In East Hills, an unfinished unfinished thought drifts across the side of an otherwise unremarkable little building. If you wanted to nitpick (and if you don’t, why are you here), you could argue that today’s East Hills Take Away & Bakery doesn’t actually offer any videos, and the sort-of mural outside is nothing but elegantly inscribed false advertising.
You’d be right.
But ask yourself this: do you actually want a video? Because if you do, go across the road.
This shop, or Fred’s, as it’s known to the locals, is the video headquarters of East Hills. If you want 1988’s Black Eagle, 1989’s The Experts, or the double cassette Malcolm X from 1992, and you only want them for up to three nights, you come here.
I can’t help but ask. “So…does anyone actually still rent these videos?” I did it for you.
Fred doesn’t miss a beat.
“Mate, all the time! I had a few come in ‘ere this week even.” He gestures to the videos lining the walls. “They come in, they borrow them, and they bring ‘em back.”
But do they rewind them, Fred?
Fred is 79, and fresh out of hospital. I’d come by the week before and found a sign on the locked door: ‘Closed Tuesday, maybe Wednesday’. It was Thursday.
But now it’s Saturday, and here but for the grace of the video gods is Fred, ready to vend Mr. Bean Volume 1 to whoever hasn’t upgraded to DVD yet. Behind the counter is a menagerie of ancient video posters and promo items, and most startling of all, a dedicated rewinding machine. Be kind, eh?
“But they’re not as popular as the games,” Fred continues with a hint of pride. I think he might be referring to the arcade games in the room next door, standing like terracotta warriors amid piles of random junk, but no. He’s talking about the Sega games.
On the wall are dozens of games for Sega’s Master System console. For those of you unfamiliar, the Master System was released in 1987. Sega exited the home video game console business entirely in 2001. Fred could be the only one in the country still renting these games out, and he seems to know it. When I ask if the games are for sale, he snorts.
“Gotta be joking, mate.”
Uh, which one of us?
Inevitably, I ask about the shop across the road, hoping for a story of bitter rivalry between two video shops during the golden years of the format, something in the vein of Used Cars (available at Fred’s for $3 a night). Not for the first time in his life, Fred disappoints.
“That other shop used to be mine, I moved here about 25 years ago.”
Oh. So what had this been?
“It was a hardware shop, and next door was a newsagent. I got that not long after, and painted it up with me murals…”
He sure had. I’m not sure if decorating is the right word, but his tributes to the Sydney 2000 Olympics…stained the walls of the arcade next door. The piles of junk did their best to cover them, but the damage was done.
Why had he left the neat, compact comforts of the shop across the road?
“The video business just got too big,”
Stifling laughter, I nodded.
“What I don’t get,” he started. Oh, this ought to be good. “is why they left the sign up. Let me tell you, mate, I put the word out at the local school that I wanted a sign painted. A little girl offered to do it and I said righto, she done it, and after she goes, ‘I want three shillings,’.”
Hold on. Shillings? VHS became a viable home entertainment format in 1976, ten years after shillings got the heave-ho. Suddenly, Fred had become an unreliable narrator. Nothing could be trusted. Even my eyes could be deceiving me, I thought, as I eyed the can of creaming soda I’d bought. What had the expiry date been?
I left the shop, knowing there was nothing more to glean from old Fred. I probably couldn’t even get an article out of it. I squinted in the afternoon sun as my eyes adjusted from the dark of the shop, and that’s when I saw it. Just up there, on the pub side of Fred’s building. The remains of a painted sign.
It said ‘HARDWARE SHOP’.
Across the road, the undeniably handsome three shilling work of the little girl caught the sun. I’d been pondering the ellipses following the word. Had it been Fred’s direction, or the girl’s own flourish? Had she even known what a video was?
In the time of shillings, this word brought the promise of a high-tech future to the backwater East Hills, and Fred delivered it. And now, in that very future, he still does.
