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.
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.
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?
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.”
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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…
You were once a pizza restaurant and a cocktail bar…
…now you’re Kuo Fu.
Yes, you know you’re looking into the past when you’re dealing with cocktail bars, lurid green lettering and a perceived difference between a booking and an advance reservation. What is it about those old signs that were built to last so long? Do you think that 40 years from now someone will be writing about that charging station in Burwood that used to be Kuo Fu?
There’s no telling just how old the Super Pizza restaurant is, but judging by the font and presentation it’d have to have started in the early 80s, if not late 70s – perhaps named off the back of 1978’s hit film Superman. If we go back to the 1920s, 232 Burwood Road was home to Mellor Bros Electrical and Radio Supplies.
It probably took up the whole building. Today, aside from being the home of Burwood’s funniest spoonerism, the upstairs section that was once the scene of so many smoky Saturday nights at the cocktail bar set to the then-ubiquitous warble of the Bee Gees is now…a mortgage broker.
It may be extremely subtle, but at least their signage doesn’t force you to crane your neck. I’d like to think they still offer ‘super fast home delivery to your door’.
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?