Category Archives: for sale

Mecca Cinema/Residential – Kogarah, NSW

For those who’ve just joined us…

In 1920, the Victory Theatre was built to entertain the rapidly growing population of Kogarah. Just eight years later, however, the victory party was over:

SMH, Mar 7 1928

SMH, Mar 7 1928

The Victory was purchased by entrepreneur John Wayland, who in 1936 reopened the theatre as…the NEW Victory:

Image courtesy Bernie Sharah/Sydney Cinema Flashbacks

Image courtesy Bernie Sharah/Sydney Cinema Flashbacks

When television entered the picture (so to speak) in the late 1950s, suburban cinemas began to fall off the map rapidly. The fortunes of the Victory (named the Avon by the mid 1960s) were drying up in the face of an uncertain future, and in 1969 Wayland was forced to sell to the Mecca cinema chain, which also owned theatres in Oatley and Hurstville.

Kogarah Mecca, 1974. Image courtesy Ian Hanson/Sydney Cinema Flashbacks

Kogarah Mecca, 1974. Image courtesy Ian Hanson/Sydney Cinema Flashbacks

In 1971, owner Philip Doyle rebranded the theatre as the Kogarah Mecca, a name change that tied it to the Hurstville Mecca. The theatre showed a mix of cinematic releases and stage productions, the last of which was a production of Cinderella. Doyle, a would-be impresario, staged and managed the productions himself. Cinderella’s season appears to have begun in 1986:

SMH, Jan 21 1986

SMH, Jan 21 1986

…and ended in 1989, when Doyle elected to abandon the one-screen format and turn the Mecca into a multiplex. In a futile attempt to compete with the newly opened Greater Union at Hurstville Westfield, which boasted eight screens, Doyle split the Mecca into four new, much smaller screens.

Kogarah Mecca, 1990. Image courtesy Guy Warren/Sydney Cinema Flashbacks

Kogarah Mecca, 1990. Image courtesy Guy Warren/Sydney Cinema Flashbacks

The success of Hurstville Greater Union had also forced Doyle to close the Hurstville Mecca, which was demolished in 1995, leaving Kogarah as Doyle’s focus. Throughout the 1990s, the Kogarah Mecca became known as the cheapest cinema in Sydney, with tickets for at a flat rate of $5.

Kogarah Mecca through the ages. Image courtesy Ken Taylor/Sydney Cinema Flashbacks

Kogarah Mecca through the ages. Image courtesy Ken Taylor/Sydney Cinema Flashbacks

So there you have it: a cheap cinema running cheap Hollywood entertainment owned by a cheap scumbag in the cheap part of a cheap town. What a legacy.

In 2003, the cinema abruptly and mysteriously closed…which is exactly how Andre and I found it about ten years later.

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We’d been intrigued by the taste afforded us during our last visit, and we’d gone back to test the flimsiness of that wooden door on the side. After all, they were only going to demolish the place anyway. What harm could it do to-

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Well, whadda ya know? Now there’s no excuse.

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We were initially greeted by a storage area. The door had been banging softly in the breeze, and continued to do so after we entered, providing a rough heartbeat for the clutter within. The place was a mess…but what a mess! Relics of the cinema’s history were strewn about the room:

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The room itself went right back to the rear of the building. The ducting and pylons built as part of the multiplexing stood out like the proverbial, providing an eerie atmosphere of incongruity. We both agreed there was something not quite right about the place, and it slowly dawned on us we might not be alone.

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Surprisingly, the place still had power. Near to where we’d entered, another door yawned open, and the yellow light beyond seemed very inviting. We couldn’t come this far and not continue…

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The doorway led to a creepy stairwell, at the top of which was the projection room, and another, more sinister room bathed in a red glow.

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The door to this room appeared to have been literally ripped from the wall, and the place was trashed. What had happened here?

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The evidence suggested a beer-fuelled rampage by local graffiti artists led by David Brown’s greatest enemy.

