First off, let’s get the past out of the way. Or one of them, anyway.
Believe it or not, people used to visit the western Sydney suburb of Fairfield by choice, mainly because there were things to do there. In 1908, Fairfield consisted of a train station, a sawmill and, of course, a pub – the Railway Hotel.
As has happened so often throughout Australian history, those milkshakes brought all the boys to the yard…but those in charge knew that if there wasn’t any entertainment for them when they got there, Fairfield would fall prey to anarchy, social upheaval, communism and all those other agents of chaos that happen when we’re not given the option to spend money.
The Carter family of Smithfield identified that risk, and in 1910 did the community a solid: they built a timber and corrugated iron hall.
Do you know how much fun a timber and corrugated iron hall can provide?
…it was a different time. Moving on…
After the hall caught fire (see? fun!) it was rebuilt as the Fairfield Picture Palace in 1914, wherein each Saturday up to 2000 punters could pay their bits and turn their brains off for an hour or so.
Not to be outdone, local transport and carrying baron Jim Woods decided he could screen dodgy 16fps slapstick comedies for drunks better than the FPP, and in 1916, on Fairfield’s own Crescent, the imaginatively named Crescent Cinema was born. Or built. Or…you know what I’m talking about.
But Woods’ heart just wasn’t in it, and it changed hands a bunch of times before it was condemned as unsafe. Usually that’s where I’d come in, but this occurred in 1928. Maybe Fairfield just wasn’t meant to have fun?
The Crescent (the cinema, not the crescent) was rebuilt, renamed (as the Plaza), and opened to huge success. The new owners, a flamboyant (is there any other kind in olde-time theatre ownership?) couple called the Christensens, used some unorthodox promotional techniques to advertise their theatre. Beside the usual train station and back of the bus adverts, Eric and Cecilia Christensen would dress up as movie characters and swan about Fairfield handing out flyers. C’mon Event Cinemas, bring that back! I want to see Captain America and the Ghostbusters staggering around Cabramatta trying to convince people they’re not insane and that they should spend time in a dark room with them. In this social media age, it feels like a lost opportunity.
By 1934, the Depression had taken its toll on the Christensens, so in came visionary A. J. Beszant. Just look at that article. Fairfield was crying out for a modern theatre, one that wasn’t promoted by dodgy Laurel and Hardy impersonators, and Beszant replied “I’ll give them one”. “Criptic” indeed.
Beszant’s mad plan for world domination seemed to involve building a theatre in each of Sydney’s western suburbs, a plan that almost worked. It was just a bit beyond Beszant’s scope, and by 1944 he’d merged his company with our old friend Hoyts. With that in mind, you can guess what happened next.
Today, the Crescent (the crescent, not the cinema) isn’t a very pleasant place to be. Fairfield’s population has boomed since Hoyts, the KAOS to Beszant’s CONTROL, closed the cinema in 1967, and the focus of the suburb is no longer the train station. The theatre itself now sits in that lonely part of town, decaying and defiled.
I wonder if any amount of cosplay could get people to come by here these days.
Why do I get the feeling this is probably the part least used as a toilet?
Regents Park, Bankstown…Shanghai?
Although it existed as a split amusement parlour/roller rink in the 1970s, the Crescent Cinema has gone the route of all buildings this size – discount furniture warehouse. The glory days are long behind it, and it’s only a matter of time before the developers show up with a bulldozer. In this case, however, nature might beat them to it.
Perversely, the underground billiards club was named Savoy, a name traditionally associated with cinema and entertainment. Do you really think any entertainment went on here?
Especially when the door leads to nowhere?
Inside, it’s a far cry from the 2000 seat era. Dare to compare?
Remember, you’re looking at the exact same space.
Around the back, the stormfront of progress encroaches upon a wasteland. Marvel’s comic book characters are on-hand as ever to witness the death of cinema.
Beszant died in 1950 (and buried in the Northern Suburbs cemetery, of all places!), the Christensens and Woods long before that, and with them died the dream of entertaining the west. All we seem to want to do these days is house people, but there’s no thought about what they’ll want to do once they’re settled. With pubs closing earlier than ever and options like this no longer viable, perhaps now is the time to start thinking of alternatives? Not everyone’s a gambling fan, Mike.
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.
