A Tale of Two Doll Hospitals – Bexley, NSW

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Suspensions of disbelief get a thorough workout these days. Whether you can’t believe there are Superman movies that don’t star Christopher Reeve, or you refuse to believe it when NRL stars run afoul of the law, you’re likely having a tough time of it in this, the dawn of the information age.

For a long time, I refused to believe that one area, nay, one stretch of road could support not one but two doll hospitals. So when the Doll Repair Centre at 444 Stoney Creek Road, Kingsgrove ceased to exist a few months ago, that suspension vanished, the disbelief came crashing down, and here you are reading my attempt to process a lifetime of astonishment and uncertainty.

In simpler times, kids played with toys. ‘member toys? Action figures, Matchbox cars, those lame wooden ones that barely moved…and dolls. Back then, dolls were seen as a “girls toy”, and the levels of attachment the little girls of the past had for their dolls was in the minds of many a by-product of “maternal instincts”.

I speak from experience when I say this: when an action figure broke, it went in the bin. Too bad, so sad. “Boys toys” were expected to take damage through rough play. A broken doll, on the other hand – be it a loose seam, a torn dress, or a missing head – was a tragedy, and required immediate repair.

And so it was in 1913, when a Mr Harold Chapman of Campsie established Sydney’s first doll hospital. The demand was there, and carried the business through to the late 1930s, when Chapman’s son Harold Jr moved the Doll Hospital to Her Majesty’s Arcade in the city. If you had a shop in the city at this point in time, you’d made it.

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The Sun, Sunday, July 29, 1945

Her Majesty’s Arcade had a problem, however – it occupied a most plum piece of real estate on Pitt Street, and in 1968 plans arose that sent all tenants packing. The Doll Hospital ended up here, near the corner of Stoney Creek and Forest roads in Bexley.

The arcade was demolished, and by 1981 Sydney’s favourite 309m-tall resident stood in Her Majesty’s wake.

But back to the Doll Hospital, as it stands today.

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Unlike most hospitals, patients line the windows, exposing their medical issues to the world.

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Sorry, but dolls are creepy. Maybe that’s why this is going up on Halloween. There’s something about those glassy eyes and pre-sculpted faces that rub me the wrong way. The public’s tastes have also skewed away from traditional dolls in recent years, and toward licenced merchandise instead.

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There’s no better way to brag about your mad surgeon skills than by showing off no less than three fully intact Humpty Dumptys, the most frail of all toys.

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Handbags and umbrellas need love too, so they’re also welcome here. They don’t repair signs, I’m guessing?

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That’s a double no, then. Honestly, I was surprised to find it’s still in operation. Imagine my shock when I saw this sign:

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That’s right – if your doll’s blue in the face and unresponsive at 2pm on a Wednesday afternoon, you’re shit out of luck.

Or are you?

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Carmo’s got your back after hours, but I bet it ain’t cheap. Even with this safety net, don’t let your doll go for a big night in Newtown anytime soon.

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The Doll Hospital wears its heritage proudly via its suit of signage armour. It’s still in the Chapman family: Harold Jr’s son Geoff runs the joint these days, and has a full team of dolly doctors on his staff. Though not everyone is a fan. Check out this “nit-picking whinger”:

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Ignore the ominous green building and check out the sign on the western side of the doll hospital. It hides the identity of the building’s previous owner, but only just. If it ever comes down for an update (perhaps at the 180 years of service mark), we might get a look at that piece of blue and yellow history. But not today.

The building is old – “olde”, in fact – and in one place seems to literally be held together by a plank of wood. The signs boast that the Doll Hospital’s provided “Over 80 Years of Service”, but the sign above the awning says it’s “Over 100 years”. Get your story straight, guys.

The sign also makes the curious, almost defensive claim of being the “original” doll hospital. Is that to suggest there was at one time a pretender? An upstart that wished to usurp the Doll Hospital’s monopoly? A firebrand so ballsy that it would take up residence in the Chapmans’ own backyard?

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The incredible answer is yes. This may be the “the Olde Doll Shoppe” of Sydney, and you should go and check it out. But imagine just for a moment, there was a doll shoppe that looked even olde-er…

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Yep. This is where I’m gonna go when I need something repaired.

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It’s hard to read as the sign has cracked and rusted from years exposed to the elements, but once, this was the other doll hosp- uh, I mean doll repair centre.