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The room was full of cinema seats, and by the look of it had perhaps once been some kind of private screening room, or a meeting room. In either case, the interest it provided was limited, and we moved on to the projection room.

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Nota bene: this guy isn’t Philip Doyle.

The projection room was somehow in worse shape than the screening room.

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What was left of the projectors had been stripped, and equipment lay everywhere. Immediately arresting was a shelf containing scores of film cans filled with cinema advertising…

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…and some cryptic words:

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It really did look as though the staff just downed tools one day and walked out. If it weren’t for the trashing, it seemed like they could have just walked back in at any minute and started rolling.

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The holes in the wall where the projectors had once shone through now provided a view down to the cinemas below…

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…at least, enough to know that was our next stop. A stairwell at the rear of the projection room provided the access.

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More violence: the door to the foyer appeared to have been forcefully kicked down. Who broke in here? King Leonidas?

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The foyer too was the scene of some pretty heavy action. Pepsi cups and popcorn littered the floor, and the door to each cinema hung wide open. In addition to the gaudy pastel art design, Doyle had named each new theatre. We started with the rearmost one, ‘The Ritz’…

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And someone had definitely put upon the Ritz. With the seats gone, the room looked a lot larger than it ever had. Enterprising graffiti artists had used a ladder to tag the screen, but apart from that this cinema was probably the least abused of the four.

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Not so the ‘Manhattan’, in which our violent predecessors had set up a kind of roundtable. A base of operations? A drinking spot?

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It certainly wasn’t to get a better view of the screen, which was no longer in existence.

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The chintzy Manhattan skyline which adorned the walls provided a sad framework for the carnage and failure we were witnessing, although the damage was very King Kong-esque.

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The ‘Palace’ was palatial as ever with the chairs and screen removed. What’s fascinating is that with the screen removed, it’s easy to see the outline of where the Victory’s grand staircase would have been.

Imagine how many films those faces must have witnessed...

Imagine how many films those faces must have witnessed…

The first cinema, ‘Encore’, was so small that it was hard to imagine it as being adequate for screening anything. I’ve seen bigger home cinema setups than this.

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Carpeting the tiny room was a thick pile of movie books, videos, photos and script pages. Some empty removal boxes nearby suggested that the cinema had been used as temporary storage during its last few years.

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Back out in the foyer, we were faced with a problem. We had to check out the ticket counter, but the door provided a clear view out to the street. We had to be careful, lest one of the civic-minded locals drop dime on us and end our tour of the Mecca.

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No, really?

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Hiding out of sight, we crept through the staff office. It was perhaps in the best condition of all of the rooms, with only one major flaw:

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The candy bar/ticket counter, when we finally reached it, was just what you’d expect. Condescending signs…

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Overpriced refreshments…

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And stacks of empty cups, silently waiting to serve their purpose. Bad luck, guys.

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I couldn’t help but notice this sign, which I found anomalous. Does Greater Union reserve this right? Does any other cinema? If I’m going to be kicked out of a place, I at the very least expect a reason.

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Our earlier fears were unfounded: no one was around. I think we’d been so caught up in the Meccapocalypse that we’d forgotten where we were – the wrong side of Kogarah’s tracks.

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Having covered everything, we made our way back to the underground storeroom via the foyer. I was struck by this feature wall. It looks as though the posters are crying, and I don’t blame them after all the hell Doyle had put the place through. If ‘faded glory’ has a visual definition, this is my submission.

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As we descended the stairwell to the storeroom, we suddenly became aware just how ornate it was.

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The stairs themselves were starting to peel, the cheap paint no longer able to disguise a more regal past.

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The stairwell, just like the space upstairs, had been carved up by Doyle in his quest to beat Greater Union at its own game. What had once been a lavish entrance was now just dank storage space for all the grime behind the glitz.

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The Celebrity Room snuck up on us. We’d breezed right past it originally, but with a name like that, how had that been possible? Had it even been there the first time?