Traffic moves quite slowly in South Head Cemetery, both vehicular and otherwise. Nobody’s in that much of a hurry; even the post-hip, ridiculously overpriced motivational sportswear-clad joggers slow down to take in the breathtaking vistas the graveyard offers.
Only most of the time, there’s no breath to take.
The Victorian era saw a boom in ‘the art of death’ – society as a whole had an endless fascination with death, and paid particular attention to the manner in which deceased were committed to the void. This carried over into the early 20th century, and the ornate tombstones and mausoleums of this era are a far cry from today’s dour marble efficiency.
Look at this. It’s kind of like the headstone equivalent of one of those racing car beds, isn’t it?
Immediately eye-catching, the final resting place of Reginald “Phil” Garlick ensures its fair share of stares. A prodigious racer, Garlick’s love of motorsport is forever tied to him in the afterlife. At the time of writing, it’s getting nigh on close to 90 years since his death aged just 39 years at…Maroubra Speedway?! What the…?
This…this couldn’t be! Where would such a racetrack even be? Superfast hoony driving and Maroubra…it just doesn’t make any sense!
Actually it makes perfect sense, and this one’s pretty common knowledge. The Olympia Speedway drew an estimated 70,000 petrolheads to its grand opening in 1925, blowing the attendance of that year’s VFL Grand Final away.
The Olympia became notorious for the dangerously steep incline of its concrete saucer, reaching 48 degrees in one stretch. Suddenly, helmets like Phil’s up there don’t really sound like they’ll cut the mustard, do they?
And how’s that bloodthirsty crowd! 70,000 ghouls who couldn’t get their violent thrills at the VFL filled the Olympia’s seats hoping to see one of those poor bastards lose control and wipe out. Talk about a fascination with death…
In time, the Olympia gave its audience what it wanted:
And I thought Maroubra was a tough suburb these days!
The Olympia was actually shut down twice: 1927 saw the end of its days as a professionally promoted speedway due to a combination of anemic finances and negative attention surrounding the mounting death toll, and then again in the late 1930s after a series of fitful re-openings throughout that decade. By the time the light went red for good, the track was in serious disrepair. Yeah, a real HEALTH HAZARD. Could be DANGEROUS. LIVES AT RISK.
Another factor in play was the advent of public housing. The Housing Commission was snapping up as much ‘wasted’ land as it could and filling it with bland, efficient brick housing for war vets and refugees. By 1948, Maroubra was unrecognisable, a sea of brown roofs and 50km speed limits, strictly adhered to by residents at all times.
Coral Sea Park doesn’t look like much now, but this is pretty much our ground zero today. This was the centre of the speedway track back in the day, and the edges of the park are almost as steep as they were back when Phil and the boys were tearing it up.
It’s almost lazy, the way no effort was made to do anything but grass things over and slap a speed limit on the roads. But it does give us a great insight into just how dangerous it was to race around the Olympia. Look at the angles!
It’s said that the tablet laid on the speedway’s opening day is still buried beneath Coral Sea Park somewhere, and that any efforts made to find it have stopped short of the finish line. In 1925, this infield area was a swampy wasteland, known and feared for an abundance of snakes. But they’re gone now, so c’mon, find the damn tablet.
It’s also said that between its lives as the track’s infield and Coral Sea Park, this portion of land was a tip, and it closed in the 1960s after a boy was found dead inside a fridge. Will the killing never end, Maroubra?! I couldn’t find any hard evidence of this, but if you know more, or you were that boy, get in touch.
Just before we go, there’s one last interesting remnant of what was once Australia’s “killer track”: on the western side of Anzac Parade, there sits Heffron Park and the neighbouring Des Renford Leisure Centre (folks of my generation probably remember man of leisure Des Renford best from that Martin/Molloy skit. IN MY DAY…). This park too sees a sharp incline as you head east toward where the speedway would have been.
An upside to building a racetrack in the middle of a bunch of sandhills was that it was easy to get a saucer in place for the kind of angles necessary for DA THRILLZ. A downside is that tightass locals could sit their tight asses down on said sandhills – like this one – with a perfect view of the action without paying for the privilege, and that’s just what they did. And the Olympia went into voluntary liquidation, you say?