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Until recently, that is. Now it’s anyone’s, so if you want to challenge the might of the Famous Original Olde Doll Hospital, here’s your chance. You can’t do any worse than the last one…

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From what I could discover, rash daredevils Peter and Mary threw caution to the wind a few decades back and tried to democratise doll rehabilitation.

“We repair, we care” says the card, bold in its implication. It’s not hard to imagine a time when raw, violent rivalry spanned the gap between the two surgeries, and I believe that may have bubbled over in 1992:

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The Canberra Times, Saturday, September 26, 1992

They couldn’t even bear to follow on from each other in the dot points! That the Doll Hospital placed a full three spots above the Doll Repair Centre tells you everything you need to know about the hierarchy.

Ultimately, Peter and Mary couldn’t hack the cutthroat world of doll repairing. The state of this shopfront was a sorry sight in the last few years; a battered old pram stood outside, attracting the wrong kind of attention. It was far from the lush doll dioramas of the Doll Hospital.

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A look inside gives nothing away. They had a cupboard.

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The signage above suggests this corner belonged to someone in a time before the divine feud. I can’t make out what it says, so if you know (or it was your corner), get in touch.

Ultimately, I was left unsatisfied by my as-exhaustive-as-I-was-bothered research, so, fascinated by the mysterious Doll Repair Centre, I went deeper. I found an old website, long since defunct. But thanks to our friends at the Wayback Machine, I was able to jump back in time. I had no idea what lay in wait.

What I found left me scandalised. Check out the layout of the Doll Repair Centre’s website.

Maybe it’ll seem familiar to you.

And maybe you’ll recall that old saying about staring into the abyss for too long.

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So…any web designers in the house?

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Kingsgrove Pharmacy/For Lease – Kingsgrove, NSW

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I’m sick and tired of the flood of emails I get week after week from people desperate to convince me that Kingsgrove Pharmacy wasn’t always Kingsgrove Pharmacy. Today, we set the record straight.

I can’t really think of a more (over the counter) pharmaceutical suburb than Kingsgrove. You’ve got the surgery, the theatre-turned-huge Blue Cross Medical Centre, the Kingsgrove Medical Centre that relocated to Beverly Hills but didn’t change the name, the Kingsgrove Health Professional Centre…the list goes on.

What’s with that? I mean yeah, Kingsgrove makes us all sick at times, but this is ridiculous.

And on top of all that, up until recently you had Kingsgrove Pharmacy. When they left, they took their awning signage with them, giving the rest of us a glimpse into a less digital past.

Remember back when you had to get photos developed? How you couldn’t really take photos of anything risqué because your friendly local pharmacist might spot it and call the authorities? Uh, because I…er, certainly don’t.

Unless you’re a hipster, you’re not shooting on film anymore, and the pharmacies of the world that tried to branch out and give even more back to the community that took so much lost that revenue stream and were sent packing, just like Kingsgrove Pharmacy was.

Does every little bit count? Did I inadvertently and indirectly contribute to the fall of Kingsgrove Pharmacy simply by taking this article’s pictures on my phone?

Could an argument then be made that I’m running businesses out on purpose just for blog material?

I think that’s just about all we’ve got time for today, but here’s one last pill to swallow: did the Kingsgrove Pharmacist take their awning signage away to use again?

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Kingsgrove Pharmacy in more visible times. Image courtesy realestate.com.au

As you can see in this shot from our old buddies realestate.com.au, Kingsgrove Pharmacy let people know what it was from all conceivable angles. Rumour has it the roof’s sign can be seen from orbit.

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After the last prescription had been filled, they tore it all down…except for the sign above the footpath. They didn’t even do that thing where they put it back in upside down and reversed.

I think they left it up so we’d remember them. They exposed the old sign to remind us how long we’d had them in our lives, and to appeal to that sense of retro we’re unable to shake. “Take a photo of this,” they’re saying. And we do.

We live in a world where, thanks to the ubiquity of digital photography, memories are fleeting. The way I see it, Kingsgrove Pharmacy has made a statement about that in their own subtle way.

Beverly Hills Skin Care/ITP/For Lease – Beverly Hills, NSW

It’s tax time! C’mon everybody, gather up your receipts and make an appointment to see your local tax agent. People still do that, don’t they? Uh, anyway, come with me as I do just that, with dollar signs in my eyes and-

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Oh. Guess I’ll be doing my own tax, then…

It’s no exaggeration to say that ITP Beverly Hills was here since Federation, so its departure is a severe blow to the intricate bio-habitat that surrounded it. D2D Cafe and the Rhinedorf relied on these guys to tick all the boxes each July. Did you stop and think of them when you packed up and left, ITP?