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With hubris set to maximum, Doyle had made the Celebrity Room into his office.

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The grimy office was revolting, unkempt, and radiated an enormous sense of unease. It also hid one of the more interesting finds of the entire trip:

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If you can ignore the filth for a moment, you can see that the stairs that carried down through the above cinemas would have ended here, and then continued on to the theatre…

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But that meant that the original screen was somewhere behind us, in the storeroom. Would anything remain?

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On our way back out, we noticed the walls were speckled with (among other things) vintage movie posters. Torture Garden seems particularly appropriate.

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If only. Moving on…

At this point, we knew the cinema was deserted. Feeling more comfortable, we resolved to explore the rear of the storeroom, the area which would have sat above the toilet we’d visited last time. It didn’t take long to find the entrance to what had once been the Victory’s stage.

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Patient Kogarah audiences had had to put up with no less than four pantomimes during the Mecca years, and there was plenty of evidence of this backstage.

The show's over now, Philly boy.

The show’s over now, Philly-boy.

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The stage had been bricked over during the multiplexing, but it was all still there.

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The pulley system was still in place, though we dared not touch it.

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Dated January 1989, this sign advertises the last panto to be staged at the Mecca, and what would have been the last performance ever at the Victory. What a way to go.

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Also backstage was the Mecca’s collection of toilets. Who would need this many toilets? And in case you’re sitting there smugly thinking ‘A cinema would need this many toilets, you idiot’, just know that the room they were in wasn’t a bathroom. The room did however feature a variety of pornography featuring plus-sized models affixed to the walls, so maybe the toilets were necessary after all.

Most of the Cinderella props were still backstage, including the carriage…

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…and some very bizarre costumes. I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember a giant chicken or Mickey Mouse being in Cinderella.

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I wondered if this was the same stage we were standing on at that moment.

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The Disneyfied font Doyle had used for his own name, never mind the fact that he was so insistent on ‘family entertainment’, was a sickening touch. There was something not quite right about this whole place, and as we made our way back through the storeroom to leave, we passed plenty more evidence in support of that feeling:

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As I mentioned earlier, it seemed like the staff just walked out one day in the middle of work. There had been no effort to clean up the place or to scale it back, like if they’d closed for financial reasons and were preparing to sell. So what had actually happened? The truth is horrific.

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Not long after our visit, the scaffolding went up. Despite a few half-hearted protests and calls for the cinema to be revived, it was time for the final curtain.

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Flash forward to today.

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A gleaming new block of units has replaced the Victory, and all its associated stigma. As I said, there were a few last-minute calls for clemency, and yes, it’s now as bland and faceless as you’d expect, but could you honestly say you’d want to see a movie there again knowing what went on? For the sake of the victims, especially those very brave ones who spoke out, it’s better that no trace has been left behind.

That aside, I think it’s interesting that what was once the suburb’s entertainment hub has been turned into a living space. In a way, it’s a perfect microcosm for how these things work all over the western world.

Picture this: you’re the mayor of a small town or village. You need to attract more people in order to be important, as part of some desperate search for identity, so you permit an attractor: a cinema, a shopping centre, a stadium. But now you’ve built it, and they have come, so where are they going to live? You, in your stately mansion, let the problem build and build, throwing bones where you can. Let’s raze this library, let’s destroy this public pool, but hey, keep the cinema. The locals love that.

More and more people come. They start families. They open businesses. Soon, your town is a municipality, a suburb, a community. And as the towns around it grow at the same rate, your whole area is becoming something much larger than you ever imagined. Suddenly, it’s beyond your control. You were so sure you could keep it under your thumb, get it to your ideal size and then replace the cork. But what happened? Weren’t you the boss?

But the genie is out of the bottle, and he can’t go back in. It’s more than you can handle, and before long, you find yourself replaced by a team, a committee who group-think to make decisions better than you ever could have on your own. Their first decision? “Let’s demolish some of those old businesses and put in a supermarket or two. Ditch that stately manor, the land would be perfect for a car park for the train station. Oh, and knock down that crusty old cinema. We need more living space for our community.”

