There were two big lakes on either side of Rainbow, Lake Hindmarsh and Lake Albacutya.

The boat was only a dinghy and it needed to be sealed around the bottom. I had a tin of pitch over a gas camp stove trying to melt it. When I checked it after some time it looked like nothing had happened, so I got a stick and jabbed at the hard top layer of pitch. The stick went straight through and boiling hot pitch shot out and stuck all over my arms and chest.  

When I tried to peal the now solid pitch off, my skin was coming off with it. It wasn't very comfortable.

This pretty much destroyed my career as a mechanic because when my skin healed up I became allergic to grease and would break out in a rash all the time. I had to sleep in plastic bags at night with foul smelling ointment all over me.

The Cars

1924 Buick Master Tourer

We were now driving a Ford Zepher Mk 1, and I fitted it with a Mk 2 engine. I also had the old Morris Minor Ute, but the back section was all rotten. I fitted it with the back off an Austin A40, and used it as a run around. You didn't need a road worthy then.

While we were in that old town, I would try and befriend some of the local farmers, knowing that they had lots of old cars laying around their properties, and I was really interested in restoring an old car.

I was particularly keen to restore a Model T ford. So I scrounged around the paddocks and some of the farms and got enough bits to build a bitsa Model T, which I donated to the Museum that was just starting up at Jeparit the next town from rainbow.

I also picked up a 1924 Buick Master tourer from another local farmer. I towed the Buick home on an A frame behind the Zephyr. I put some petrol in the tank primed the carby, put the crank handle in, gave in one pull then tried to refit the crank but it wouldn't go in.

I then realized that the motor was actually running. I revved it up and out of the exhaust came all these dead rats and chewed up paper. The ignition was from a magneto so it didn't matter the battery was buggered.

Once a year Rainbow had its own show day. So I decided to get permission to do a lap of the arena with the Buick. I went to the police station to get permission off Stan Wright who was our local cop, and he said take it easy while you are
driving it through town. How easy was that. He was a good cop.

During my time at Rainbow I became friends with one of the local farmers, Alan Staples. I became friends with him because I knew that had several vintage and veteran cars laying around his property.

He was a bit of a hoarder and liked money, but I knew if I worked on him long enough he may weaken and let me buy some of them. I even had to go spotlighting with him and his cousin. They used to spotlight from a tank Fairlane with the roof chopped off.

Only they didn't use guns. When the rabbit got stunned in the spotlight, you had to sneak around behind it, pick it up and wring it's neck.

I hated doing this but I did it to win Alan over. It worked. I was able to purchase from him a 1913 Hupmobile, a 1917 model T which I kept for many years, and a second model T that had been converted into a ute. It was about a 1923 model. I sold the Model T ute to help pay for the other cars.

Then Came the Drought

While living at Rainbow there was a drought and the farmers were selling sheep really cheap so our new next door neighbour, Gordon Gebert and I bought one each.

The only problem with this was we had to kill and butcher them our selves. Lucky Gordon had done it before. I had a real problem cutting the sheep's throat, then skinning it. We then hung the carcass from the shed roof and cut down the back bone with a chain saw.

I hated doing this and only did it once. We also had a few chooks and ducks then and I was expected to chop their heads off. I remember one time the chook moved and I split it's head down the middle. It took off running around the yard and I had to chase it to finish the job off.

While we were in Rainbow some of the boys were being called up to go to Vietnam.

Lucky I was a year too old. I don't know how I would have handled going to war and shooting somebody. Some of the farmers sons got off because they were classed as primary producers. Poor Peter Potter was called up.

Moving Back to Melbourne

We lived at Rainbow for about four and a half years.  All the time we lived there I was looking for a better paying position. I had a friend, Freddy Poulton back in Melbourne who had picked up a job as a lighting tech at the new TV station Channel O in Melbourne so I thought if he can do it, I can do it.

Back then there was no video in television, it was all film, so because I had a projectionists permit to run the local theatre, I thought that I would try to get work in TV. I applied at GTV channel nine at Richmond. I got the job as a Telecine operator, running all the on air films and commercials. Video was just starting to come in.

This was going to be a big move as we now drove another Customline which we bought from the Claffeys, and we still had the Morris Minor ute, plus I had the 1917 model T ford tourer, the 1913 Hupmobile roadster and the eight seater 1928 Buick Master tourer.

I had to sell the Buick as we didn't have enough money to move back to Melbourne. I borrowed a trailer and towed the Hupmobile and dumped it in my dad's backyard. I eventually had to sell this because we needed the money. Years later I saw it really badly restored at Box Hill.

I still have many fond memories of my time at Rainbow, and have driven through several times recently. It hasn't changed much, and our old house is still standing.

My Life in the TV Industry

I met some good blokes while I was at channel nine. I remember one night I worked late and had to start early the next day, so the security guards let me sleep in Graham Kennedy's dressing room, which was a one bedroom unit with a swimming pool in the studio grounds.

Graham would have had a fit if he had known. He was gay, (not that there is anything wrong with that), so I wasn't sure what had gone on in his dressing room. Twice I went to Grahams farewell parties. He got put off air once for doing a crow call live on air, "FAAAARRK, FAAARRK". I can't remember why he was put off the second time, but he would always shout the crew to a farewell party at the Royal Melbourne Hotel.

I eventually left channel nine and bought a tray truck which I drove for about a year as a subcontractor. Then I worked for a company called Headmod Engineering.

I was still in touch with some of the guys from television, and one day when I was at work I got a phone call from Dennis Nichol who now worked at channel O, the newest channel owned by Reg Ansett.

This was so different than Telecine, I had to learn every thing from scratch. I bluffed my way a lot and pretended that I knew what they were talking about when they explained things. Most of the guys there were trained technicians.  I stayed at channel 0 for many years and eventually got to edit my first shows and get my first real credits on air. One of my early programs was called "The Tea Ladies". We would record the show from 7 o'clock PM with a live audience.

Some of my other early edits included "Young Talent Time", "Peter Couchman Tonight", to name a few. In Fact when we were doing the Peter Couchman show, there was a segment where they would fly out an international star, and I got to meet Omar Sheriff, and Danny la Rue, who was a famous female impersonator from England.

I am now retired and Living at Hervey Bay Queensland, and still messing around with vintage cars.


A Gallery of Photos from over the years

Click on any image below to see it in full size.  

In a FaceBook Private Group? Then you won't have a share button.

Please share this story with your family and friends so that they can read about the Rainbow Township, its history,  and what it has to offer tourists. 

Thank you very much, Don...

Last Updated on July 26, 2021

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  • Great piece of history of my old hometown. A lot of great memories of the Mecca. After school Friday afternoons they would put on a couple of cartoons and a Western or Tarzan serials you would have to go back the next Friday to follow the storyline. I think Bobby West ran the picture side then.

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