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 its heyday, the Liberty budget-priced service station chain offered freedom from the high prices gouged by the big boys of the industry. Today, this Liberty offers freedom from any prices.
Liberty came from the old-school of servos, where workshops were par for the course. They were service stations after all, and not just because they used to fill your car up for you.
Liberty service stations are actually the modern day incarnation of the Solo service stations of the 1970s and 80s. Liberty began life as Solo in 1974, and became the largest independent servo brand in Australia. The Solo chain was part of the ACTU’s efforts in the 70s to bring about a discount retail revolution. In 1975, Solo teamed up with the ACTU to bring prices down in Victoria, leading to a 17c per litre difference in fuel prices between Victoria and NSW (imagine the fury in Albury-Wodonga). Solo’s discount revolution didn’t hit NSW until 1977, due to staunch opposition from a terrified Transport Workers Union, which feared that discount petrol would lead to mass sackings of fuel tanker drivers. Servo owners also rallied against the introduction of the discount chain, but to no avail. The first NSW Solo opened in 1977 in the then-still recovering Bold Street, Granville. Just think, all that effort and struggle to regulate and cut fuel prices, only to end up in the situation we’re in today. It’s pretty sad.
Solo was bought out by Ampol in 1989 (and didn’t that end well), and in 1995, Solo’s creators started Liberty ‘in the spirit of’ Solo. It’s alleged that they’re still going today, although from this mess you wouldn’t know it. You’d hope that Liberty head office had more confidence in the other locations than they had in this one.
While spending time in Botany yesterday, I walked past the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel on Botany Road, turned down Waratah Road, and found myself staring at…the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel? What?!
This bigger hotel stood in front of a large park, so I’ll fill you in as we explore the park. It turned out that this hotel was the original Sir Joseph Banks Hotel, built in 1844. In 1920, the second Sir Joe was built on Botany Road, and the pub license was transferred to it, leaving the original free to become private units, which is how it is today.
That’s the dull part out of the way. The interesting part of this place is the garden, which has provided Sydney with a few major firsts since 1850. Here, at the garden’s running track, foot racing events were *yawn* held throughout the 1880s during the… professional running boom…I know, I know. We’ll get there.
Also held at this running track was Australia’s first game of representative rugby league, in which the South Sydney Probables clashed with the Possibles. I’m guessing the Likelies played against the Maybes the week after.
Okay, now, the most interesting thing about this park is that it was home to Australia’s first zoo. The site’s owner at the time, a timber merchant named William Beaumont, improved the hotel and created the ‘Pleasure Gardens’, which is a more scandalous and giggle-inducing name today than it would have been back then. The gardens included the private zoo.
It’s hard to imagine tigers and elephants wandering around the grounds these days, so to assist you, the City of Botany Bay has erected a series of life size animal statues. In a way it helps, but in another way it’s kind of creepy. Judge for yourself.
It’s interesting to note just how few of these brand names are widely visible today. Ampol and Esso were both absorbed by their parent companies, proving once again that no one is safe from the Big Oil Killuminati. Maxwell Chemical Corporation, which is just the kind of name you want to see emblazoned on your pleasure garden, has moved offshore. Seagram seems to have disappeared from the corporate environment in New South Wales, at least. Even Pascol Paints has been absorbed by Wattyl, going against all advice you were ever given about mixing paints.
The most striking thing about this place is how secluded it feels. It’s off the main road, but the whole suburb of Botany feels a world away from Sydney as it is. I suppose in that regard, it was the perfect environment for a zoo. The most important feature of the garden today are the series of ponds that form protected wetlands. The whole park sits on land reclaimed from Botany Bay, so some attempt at looking after the marine life there is better than none at all.
Meanwhile, up at the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel Pub Edition, you’d never know any of it was there. Here, they just sit, and drink, and smoke, and bet, and watch the millionth game of rugby league played since the days of probability vs possibility.
I think about it this way: the goings-on of the Sir Joseph Banks Pub on Botany Road are indicative of all that’s probable, but the Victorian wonderland and colourful history of the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel and Pleasure Gardens are all about what’s possible.