You really should be thankful. After all, you need a place to live now, right?

St. James Theatre/Beverly Hills Cinemas – Beverly Hills, NSW

IMG_9142Let’s cut to the chase: the Beverly Hills Cinemas are looking a little…porky these days. It’s hard not to notice the expanding waistline anymore, even for the sake of politeness. What I’m saying is, if the Beverly Hills Cinemas were a person, they’d need to take the Michelle Bridges challenge a few times to squeeze back into those trackpants.

But it wasn’t always this way. Back before the cinema was built, the suburb was known as Dumbleton, after a nearby farm. The opening of the Dumbleton train station in 1931 had opened up the suburb to the rest of Sydney in a way the previous public transport option – a coach service from Hurstville station – had not. Dumbleton’s first shop had only opened in 1908 (on the site of the present day Beverly Hills Hotel), so there wasn’t exactly a major reason to go there. Dumbleton residents hoped to change this in 1910, when a post office was opened within the existing store. It was like the proto-Westfield.

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This is that shop, circa 1916. Image courtesy Regina Coeli Parish, Beverly Hills.

The Second World War brought military personnel to Dumbleton, further increasing its population and forcing it to come up with more shops to keep people entertained, but it’s kinda hard to make anything entertaining when your suburb’s name is Dumbleton.

In late 1938, plans began for a picture theatre along King Georges Road with a projected completion date of 1940. I suppose the Dumbletonians were hoping to emulate the success of the Savoy theatre in nearby Hurstville, but they still had the nagging problem of that name. An American cultural influence had been building in the outskirts of Sydney with the advent of cinema, so with an impending theatre and the belief that the USA would soon be joining the war effort, a move was made in 1940 to change the suburb’s name to the much more glamourous sounding Beverly Hills – Hollywood on the East Hills line. The Californian equivalent was home to famous movie stars, and with the completion of the St. James Theatre later that year, so would Dumbleton. The strip of palm trees down the centre of King Georges Road was added to complement the Hollywood theme in a move no one in the 1940s could have predicted would become so tacky by the present day.

The St. James Theatre entertained the residents of the growing suburb (even those older residents who had loudly complained about the name change) for decades until the 1970s, when the voracious Hoyts incorporated it into its suburban chain. By 1978, it had fallen into disrepair like many of its suburban cousins that had survived the mass demolition of such cinemas during the progressive 60s, and was showing only adult films. St. James indeed. I wasn’t able to locate a picture of the St. James back in the day, so if you’re able to help, let me know.

It was that year when developer Jim Tsagias bought the St. James, with plans to transform it into a function centre. Something changed his mind (perhaps the palm trees) and he decided to restore it as a cinema. In 1982 it was reopened as the one-screen Beverly Hills Cinema, and in 1988 it was converted to a twin.

And couldn’t you tell. For years, the bigger Cinema No. 1 would play host to the big budget blockbusters, while smaller, more intimate pictures or films late in their run were relegated to the tiny Cinema No. 2, which had been shoehorned in above the first. It was an awkward setup, but one that built a reputation as the cheapest cinema in Sydney (based on ticket prices, of course), and became one of the most popular family venues in the south west, especially when coupled with the nearby Beverly Hills Pizza Hut. Movies then all-you-can-eat pizza: it doesn’t get much more 90s than that.

The cinema was looking a bit dated by the early 2000s, but not as bad as the bank next door (I believe it was a Westpac?). Sandwiched between the cinema and the Pizza Hut was one of so many suburban bank branches closed during that time, and it sat dormant for many years just like the Hut. Perhaps realising it wasn’t a good look, and that there was an opportunity to expand, the Tsagias family bought the bank in 2004 and moved in, creating a video arcade in the new space which greatly relieved pressure from the cramped waiting area. But this wasn’t enough. In 2008, a complete redevelopment saw the Beverly Hills upgraded to a six-screen cinema. The derelict Pizza Hut was cut in half to make room for more screens and a mini-power station, and the entire facade facing King Georges Road was given the facelift (in true Beverly Hills fashion) that it sports today.

