It’s an Australian tradition – a summer holiday where you all pile into the family car and tolerate each others’ company in close proximity for several hours before stopping at a beachside town for a week or so of fun, laughter, awkward silence, teen angst, Bubble O’ Bills, arguments, bitterness, shifting allegiances, charcoal chicken, backstabbing, fishing, violence and ultimately, relief at returning to the social fold.
Or was it just me?
Forster Tuncurry is one of those towns, like Ulladulla or the Entrance, usually associated with that summer pilgrimage, and fortunately, it’s well equipped to handle any needs you may have during your trip. Forget one of those creature comforts? Head over to Tuncurry Plaza, they’ve got you covered!
Or do they?
Gee, it’s looking a little…sparsely populated right now, but it does tick all the boxes. Hair salon?
Uh…is it Sunday?
You’re making me look bad, Tuncurry Plaza! You gotta at least have some thoughtful things…
Aw, come on!
Tuncurry Plaza’s plaque claims the centre opened in 1996, but the architecture suggests a time decades earlier. Maybe they renovated and extended it in ’96 to handle all the *snort* extra customers…
As it stands, the place is a tomb. The women in the pharmacy asked me what the hell I was doing taking photos, but when I explained what I do, they were much more forthcoming. A familiar soap opera of local egos, greed and apathy explained why things are the way they are here, but that’s not the interesting part, is it?
No, it’s that sense of total abandonment, like they could have just walked out yesterday. In a world becoming more and more populated by the day, to find a place that’s completely empty and silent is a rare treat. Behold:
No more picking up a Dan Brown or Kaz Cooke to half-read on the beach while you tan, only to spill sand all over your bed when you try to finish it back home…
No more watery coffee and stale scones while you wait for him to buy a replacement for that torch he swore he packed but is sitting on the kitchen table at home…
While we’re at it, no replacement torch.
Definitely NO toilet breaks.
Some of the tenants had moved out to the street where, y’know, people are.
…while some had vanished without a trace.
There’s plenty of parking, natch.
Though this bastard stole my spot.
Although we can’t take the failure of Tuncurry Plaza as a standard for such places across the country, it’s certainly something you’re seeing more and more. Just look at Newcastle – a city-sized Tuncurry Plaza, which has required government intervention in order to live again. Look at Holbrook, where not even a submarine could save it from going under. Port Macquarie, which is dangerously close to being renamed Port Macarthur.
The need for expedient travel is killing places like this. As we live longer, as work demands more of us, and as the internet is making it easier to plan trips for ourselves, we’re trying to cram more into our leisure time. Once upon a time, you’d brag about your summer trip to Tuncurry. Now, unless you’ve been to St. Barts or Mauritius, you keep it to yourself.
Ain’t nobody wanna see this on their feed:
It’s on a main road. Hundreds, if not thousands, of cars pass it every day. They pass it. They don’t stop. Would you?
I did, because there was something about this building…something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
It wears its former tenants like bad tattoos all over its festering body. On the eastern side, the Japanese Car Centre dares car shoppers to compare their prices.
A quick glance across wild grass to the neighbouring site almost has you thinking that was possible, but the cars on the lot were peppered with P plates and those flag boxing gloves, the 21st century fluffy dice. A quick inquiry in the Toyota dealership revealed that the Japanese Car Centre had been abandoned for years, and was now used as Toyota staff parking. As I left the slightly confused receptionist to her absent Facebooking, I thought about the reality of what she’d said: staff parking. Hell of a lot of staff.
On the western side, trees had worked to cover this once-prominent advertising canvas. The lights were long dead, whatever the sign had said was lost to the ages.
Buildings like this have a way of opening up to you after awhile. In this case, it was the abundance of electronic doodads covering its face like piercings that gave it away. From this former sign…
…to the downlights above the doorway…
…to the Secur-A-Posts preventing Smash-N-Grabs, gadgets had this place covered. But who had done the covering?
The glass door didn’t reveal many secrets, except for a distinctly retail feel inside…
…a notion backed up by their generous acceptance of TeleChecks. Now, the kiddies in the audience might be wondering what the hell a cheque is, and even if I told you you’d probably doze off halfway through. Let’s just say that this TeleCheck company – which I’d certainly never heard of – claims to have been around for 50 years. This must have been an early adopter.
And then it struck me: the colour scheme. Look at the building for a moment. It’s canary yellow. What kind of madman would have it this way?
Yes, the truth is revealed at last. For years, this was a Dick Smith Electronics outlet, back when Dick Smith Electronics emphasised the electronics side of the business rather than the dicksmithing. When Dick sold out to Woolworths in 1980, they (for a time) stuck with his main street store approach. This would have been one of the last, dying out sometime in the mid 1990s.
From the look of things, a furniture factory outlet took charge of the prominent location and eye-grabbing paint job before (in a cruel parody of the corporate 80s) it was absorbed by the Japanese Car Centre. And now that’s been gone for years, so who’s here now?
