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Iconic sign hidden away for now

One of Canberra's icons is languishing in a depot in Fyshwick awaiting the formation of a new government so that emergency funding can be released for its repair.

The 56-year-old Starlight Drive-In Theatre sign was taken by crane from its location on the Federal Highway at Watson on Wednesday night.

One side is completely smashed and dead birds are secreted in its cavities.

The sign was taken to a Territory and Municipal Services depot in Fyshwick where it remains.

The Starlight Drive-in Theatre was opened in Canberra in 1957 by George Kimlin, as the ACT's first drive-in theatre. The drive-in closed in 1993 and a decade later the Starlight residential apartments complex was opened on the site.

The sign, made in 1956 in Sydney, was placed on the ACT Heritage Register earlier this year.

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ACT Heritage Council deputy chair Dianne Firth said the sign was damaged in a storm in mid-September.

Dr Firth said the body corporate for the apartments had applied for emergency funding to repair the sign but that was proving difficult during the caretaker period.

It was expected the repairs would have to wait until a new government was formed.

Artist Trevor Dickinson, whose best-selling print is of the Starlight sign, went to the site on Wednesday night to photograph it, only to find the damaged structure being removed. He said the damage to the sign was ''outrageous'' and the best place for it was with the other ''big things'' planned to be displayed in the main hall of the National Museum of Australia.

''If it's come down once, there's no point in putting it back there. The museum is a perfect spot for it,'' he said.

However, Dr Firth rejected that call because the sign's heritage value was in marking the place where Canberrans ''used to go to the pictures''.

The Starlight sign was thought to be the ''only original drive-in theatre sign in Australia which still stands in its original location''.

''The Starlight Drive-In Theatre sign remains as the only tangible reminder in the ACT of the iconic era of drive-ins (outdoor theatres where patrons viewed films from parked cars) which dotted the Australian landscape from the mid 20th century,'' a statement of its heritage significance read.

Dr Firth agreed the Canberra community felt deep affections for the sign which harked back to another era.

''That's why we registered it,'' she said. ''It's a stringent process to have something registered and we need to be able to defend our decisions in a court of law.''

A spokesman for the Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate said an initial engineer's report had indicated the sign was repairable: ''The owner of the site (Starlight Apartments) is seeking a quote for this work. The ACT government, through the ACT Heritage Unit, is assisting with this process.''

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