Not quite the case around the back, though.

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From the alley behind the cinema, it’s easy to see the layout of the original St James and the bank next door. The structure on the extreme left is new, and sits on the Pizza Hut’s territory. The Pizza Hut recently vanished from existence, perhaps to make way for more parking for the cinema, or a new restaurant (just what BH needs). Whenever you see extensive renovations going on, it’s usually a safe bet that it’s being done to prepare the property for sale. Sure enough, the Tsagias family placed the Beverly Hills Cinema on the market late last year. It seems as if Event Cinemas has taken control, at least of the screening coordination, but it remains to be seen if the Beverly Hills will remain a cinema under a new owner.

If it doesn’t, they may have to change the suburb’s name again.

Electrical Outlet/Davally Beauty – Enfield, NSW

You know how it can be.

You work hard all your life, bringing your strong, old-world work ethic to whatever task you’re assigned. Sometimes you sell produce, sometimes you sell furniture. It doesn’t matter to you, you were built for this. You can sell anything, it’s your purpose. It makes you feel good. You shack up, maybe you get an idea that you’re going to settle. ‘This could work,’ you think to yourself. ‘I could see myself here in five years, just cruising.’

You hit that point where you’re salivating at the thought of retirement, a handsome payoff for all the hard work you’ve ever done. Sure enough, the day comes. There’s a small celebration, a cake. Gary from next door has a bit too much champagne and ruins your carpet. You laugh and shrug; you’ll have nothing but time to clean it up.

But then the unthinkable happens. Something so commonplace you kick yourself for not having seen it coming, but you never thought it would happen to you. One of your dependents passes away.

SMH, May 4, 1949

SMH, May 4, 1949

Suddenly, things aren’t looking so simple. Easy Street has taken a sharp left onto Struggle Street…which is now a five lane highway. You’ve got to go back to work if you want to make ends meet.

The first day back on the job, and everything has changed. New owners, new workers. New work ethic. As the new upstarts proceed to do all the things you never could, the taste of that cake comes back to you, suddenly very bitter. The owner can see the way things are going, and decides to get out. Just like that. Here one day, gone the next, and not even a goodbye. You know in the back of your mind it’s all your fault. How did that make you feel?

SMH, April 2, 1953

SMH, April 2, 1953

Another decade, another set of owners. The rent won’t pay itself, after all. These hip new owners watch you work, barely masking the disappointment. They paid how much for this? You’re from another time; you just can’t cut it. So out comes the new coat of paint, the new accoutrements designed to help a dinosaur compete in a modern world. It works…for awhile.

And then the 80s. You cut a break – suddenly it doesn’t matter who you are, only what you’re selling. And you’ve lucked out, my friend. Fully stocked with the latest in washers, colour TVs and video recorders. Inwardly, you can’t even begin to understand how it all works. You’re of a bricks-and-mortar mindset, these newfangled electronics baffle you. But you were built to sell, and sell you do. The money – you’ve never seen so much money! – comes thick and fast, and suddenly you find yourself with a hefty bonus here and there. It goes to your head. You’ve forgotten that no one is bigger than the business.

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Which brings us to today. Colour TVs lost their novelty. VHS is barely a memory in the mind of the public. ‘People still have to wash,’ you argue. True. But there are laundromats for that. Massive department stores just up the road. While you were sitting here, the world changed, and if you ever left your comfort zone, you’d know that.

These days, you’re a sight. You cling embarrassingly to your heyday, desperate to remind prospective owners what you can do.

Could do.

Did.

But no one’s buying what you’re selling. You were never the best salesperson, merely capable. Today, even that’s negligible. All you do is remind people of a past they’re happy to forget. Despite your best efforts, you’ve landed yourself a beauty salon gig, the kind that’s all too common in these strips. Well done. The saddest part is, you think it’s going to last forever.

