Category Archives: restaurants

Golden World Restaurant/Xinjiang Noodle House – Ashfield, NSW

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If you’re planning on visiting Ashfield, wolfing down a Chinese meal and washing it down with an icy cold Coca-Cola, I’ve got some bad news for you: it won’t be a golden experience.

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As you may remember, there was a time when things, particularly restaurants and take-away shops, went better with Coke.

John Pemberton’s miracle tonic was being poured wherever you’d see signs like this, usually with the tiny-lettered name of the venue pushed aside to make more room for that contoured logo – as if it needed any more exposure.

The thinking was that unless you advertised drinks were available, you’d alienate thirsty customers, or worse still, make them think you sold Pepsi.

I’m not sure how well Coke goes with the kind of unpretentious Chinese food Golden World would have sold. I do like the chutzpah of Golden World to name itself that, and then set up in the very un-golden world of Ashfield.

I also can’t help but feel for the person or persons living in that upstairs room back in the Golden years, with that bright red and white sign glowing outside their window all night. I hope you finally found peace, whoever you are.

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Golden World’s deal with the sugar devil expired long ago, but odds are the brownest of the brown liquids is still sold at today’s Xinjiang Noodle House. They probably sell Coca-Cola, too.

And as for those panning for gold in Ashfield, get yourself up the street. Golden times await…

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Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon/Derelict – Parramatta, NSW

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Say it to yourself just one time: themed restaurants. Takes you back, doesn’t it? Right back to oh, say…the long, hot summer of 1993, when Australia’s first Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon opened at this very location in Parramatta. Here’s a terrible photo:

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Lone Star Steakhouse in the glory years, 1997. Image courtesy australianexplorer.com

Dirty Dicks, Xerts, Hooters, Choys, Planet Hollywood… anachronisms all, and all either relegated to the central coast or the western suburbs, or simply wiped off the face of the earth. For some reason, the concept of the themed restaurant never quite took off in Australia the way it was hoped, and I suppose that’s one more thing separating us from Americans.

And speaking of…

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Lone Star as a brand began in 1989, in North Carolina of all places. In its 26 year history, there’s never been a Lone Star outlet in Texas. I wonder how a Parramatta-themed restaurant would fare there? Texans, would you enjoy being screamed at by mental patients while trying to hold down a cold Whopper (RIP Hungry Jack’s)? Leave a comment below.

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Apparently Parramartians (c’mon, pay it!) seemed like a more receptive audience for steak and ribs slathered in sugary sauces, and I dunno, vittles, or whatever else a Lone Star would provide.

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Time for a confession: I never went there. And it seems I wasn’t the only one: in 2000, the already illusory relationship between Lone Star and Australian diners began to collapse entirely. In three years, 21 Lone Star outlets around the country were either closed or sold off, joining so many others in themed restaurant hell (where there are napkins, dress codes, and entrees instead of starters).

If you looked toward Parramatta in October 2011, you might have spotted a falling Star. It’s been sitting waiting for demolition ever since.

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The side doors yawn open at passers-by, singing a siren song to urban explorers, graffiti artists and those in need of a quiet place to shoot up.

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Around the back, metal struts sprout from the ground like steel weeds. Perhaps they were once for outdoor dining. Doubtless it still happens there.

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Message to developers Dyldam (you don’t wanna know what that autocorrected to): when your derelict site has been broken into and abused this badly, you’re taking too long.

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The Parramatta chapter of the Lone Star story may have ended, but the saga continues. Today, the brand sort of carries on under the name Lone Star Rib House. I…I don’t know how lone that star would really be. I’m no expert, but I think the steak and rib galaxies are pretty close.

Also, here’s a fun game to play: go to the Lone Star Rib House ‘About Us’ page and try to decipher the alien language used there. If you can work out what the hell they’re on about, you’ve done better than I.

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By resisting the bulldozers for so long, Australia’s first Lone Star has become an anomaly in this part of Parra, a lone star if you will (clean out your desk – ed). Soon it’ll be just another block of units, but until then it’ll remain…remarkable.

DESTRUCTIVE UPDATE: Or will it? No sooner had this post gone up did the bulldozers awaken and make short work of the Lone Star. Look everyone, a falling star…

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Tea rooms/Springwood Thai Kitchen – Springwood, NSW

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There comes a time in the life of every history blog when one must write about tea rooms.

Up in the Blue Mountains, anyone with a thirst for high tea is spoiled for choice; between the Hydro Majestic’s Afternoon High Tea, the Lilianfels High Tea and the Katoomba Carrington’s Grand High Tea, it’s no wonder the Mountains are a place tea leaves and scones fear to tread.

And it’s also no wonder that the tea rooms of Springwood, a picturesque town sadly bypassed by most on their way up the Mountains, threw in the tea towel in the face of such stiff competition. That said, it’s not like you can’t get tea in Springwood – cake shops and cafes pepper the main street, and I’m pretty sure even the public toilets provide a cuppa while you spend a penny.