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A few traces of the former tax haven office remain, this canary yellow window being one. I wonder how ITP came to decide on bright yellow as their trademark colour? There’s only so much grey one can take, I suppose.

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No messing around! These dudes left NOTHING behind – almost as if they’re accustomed to paying attention to nitty-gritty details by nature. It’s small comfort to know that wherever they are now, they’re nice and cool.

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They also took their awning sign, and in the process exposed a clue as to who the former occupants were. “AS 43 SUNTRONIC GLOBAL SYSTEM 37” may sound like total gibberish, but in the skincare world, it’s godlike.

The way I understand it, AS 43 is a form of electrocosmetology therapy that tightens skin. Apparently, it was discovered “by accident”. Try telling that to the victims of AS 01-42 Suntronic Global Systems, you monsters…

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So who were the purveyors of this skincare breakthrough miracle cure? Look up and we can see the lush typeface of Beverly Hills Skin Care, a company that according to the government still has an active ABN.

As an aside, and don’t take this as a sign I’ve run out of things to say about an ancient skincare clinic, but have you ever had a look at that ABN search site? It’s fascinating to see which old business names are still making a go of it.

Check it out! “Beverly Hills Video” is still active, while Beverly Hills Cinema appears to have replaced “Beverly Hills Twin”. I’m just disappointed nobody’s ever set up “Beverly Hills Corp”.

Weird time’s a charm

Katoomba’s Paragon Cafe is one of those irritating places that can never wind up on Past Lives because even though there’s so much to say about it, it’s still doing what it’s always done…with the exception of the oysters, anyway.

I guess Past Lives will just have to end up on the Paragon instead.

Weird Sydney Final

That’s right, it’s back.

On August 12th, you can join the incomparable super-team of Peter Doyle, Chris Mikul, Vanessa Berry and myself for an afternoon of the weirdest Sydney has to offer.

How can we possibly fit everything that’s weird about this messed-up town into one afternoon, you ask? You’ll just have to come along and find out!

Get your tickets here! Wear your best sideburns and you might even end up with your picture on the wall!

And if all that’s not momentous enough for you, this year happens to be the Paragon’s 101st anniversary. Yes, they chose to hold this event on that non-anniversary.

Don’t you find that a little…weird?

Computer Service Centre/Pharmatex – Epping, NSW

Come gather round, children, and I’ll tell you a tale of a time when people played “computer games”.

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Epping is a bit of a mess these days: no two floors of a shop can seem to agree on what they’re going to be. This one in particular features voices from the future (education – the Children Are Our Future), the present (the natural health joint), and the past. We’ll get to all of them, but let’s begin yesterday.

In 1983, the market for console video games in the United States crashed and crashed hard. In a panic, the computer gaming industry (there’s a difference) sought to distance itself from its ailing cousin. IBM, Amstrad, Commodore were just a few of the names attempting to usurp Atari as household standards.

In Europe and Australia, it largely worked. By the early 90s, naff adults would refer to kids’ Sega Master Systems and Game Boys as “computer games”. Ugh.

When you’re a kid, it’s a travesty. You and your passions, tarred and feathered by misunderstanding. Or was it a lack of wanting to understand?

It took years for the computer games terminology to wear off. You’ll still hear it today if you listen (or care) hard enough. Sure, there have been some great games for computers during the past two decades, but as our old buddy Lana Del Rey likes to say, something something video games.

Which brings us to today’s focus. This place serviced computers, and wisely separates computers and games. It’s hard to tell where to place this in the gamut of understanding, but I’m going to go ahead and chuck it in the “totally gets it” pile. For one, the sign appears to be neon – cool. And two, the shop doesn’t look that old.

The computers and games and computer games have long since left the building, however. It’s symptomatic of a larger sickness – when was the last time you saw a games department at Myer? At K-Mart? It’s clear this was just another casualty of the digital takeover.

Today, it’s home to Pharmatex. Or it isn’t. Their website has the right address, but the shop itself appears to contain no less than two other pharmaceutical/health food outlets.

If you’re that curious, call them toll free on 1800 GLOVES (seriously).

As for the HSC English specialists, I wonder what percentage of these tutors exist purely to stop the students from playing computer games instead of studying?