Come gather round, children, and I’ll tell you a tale of a time when people played “computer games”.
Epping is a bit of a mess these days: no two floors of a shop can seem to agree on what they’re going to be. This one in particular features voices from the future (education – the Children Are Our Future), the present (the natural health joint), and the past. We’ll get to all of them, but let’s begin yesterday.
In 1983, the market for console video games in the United States crashed and crashed hard. In a panic, the computer gaming industry (there’s a difference) sought to distance itself from its ailing cousin. IBM, Amstrad, Commodore were just a few of the names attempting to usurp Atari as household standards.
In Europe and Australia, it largely worked. By the early 90s, naff adults would refer to kids’ Sega Master Systems and Game Boys as “computer games”. Ugh.
When you’re a kid, it’s a travesty. You and your passions, tarred and feathered by misunderstanding. Or was it a lack of wanting to understand?
It took years for the computer games terminology to wear off. You’ll still hear it today if you listen (or care) hard enough. Sure, there have been some great games for computers during the past two decades, but as our old buddy Lana Del Rey likes to say, something something video games.
Which brings us to today’s focus. This place serviced computers, and wisely separates computers and games. It’s hard to tell where to place this in the gamut of understanding, but I’m going to go ahead and chuck it in the “totally gets it” pile. For one, the sign appears to be neon – cool. And two, the shop doesn’t look that old.
The computers and games and computer games have long since left the building, however. It’s symptomatic of a larger sickness – when was the last time you saw a games department at Myer? At K-Mart? It’s clear this was just another casualty of the digital takeover.
Today, it’s home to Pharmatex. Or it isn’t. Their website has the right address, but the shop itself appears to contain no less than two other pharmaceutical/health food outlets.
If you’re that curious, call them toll free on 1800 GLOVES (seriously).
As for the HSC English specialists, I wonder what percentage of these tutors exist purely to stop the students from playing computer games instead of studying?
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.
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.
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…
“I live near the Cyclops Toys building” was a direction I heard often when I lived in Leichhardt.
Every inner westee seems to know this place and certainly, if you spend any time in the suburb, you can’t miss it.
The fun, red letters spelling Cyclops Toys speak loud from the top of this old red and beige trike and bike factory. The fact they’re squashed into the sawtooth roof makes them look like they’re in speech bubbles. Are the words being shouted proudly or whispered knowingly? It’s hard to tell.
The Cyclops Toys building sits in a dip on William Street on the corner of Francis Street, so it talks clearly at you as you drive down from Norton Street. It has three storeys, including the lettering, which makes it mammoth compared to Leichhardt’s oft-tiny, one-storey weatherboards and brick semis that my friend’s mother once described as “a collection of posh beach shacks”.
The sawtooth design of the roof suggests this place was actually a factory, not just a storage facility. The sawtooth, with its glazed steeper surfaces facing away from the north, was designed to shield workers and machinery from direct sunlight, while allowing natural light into the deep-plan building. Or perhaps Cyclops just wanted to stop their bikes and trikes getting too hot.
Cyclops have been making bikes and trikes since 1913. And in fact, Leichhardt was where it all began. John Heine Sheet Metal started making flat framed trikes at Hay Street, on the other side of Leichhardt, that year. The Cyclops name was registered two years later.
By 1920 the company was on fire – it started mass producing the Cyclops pedal car, which it claims to be the “first Australian mass produced car” – 30 years before the Holden came along.
Around ten years later it started making the Dinky Trike, soon to be found strewn across children’s backyards, parks and footpaths around Australia throughout the early-mid 20th century.
Those years were huge for Cyclops. Two world wars and the Great Depression meant less toys coming in from Europe and the company positioned itself nicely to fill the gap.
The William Street factory – listed with Cyclops Toys for the first time in 1930, according to History of Sydney – would have been key to Cyclops’ growth, and would likely have employed a considerable number of local workers.
By the 80s Cyclops claim to have made over 50 different types of wheel toys, including pedal cars, scooters and even doll prams. Alas, the original Dinky was not one of then – that design was shelved in 1950.
Today Cyclops still make a wide range of trikes, bikes, scooters and even helmets. You just need to pop along to Target.
As for the William Street factory, it’s now a set of attractive “warehouse conversion” apartments. Agent blurbs on Realestate.com talk up the apartments’ original hardwood floors, exposed beams, picture windows and soaring ceilings. And the market is lapping them up; some three-bedroom apartments have sold for way north $1,500,000.
But despite the building being closed off for private owners, it’s still treasured by locals. The vintage-style letters speaking loud and proud to anyone who comes down the hill. It’s almost as if Cyclops knew their future market; it’s the inner west all over.
What’s this? A second hand clothing store in Newtown that’s no longer in operation?! How could this be?!
I’m sure C didn’t see the convenience in this situation. Nor did the council when it was forced to take a bite out of the awning to get that pole in. It’s not a good look, but neither were most of the fashions C had up for sale. Let’s please leave flares in the past.
C actually fills in the historic blanks him/her/itself on the C’s Flash Back website: “C’s flashback began as a humble stall at Glebe Markets selling antique collectables 20 years ago.”
Here’s where the timeline gets a little muddy: “Within 2 years they had expanded to a brick and mortar store in Newtown and later in Surry Hills.”
So this sign has been here for 18 years? There’s no mention of when the Newtown location closed; in fact, the website speaks as if it’s still operating: “With quality low-cost exotic clothing in the heart of Newtown, the King Street store provides many of the costume pieces for fancy-dress uni-parties throughout the year.”
You don’t say.
It’s also noted that C’s love of dressing people in outdated styles continues to have outlets at Surry Hills, Paddington and Glebe Markets.