The picture says it all: it’s pretty much a textbook example of a Used To Be A Pizza Hut. But it’s actually not that much of a stretch. Pizza Hut dine-ins were fully licensed back in the day (!), so all that Liquorland have done is do away with the doughy, yeasty stuff to make room for more booze.
In Port Macquarie, that’s actually kind of an affront. Back in 2003, the town set a national record for the most amount of pizzas eaten in a day. According to the Port Macquarie News (and really, who’d be better qualified to know), 4890 pizzas were consumed on Saturday, December 13, 2003. Whether the record still stands is unclear, but since those figures came from Domino’s, you can bet a similar record for most amount of toilets clogged in a day was set on December 14.
It’s not all bad news for Port Macquarians jonesing for a fix of crusts thick, thin or stuffed, however: they’re still makin’ it great at this downgraded Hut down the road. For those who knew the dine-in Pizza Hut experience biblically, the above picture is a sad sight, and for everyone else, it’s a shocking reminder that there’s a Video Ezy still in operation.
JOHN: What do you think, darling?
ETHEL: I think I’d like to know a bit about the history of the place before we commit to anything. It looks quite old…
REAL ESTATE AGENT: That’s because it is, Mrs. Kelly. As you can see, it’s currently a lending library and a dry cleaner, but our records go back to 1895. At that time, this was the residence of a Mr. S. Spittle, furniture salesman. Spittle was a man known for his generosity, and he was likely here at home in bed on the night back in June of that year when he graciously allowed Mr. and Mrs. McKinelly use of Enterprise Hall, above his furniture warehouse, for a party.
Look, here’s the clipping from what must have been a very slow news day:
REAL ESTATE AGENT: Just three years later, Mr. Spittle had moved to another part of Newtown, making way for a Mr. J. Preston and his family. Under Preston, this shop became a newsagent…
REAL ESTATE AGENT: …which likely sold the very paper that, in 1901, contained the details of his granddaughter Rose Anna’s funeral train, which was headed straight for the Necropolis. Very sad. It’s believed she died in this house.
The records become a little hazy for a time after that.
By the 1920s, though, they’d gone from selling newsprint to, well, printing in their own style. If you wanted to have your photo taken in your best power outfit and then have your imperfections aerographed out, Dallimore’s was the place to go:
REAL ESTATE AGENT: Somehow, I don’t think rough-and-tumble Newtown was quite accepting of such an arty venture. Maybe one day…
Sure enough, the Kellys bought the shop, and only two years after that, Mrs. Kelly bought the farm…
…after which time John Kelly, formerly a milk bar proprietor, retired to Rockdale, and that’s where we lose the trail. It’s not until the mid 1980s that the chain of tenancy gets hot again, and what hotter place for it to do so than the Dew Drop Inn…
Hairdressers in Newtown are a dime a dozen, especially with slick, one-word names like Glitterbox. But if we look upwards, we see that this was once a very un-slick, many-worded Asian restaurant: the Dew Drop Inn.
It’s a name that’s usually reserved for seedy joints in 30s gangster movies. In fact the last place I’d ever expect to be associated with that name would be an Asian restaurant, especially – as the sign boasts – a gourmet one.
Unfortunately for this article’s integrity, the Dew Drop Inn seems to have dew dropped off the face of the planet, with nary a mention on the internet. All we can go on are the facts: one: it’s pre-1994 because it’s a seven digit phone number and two: it’s an Asian restaurant in Newtown without either an Asian name or a terrible pun.
And yet, for all this emptiness and lack of information, I’m intrigued. I need to know more. Did yew ever drop inn? Fess up in the comments.
Let’s dig deeper. According to this fascinating snapshot of an article from 1994, our location then became the State of Grace cafe.
Sheena Dunn, just back from New Orleans to open the State of Grace cafe, believes in the funky eclectism of the southern end. “It’s a strong neighbourhood, especially of artists and musicians,” she says. “This part of town really feels like what’s happening.” The cafe, open just one week, serves a silky Thai pumpkin soup, Spanish tortilla and home-made lemonade and coffee to the sound of S. E. Rogie and Miles Davis.