These days (and for the last few years), the former tea rooms have made way for one of Springwood’s two Thai restaurants, the Springwood Thai Kitchen. According to reviews, this place and the Thai Square are locked in an evenly matched reviewel to the death (yeah, that’s a word now). I’ve only eaten at this one and that was years ago, so I won’t dare to compare in this instance (although, you could take that as a review in itself).

It’s a tiny building – a skinny Thai, if you will (you’re fired – ed) to try and cram all the requisite Thai accoutrements into, but it certainly conjures up images of how it would have been back in the day: refined folk coming in with a thirst only tea could quench, hanging up their bowler hats and settling down for an earl grey and lamingtons while chatting about their English country gardens. Today, all that remains of that era is the faint lettering above the shop and whatever hot beverages are on the menu. Perhaps a Thai latte.

Bottom line, I think naming the restaurant ‘Thai Rooms’ was a missed opportunity.

Ampol Roadhouse/For Sale – Narrandera, NSW

The southern NSW town of Narrandera doesn’t get much attention these days. Sitting as it does just beyond the intersection of the Newell and Sturt highways, most motorists opt to drive on and avoid the town, just as the architects of the highways intended. If they stop at all, it’ll be for fuel at the giant roadhouses that dominate the intersection.

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Just not at this one.

Down a little way from the truck-heavy bustle of the operating roadhouses sits today’s subject. Rotting, neglected, but still damn impressive, the former service station awaits its fate armed with infinite patience and signage of yesteryear.

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In its prime, this was more than just a place to refuel. With so many services on offer, it was a destination. Looking for fresh fruit for the long journey ahead? They’ve got it covered! Feeling dirty after a long haul? The shower facilities are clean and ready for action! Sick of your rude passengers? Step inside for some friendly, courteous service! Want breakfast at 10pm?

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Breakfast is served all day. The signage pretty much betrays any secret the station might have, from the nature of the meals on offer to the condition of the air in the restaurant. I do find myself wondering which major credit cards weren’t accepted, though. What a bullet to the head that would have been: you’re six hours out of Sydney on your way to Adelaide (and beyond…), and you pull up at this, the last bastion of fuel before the intimidating Hay Plains begin. The bill is hefty, but so’s your credit rating, you think, as you reach for your wallet. You nonchalantly flip your card onto the counter as in so many Amex commercials, only to hear those dreaded words: “Sorry, we don’t accept BarterCard.”

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Alongside the shop section is what appears to be the former restaurant. In the day this would have served ‘home style cooked meals’ to hundreds of passers-by each day. You can’t help but wonder how the domination of NSW’s highways by McDonald’s and their fast food brethren have impacted the traditional roadhouse’s dining trade.

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Narranderans looking to party could score ice here (heh), as could any motorist with the ability to keep that ice cold until they reached the party zone. And boy, don’t Milk Drinks sound delicious?

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Based on the signage, and this sign in particular, we can start to get a feel for the age and identity of the station. It’s a safe bet that the redacted term on this sign is LEADED PETROL, which was phased out of use by the late 1990s. The shop pimps 90s Coke, and promises to accept Starcards, which are a Caltex initiative. I’d say we’re looking at a former Ampol.

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Australian Motorists Petrol Company Limited was a NSW-based chain of service stations founded in 1936, allegedly to counter concerns about inequitable petrol pricing (as if that has ever happened). In 1995, Ampol was absorbed by Caltex and the brand was quietly retired. It’s not uncommon to see Ampols still in place in remote country NSW, but whether they’re in operation is another story.

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As you read this, Narrandera’s Ampol sits in limbo awaiting its second life. Australia’s highways are littered with the forgotten corpses of service stations, the glory days of providing much needed fuel and friendly, courteous party ice long forgotten. For every one that falls, another two pop up in their place, superseding their predecessor in every possible way…except perhaps one.

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Ladies, your convenience is no longer the object of these service stations’ affections as it once was. If we remember nothing else about this Ampol, treasure it as one of the last bastions of clean public showering for the women of NSW.

Taree City Bowling Club/Taffy’s Buffet & Pizza – Taree, NSW

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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…

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…to this baked path leading down to…

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…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?

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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.

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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…

Taree City Bowling Club, 1990. Courtesy Greater Taree City Council

Taree City Bowling Club, 1990. Courtesy Greater Taree City Council

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.

SMH, Jun 3 1952

SMH, Jun 3 1952

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.

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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.

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Overgrown and neglected, only the bare bones remain of what would once have been a vibrant, active sporting field.

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Think of all the whistles that would have been wet by this over the years.

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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.

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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!

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“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:

SMH, Jul 23 1955

SMH, Jul 23 1955

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.

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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.

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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…