The Japanese Car Centre traded up to become Five Dock-smiths (You’re fired. -Ed) while this building has been left to rot, and that’s where the story should end. But you’re my readers, and I love you, so I want you to know I tried to go the extra mile. I know that you love photos of docking bays around the back of places like this…I know that. But when I went around to the abused little alleyway that ran behind the site, I, for the second time in Past/Lives’ history, interrupted a drug deal. So I’m very sorry, docking bay lovers – I just couldn’t get that shot.
Epilogue: Don’t cry for Dick Smith. His NSW warehouse is situated just a bit further up the Hume, where Homebush Bay Drive intersects, with a small retail outlet tacked on for good measure. He ain’t hurtin’. The Japanese Car Centre’s doing just fine too, joining a thriving indie car dealership strip on Parramatta Road, and abandoning the big boys who dominate this section of Chullora. In fact, the only loser in this story is me, because I had to spend so much time across from Fairfax’ offensive billboard of “journalist” and apparent buccaneer Peter FitzSimons while I took these photos. What’s that doo-rag all about, Peter?
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.
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:
The Victory was purchased by entrepreneur John Wayland, who in 1936 reopened the theatre as…the NEW Victory:
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.
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:
…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.
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.
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.
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-
Well, whadda ya know? Now there’s no excuse.
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:
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.
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…
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.
The door to this room appeared to have been literally ripped from the wall, and the place was trashed. What had happened here?
The evidence suggested a beer-fuelled rampage by local graffiti artists led by David Brown’s greatest enemy.
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.
The projection room was somehow in worse shape than the screening room.
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…
…and some cryptic words:
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.
The holes in the wall where the projectors had once shone through now provided a view down to the cinemas below…
…at least, enough to know that was our next stop. A stairwell at the rear of the projection room provided the access.
More violence: the door to the foyer appeared to have been forcefully kicked down. Who broke in here? King Leonidas?
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’…
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.
Not so the ‘Manhattan’, in which our violent predecessors had set up a kind of roundtable. A base of operations? A drinking spot?
It certainly wasn’t to get a better view of the screen, which was no longer in existence.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
The candy bar/ticket counter, when we finally reached it, was just what you’d expect. Condescending signs…
And stacks of empty cups, silently waiting to serve their purpose. Bad luck, guys.
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.
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.
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.
As we descended the stairwell to the storeroom, we suddenly became aware just how ornate it was.
The stairs themselves were starting to peel, the cheap paint no longer able to disguise a more regal past.
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.
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?
With hubris set to maximum, Doyle had made the Celebrity Room into his office.
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:
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…
But that meant that the original screen was somewhere behind us, in the storeroom. Would anything remain?
On our way back out, we noticed the walls were speckled with (among other things) vintage movie posters. Torture Garden seems particularly appropriate.
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.
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 stage had been bricked over during the multiplexing, but it was all still there.
The pulley system was still in place, though we dared not touch it.
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.
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…
…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.
I wondered if this was the same stage we were standing on at that moment.
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:
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.
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.
Flash forward to today.
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?
Original article: The Marina Picture Palace/Videomania/For Lease – Rosebery, NSW
Sometimes revisiting a place can reveal secrets you missed the first time. Case in point, the rotting behemoth on the side of Gardeners Road formerly known as Videomania. In its glory days this was the grand Marina picture palace, which operated until 1984 – a time when video killed the theatre star.
Another place for which time seems to stand still, Videomania remains relatively unchanged since last year. Sure, there are some new posters up along its face and there’s a new cupcake shop in the old bank next door, but the building itself is no different.
We can only speculate as to how long those promo guys were waiting, longing to plaster the front of the place with their posters. I suppose the temptation became too much at some point, much to Jack Dee’s benefit.
Even Leonardo is still there, ever vigilant. And he’d want to be, given the former theatre’s seedy surroundings…
Out the back, I encounter some inspiring graffiti and little else. The place may still be for lease, but they certainly haven’t expended any effort making it presentable.
I’m guessing that vacuum doesn’t work.
Just when I was thinking to myself that there was nothing left to discover here, I found it. It’s something that was probably there last time, but I just happened to miss in the excitement of seeing a Ninja Turtle in the last place you’d expect to see one. See? The gluey remnants still attached to the side appear to vaguely form the word ‘Roxy’, another name this theatre went by at some point in its illustrious life. But that was just the primer. Have a look at this:
Can you see it? Look really closely, and maybe try squinting. Still no good? Okay, let’s get a bit closer…
How about now? The ‘R’ or maybe the ‘N’ should hit you first, and then from there it’s easy. Yes, amazingly, the awning’s decorative ‘MARINA’ lettering has somehow survived, allowing us an even deeper glimpse into the past than it was thought possible. Now all we need to do is arrange a screening of ‘Puddin’ Head’ inside. Maybe we should get in touch with the owners?
We’re in the home stretch now, only three to go. Here’s a clue for the next entry: it’s another theatre.
ROCKIN’ UPDATE: The development-minded Vlattas family, owners of the Cleveland Street Theatre and the Newtown Hub, are currently renovating the Marina with the aim of turning it into a live music venue. My suggestion: keep Leonardo as your bouncer. Thanks, reader Rozie!