Thanks to my pal Viv for her help with the modern day photos. Get a dose of her wordier, but no less illustrative work over at TaylorHermione.co!
Beneath the relentlessly harsh Taree sun, Taffy’s Buffet & Pizza bakes both inside and out. Across the spacious grounds, the scruffy, receding grass is beginning to brown as another long, hot summer approaches.
As the prominent ‘For Sale’ sign says, the ground covered by Taffy’s is huge – too huge for just a pizza buffet. At the same time, the building seems a little…ornate for such a place, doesn’t it?
As I approached, I was sure the place was abandoned, long since closed. Despite all the signs to the contrary, the wide open spaces and peculiar, yet familiar architectural style weren’t immediately inviting to potential all-you-can-eaters.
But I wasn’t hungry.
The gates weren’t closed, so I strolled right on in. The garden was enormous, and contained a number of exotic features that seemed to have beamed in from another dimension. From this stagnant fountain…
…to this baked path leading down to…
…this sterile Flower Power gazebo, there was an air of pretension about the setup. Did Taffy expect enamoured couples to wind up their evenings strolling through her garden after a buffet pizza dinner, culminating in a romantic rendezvous in the gazebo? And then years later reminisce about that unforgettable evening in Taffy’s gazebo?
And I don’t even know what this is meant to represent. If there’s an opposite to the Pearly Gates, it would look like this.
But it was from that…whatever it is that the true nature of Taffy’s became evident; the dark secret Taffy was trying so hard to divert our attention from with her strange assortment of ornaments. Yes, this was looking very familiar indeed…
From 1954 to the early 2000s, this site served as Taree City Bowling Club, providing the Manning’s elderly with a place to form rinks and chuck balls around. Whatever keeps them off the streets, I guess.
We can laugh now, but once upon a time lawn bowls were considered an important sport, with opinions ranging from “whatever keeps them off the streets” to this hyperbolic article from 1952. Methinks Mr. Dent was trying just a bit too hard to justify his title.
And excuse me for sounding cynical, but does anyone really believe that lawn bowls is a game free from “sullen anger and distrust”? When I hear those words, white-suited old folks targeting jacks is the first image that comes to mind.
For having gone to such lengths to sculpt the front garden into something atmospheric, it was surprising that no such care had been extended to the former bowls greens. A 1990 heritage study of the then-active club recommended that future tenants “maintain greens, lawns and gardens”. Whoops.
Overgrown and neglected, only the bare bones remain of what would once have been a vibrant, active sporting field.
Think of all the whistles that would have been wet by this over the years.
Back at Taffy’s, all the bowls club hallmarks started to become apparent. The handrails for frail skippers was evidence enough, but I know my readers – always demanding more.
The placement of this tasteless statue seemed a bit too…deliberate. Let’s go in for the closer look I know you’re gagging to get!
“THIS CLUB WAS OFFICIALLY OPENED BY NORMAN NOSS, PRESIDENT OF NEW SOUTH WALES BOWLING ASSOCIATION ON 3RD JULY 1954”
I’ve gotta congratulate Norman Noss; he’d gone from vice-president in 1948 to president in just six years. Big deal, I hear you say, but cut the man some slack – that competition would be cutthroat, full of sullen anger and distrust. And if you think being president of NSW Bowling Association was a cushy job, all smokos and club openings, think again:
If I were police, I’d be looking closely at Tom Shakespeare and Bill Kay’s movements leading up to that car trip. Wouldn’t it have been convenient had both the president and senior vice-president not survived that crash?
Before we leave Taffy’s, I’d just like to take a moment to direct the limelight away from the bigwigs of the bowls world and highlight someone to whom the Taree City Bowling Club meant everything. It’s only short, so have a read of the story of Bert Kroon, avid bowler and Tareean (Tareek? Tareealist?), and then stop and think about the Bert Kroons out there right now who rely on this rapidly dwindling sport.
Certainly the most freakish element of my visit was the discovery I made out the back. Where the club backs onto the uh…scenic and aptly named Browns Creek, someone had decided to position this Westpac rescue helicopter.
Why? How did this happen? Who insisted upon it? Was it Taffy, or did Taffy just slap her own name on the tail when she took over? Who went to the effort of sticking the dummy behind the controls? Why is it so small?
Once again, a Past/Lives entry has left us with more questions than answers…