Gee, it’s truly a shame that we’ll never again be able to enjoy the eclectic funk of a Newtown cafe that serves tortillas and plays jazz music. Of note is that the article mentions the State of Grace had only been open a week; the article later provides the cafe’s phone number, which is without a 9. From this, we could assume that the shop’s preceding tenant was…the Dew Drop Inn.
But there’s one thing that’s bothering me. Given the suburb’s penchant for all things vintage and retro, could it be possible that someone just bought that sign and mounted it there as an artistic statement? Are we being tricked? Only in Newtown…
Why Pizza Hut, I didn’t recognise you without your signature red (or green) roof and 70s decor. What were you going for here?
Woonona is notable for being the site of the first attempted landing on Australian soil by Captain James Cook in 1770. Rough seas prevented that landing, and he was forced to sail on to Botany Bay.
Pizza Hut don’t appear to have faced such conditions. Woonona’s original Pizza Hut was apparently only ever a take-away affair, with locals missing out on the eat-in experience. This meant that locals also missed out on sneezed-on salad bars, cold pizzas sitting out all day and a wide variety of leftovers fused to poorly washed plates. You’ve really gotta feel for the Woononians.
What’s interesting about this Pizza Hut is how even back in the day, when the Hut was building its trademarked eat-in restaurants all over Australia, they didn’t deem this area – between Wollongong and the Sutherland Shire – a viable enough zone to bother, instead taking over whatever this building was (possibly a panelbeater by the look of it?) and decking it out Hut-style. Why does Hut-style involve such indelible signage? A mystery for the ages…
Now, I’d like to stop proceedings right here to draw a valid comparison. I just can’t keep it bottled up inside any longer. I’ve always felt that the original, superior Pizza Hut logo:
reminded me of another glorious former logo:
…while the Hut’s new branding:
is to me highly reminiscent of that other organisation’s new standard:
Am I wrong? Is it mere coincidence, or is there some larger conspiracy at work? You bloody well decide, I’m not here to do your thinking for you!
The Hut had moved on by 2008 at the latest, and after a long time on the market, the building is now in the capable hands of the guys who were inside renovating and giving me funny looks the day I took the above photo. What, you’ve never seen a dude taking a photo of an old Pizza Hut before?
It’s obvious to anyone passing through that Newtown has very…exclusive tastes when it comes to restaurants. It may surprise you to learn that once upon a time, the famously trendy and bohemian suburb was home to its very own McDonald’s, which opened in 1983. Just 15 years later, Ronald and friends were run out of ‘town by the area’s changing demographic, which rebelled against the Golden Arches’ high-fat, low-cleanliness approach by voting with their livers…but that’s another story.
But some fast food vendors didn’t learn from Mickey D’s drubbing. Case in point: the hot pink, pizza-tossing also-rans Eagle Boys, who evidently thought that Newtown’s absence of junk food was a void waiting to be filled. If they’d just taken the time to walk about five seconds up the road to discover the ‘vegetarian butcher‘ they might have gotten the hint early. Instead, they stood their ground, took the risk, and last January, paid the price.
Now, in fairness, this location had a long history dispensing trashy food; it was for years a Pizza Haven, a pizza chain so innocuous that even the bloodthirsty firebombers of Newtown didn’t see it as a threat. It wasn’t until Eagle Boys bought out the chain in 2008 and added that obnoxious day-glo colouring to the otherwise handsome corner building that drastic action was home-delivered.
Despite a statement from Eagle Boys teasing the outlet’s return, no such move has yet been made. And while the Boys sit in their hot pink nest wondering what went so horribly wrong, it might now dawn on them just why the Colonel and Pizza Hut gave King Street and its residents such a wide berth. Fittingly, all that remains of Eagle Boys’ unwanted, doughy legacy is a kind of hot pink neon halo above the door.