Thank goodness Glebe still has a place to buy second hand clothing.
He came to this country from Europe, in an era that was – in many ways – of greater acceptance than the age we live in today. Barely able to speak the “native” tongue, and still scarred by the horrors of war, he attempted, to the best of his ability, to integrate into the society he found here.
Seriously, imagine the effort: the journey to get to this faraway place is in itself a hellish struggle. And then to arrive, to have to gather your bearings, to learn the language, to assess the social order where almost nobody is like you, and to gauge your place in it.
You don’t know anyone. You have nothing. Nobody is like you, and nobody cares about you.
And after all that, to actually make the effort to insert yourself into that world. To provide for it! With today’s luxuries and privileges, and the world having become a global village, it’s almost impossible to understand that experience.
But he knows.
We’re not talking about an intolerant culture, as we have today. Australia in the post-war era was arrogant, dominant. White Australia, victors of the war in the Pacific, liberator of ‘subordinate’ races found in the occupied island nations.
Today, racial and religious intolerance comes from a place of fear, fear for “our way of life”, fear of the unknown, and a deep-seated, shameful understanding that these ideals are too flimsy to be defended.
But back then, it was an arrogant patronising of these European cultures who had already been brutalised by intolerance beyond understanding. We’ll tolerate your spaghetti and fried rice, fellas.
A people person, he started his career as a hairdresser in the city. Armed with youth, energy, passion, a thirst for knowledge and a hunger for success, he began to network as he plied his trade. The ageing, well-to-do doyennes of Sydney’s east, left alone by their business-minded husbands all day, longed for an outlet for their thoughts, their stories, their plans and their dreams. They found it in him.
And who could blame them? A good-looking, upwardly mobile young man eager to listen while he cuts your hair (all the while learning the intricacies of his new language) would be the perfect ear.
“They were my ladies,” he’d tell me decades later. When I pressed for more, his brow darkened like storm clouds and he shook his head. “Sorry mate, they’re still mine.”
As now, networking paid off. Trust leads to loyalty, and when the young man was ready to move beyond the confines of the department store salon and get his own place, his ladies came with him.
Even though it was out in the wasteland of the south-west, in a tiny suburb few had heard of.
In the mid 1960s, Belfield was still relatively young. We’ve been there before, so there’s no need to go too deeply into the backstory. Catch up first, and then cast our man into the backdrop.
Although it’s the inner-west now, it was truly the outskirts of civilisation for many at the time. Many poor European migrants found themselves in the middle of growing suburbs like Belfield, and often during the worst growing pains. But land was cheap, space was plentiful, and tolerance could be found if you looked past the stares.
He told me the shop had been a deli before he bought it. He’d saved all his income from the city salon, lived hard for years but never let go of the dream to own his own business. The master of his own destiny. We’re content these days to end up wherever life tosses us. Control is too much effort, and believing in fate and destiny means it’s easier to explain away fortune both good and bad. His was a fighter’s generation, and he fought for everything he had. He’d been fighting from the day the Nazis shot his father dead.
His salon fit right into a suburb that had multiculturalised right under the white noses of the residents. An Italian laundry here, a Chinese restaurant (that serves Australian cuisine as well, natch) there, and a Greek hair salon right in the middle.
A friendly, ebullient character, everybody came to know him. The women loved him, the young men respected him, and the old ones still gave him sideways glances. He didn’t care – he’d outlive them.
“I still had my ladies,” he’d recall fifty years later. Some of his city customers had crossed the ditch, but he’d found an all-new community waiting to unload on him. He’d become family as he’d get to know the women, their children, and their children.
I came to this little shop for 25 years to get my hair cut. Always the same style: the Jon Arbuckle. In that time, I went from sitting in the baby chair and chucking a tantrum whenever it was time for a trim, to coming on my own, mainly for the conversation. As the years went on, he revealed more about himself and his life. It fascinated me.
“The hardest part,” he told me the last time I saw him “was that as the years passed, my ladies would…”
He paused. It was difficult.
“They’d stop coming in.”
Very true. Belfield is a very different suburb to what it was even ten years ago, let alone 30. Let alone 50. My grandmother was one of his women, so familiar that it seemed like they’d always be around.
But now she’s gone, and so is he.
“This is it,” he’d said. What? How? Why would you sell?
“I sold years ago,” he confessed. He’d been renting ever since.
I was stunned. Was I destined to never get a haircut again? “You can come to my house if you still want me to cut your hair,” he’d offered, but the look in his eyes suggested we both knew it would never happen. It was a kind gesture, but not the kind you actually take up. No need to be a servant in your own house.
What would he do now? He’d been scaling back the business for a long time. Once, the workload had been heavy enough that he’d hired an assistant, but Toni had long since gone. He’d said he didn’t take new customers anymore, either. It was too hard, pointless to get attached. It was his great strength and his ultimate weakness, that attachment.
So many Saturday mornings I’d spent in that chair, hair down to my shoulders, waiting for my turn. While I waited, he’d chat to me, or Mrs. Braithwaite, or Brett (who’d done time once and it had broken his heart). In all my years of going there I never saw the same “regular” in there twice, such was the expanse of his network.
On that final Saturday, we chatted out the back while he had a smoke. As a kid I’d always wondered about that back area. Turns out it was plastered with pictures of his own kids and grandkids, old salon paraphernalia, photos from his many overseas trips, and a radio constantly blasting ABC 702.
I’d thanked him for the last haircut he’d ever give me, and told him to keep the change. We shook hands, then embraced.
In my youth, I shed many tears in this place in vain attempts to avoid haircuts. As an adult, I shed one more.
The worst part is that two years later, it’s still for lease. I haven’t had a haircut in two years.