I pity you.

Fat Pizza/For Sale – Chullora, NSW

Given the success of his new comedy series Housos (with a movie, Housos vs. Authority, released earlier this month), Sydney filmmaker Paul Fenech probably doesn’t spend much time thinking about this place anymore. In 2000, Fenech launched Pizza, a sitcom set in the world of pizza delivery in southwest Sydney.

The Pizza crew.

A big hit at a time when Australian television comedy was in dire straits, Pizza acted as a kind of modern Acropolis Now, and its unique approach of challenging ethnic stereotypes through very black comedy was able to sustain a five series run which ended in 2007, and its own movie, Fat Pizza, in 2003.

Located along the Hume Highway at Chullora, this low-key pizza restaurant provided the backdrop to the mayhem of the show. Since Pizza ended, the shop has sat dormant, although for much of the period between 2000 and about 2009 it operated as an actual pizzeria, reopening earlier this year after a long period of disuse…before closing again soon after. During its last era, the walls were adorned with Pizza memorabilia, making it a kind of Planet Hollywood for southwest Sydney. It’s likely it was an operating restaurant before Fenech and the Pizza crew made it their filming location – the row of shops it’s a part of is absolutely ancient.

The shop was recently purchased after having been on the market for some time. The interior’s been gutted, making the likelihood of any kind of Pizza revival here pretty unlikely. But who knows, perhaps it’s being prepared for a sixth series? It’s unknown whether Fenech’s team owned the restaurant during Pizza‘s run, but either way, they wouldn’t own it anymore. For a long time, it seemed that this little pizzeria in Chullora was as far west of Sydney Australian television was willing to go, but the success of Pizza made it possible for shows like Fenech’s Housos to further highlight the ‘inconvenient frontier’ that is western Sydney.

Ever get the feeling you’re being…watched?

Speaking of which, if you’re starting a security company, a surefire way to NOT intimidate anyone would be to name it the Australian Watching Co. The AWC protects the block Fat Pizza is located on (or it did a hundred years ago). Uh-oh…I think we’re being WATCHED! Here’s an interesting aside completely unrelated to Pizza: the Australian Watching Company was formed shortly after the First World War (I knew it), and in 1992 was acquired by Chubb. Now it goes under the name Southern Cross Protection – but clearly not South Western Cross Protection.

Liberty Service Station/Sold – Riverwood, NSW

In its heyday, the Liberty budget-priced service station chain offered freedom from the high prices gouged by the big boys of the industry. Today, this Liberty offers freedom from any prices.

Liberty came from the old-school of servos, where workshops were par for the course. They were service stations after all, and not just because they used to fill your car up for you.

Liberty service stations are actually the modern day incarnation of the Solo service stations of the 1970s and 80s. Liberty began life as Solo in 1974, and became the largest independent servo brand in Australia. The Solo chain was part of the ACTU’s efforts in the 70s to bring about a discount retail revolution. In 1975, Solo teamed up with the ACTU to bring prices down in Victoria, leading to a 17c per litre difference in fuel prices between Victoria and NSW (imagine the fury in Albury-Wodonga). Solo’s discount revolution didn’t hit NSW until 1977, due to staunch opposition from a terrified Transport Workers Union, which feared that discount petrol would lead to mass sackings of fuel tanker drivers. Servo owners also rallied against the introduction of the discount chain, but to no avail. The first NSW Solo opened in 1977 in the then-still recovering Bold Street, Granville. Just think, all that effort and struggle to regulate and cut fuel prices, only to end up in the situation we’re in today. It’s pretty sad.

Solo was bought out by Ampol in 1989 (and didn’t that end well), and in 1995, Solo’s creators started Liberty ‘in the spirit of’ Solo. It’s alleged that they’re still going today, although from this mess you wouldn’t know it. You’d hope that Liberty head office had more confidence in the other locations than they had in this one.