Remember when Michael Jordan went from dominating basketball to embarrassing baseball? Today’s subject is a little bit like that, only without the Bugs Bunny team-up to make it palatable (I asked, he’s a busy rabbit). Still sports-related, mind you.
WHOA! Are you into top gear yet? Back in 1994, the clamorous Tony D’Allura was the managing director of Fleets, a sports gear warehouse. At 154 Parramatta Road, Ashfield, D’Allura broadcast this entreaty to those in the market for day-glo boogie boards and flippers…and woe to any piece of cardboard with a dollar value written on it that got in his way.
It was this arresting commercial that gave me pause, first to check my hearing, and second to find out what had happened to that location. I didn’t have high hopes – after all, how long can you last when you’re selling flippers at “unbelievable” prices?
But before we get to the ultimate fate of Fleets, let’s go back a bit further. Even back in its residential days, someone was trying to flog stuff at crazy prices:
Glorious tone and volume, eh? Now, who does that remind you of…
The site’s sportswear days date back to at least 1976, when it was home to Ski-Ace Pty Ltd, owners of the BLACK MAX trademark. I don’t know about you, but the idea of Tony D’Allura screaming about bargain marital aids during The Simpsons back in 1996 appeals, it really does.
In 1978, Ski-Ace became Fleets Sports World, specialising in winter gear, and by 1990, they were a known brand with ONE LOCATION ONLY. As we already know, by 1994 they’d expanded into surfing gear and general sports equipment, and two years later they expanded into Brookvale. As with our old mate Toyworld, country towns followed.
Here’s where things become preposterous…
Fleet Flyers was a small courier company founded in Sydney in 1921. 40 years later, it was bought out by Australian National Couriers, which is still active today.
In 2000, Fleets Sports World vacated the Ashfield location, and was replaced by Canova Interiors. Ok, I hear you say, who cares?
Well, Fleets Flyers began to use that same address, and apparently adopted the extra ‘s’ along the way. Neither the mostly defunct Fleets website or the still-active ANC site (which the Fleets site redirects to) mention Fleets Sports World in their history or about pages, nor do they mention any sporting history whatsoever.
So what happened? Did they move in simply because the name was already on the sign? Unless Tony D’Allura resurfaces to tell us the story via podcasts Cheez TV-style, we may never know.
What we do know is that neither Fleet, Fleets, ANC, or even Canova Interiors operate outta Ashfield anymore:
The old Fleets, along with Brescia Furniture and some other relics have been razed to make way for WestConnex. The sun has set on Parramatta Road’s commercial viability. No longer can you plan a day of shopping for soccer balls, leather lounges or ribs along this soon-to-be-habitrail, and frankly it boggles the mind that it was ever possible.
But should an ANC driver ever feel a chill as they pass this stretch of the motorway in years to come, well, now we’ll know why.
And don’t mourn for Fleets – against all odds they’re kicking on in regional NSW, where it’s appropriate to appear in your own ads. Have a look if you don’t believe me:
Dry your eyes.
Special shoutout to my homie Flemishdog for uploading these and many other old ads. Love your work, Mr Marshall.
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…
Further to the recent F4 update (to the article, not to the actual road, what were you thinking? that’s just laughable), here’s another snippet from the same pamphlet giving us a rundown of the history of “the oldest road in Australia”, Parramatta Road, as seen from the vantage point of 1982.
For me, the highlights (emphasis mine) include:
“By 1806 the road was in such poor condition it was declared to be a danger to horses.”
Right, and by 2015, those horses still aren’t getting anywhere near it.
“For those evading the tolls penalties were severe, up to 3 years hard labour and public whipping!”
Any chance we could bring that back?
“The first Judge of the Supreme Court, Jeffrey Bent, was fined 40 shillings and recalled to England after repeatedly refusing to pay the toll and threatening to jail the tollkeeper.”
He was a judge, so no hard labour there of course, but where was his public whipping?
“In 1925…the section from Ashfield to Parramatta was noted as being far too narrow for the traffic using it.”
No need to update those notes, then.
“With the road physically incapable of being widened without enormous cost and commercial upheaval…”
There’s plenty more good stuff in here, so have a gander, perhaps when you’re sitting around for long stretches of time, not going anywhere, maybe in the late afternoon. You know, one of those times.
Thanks to Burwood Library for the pamphlet.
As you crawl along Parramatta Road, past the Vita Weat building, the Strathfield Burwood Evening College, the Homebush Racecourse, the Midnight Star, the Silk Road, the Brescia showroom and Chevy’s Ribs, you might notice these forbidding gates peeking out from behind a near-impenetrable wall of bushes. On a road full of head-turners and eye-catchers, a true time warp awaits the hand of progress to seize it by the overgrown scruff of its neck and haul it into the 21st century.
It can wait a little longer while we take a look. After all, it’s only existed in its present state for over 150 years.
The unusual name of Yasmar originated in 1856, when Haberfield landowner Alexander Learmonth erected his home on the estate, which he had inherited through marriage to the granddaughter of ubiquitous Sydney property tycoon Simeon Lord. Learmonth named the house Yasmar after his father-in-law, a Dr. David Ramsay. Surrounding Yasmar House was a magnificent garden, designed in the Georgian fashion to gradually reveal and present the house.
Very gradually, clearly.
In 1904, the property was leased by Grace Brother Joseph Grace, and became his Xanadu. Fittingly, Citizen Grace died in the house in 1911. The estate fell into the hands of the NSW Government in 1944, who promptly proceeded to establish a centre for juvenile justice on site.
When it dawned on the powers-that-be that years of horticultural neglect had created the Alcatraz-style escape proof prison seen today, the estate was turned into a juvenile detention centre, which lasted from 1981 to 1994, when the Department for Juvenile Justice relocated, presumably using machetes. From then until 2006, the grounds housed NSW’s only female juvenile justice centre, and since that time, politicians have argued back and forth to have Yasmar made available to the public.
These days, it appears that Yasmar is used as a government training facility. The entrance is around the side in Chandos Street, giving visitors a sense of the sheer scale of the site.
Seeing as the gate was open, I went right in, ignoring the deterrent magpies perched threateningly in nearby trees.
Yasmar’s gardens are huge, but much is now taken up by the training and detention facilities. The open day held in late July allowed visitors a rare look around the grounds and inside the house. What’s that? You didn’t make it? Lucky for you I was there. Read on…
It’s believed that this may have been Australia’s first ever swimming pool, but a more common theory is that it acted as a sunken garden. Either way, it had long since fallen into dereliction by the time I got to have a look.
The view from the inside. There have only been a handful of open days held here since the early 90s, and this year’s was the first since 2007, so this isn’t a view many people get. It’s…great.
Through the thick foliage you can see the various detention and training facilities located around the grounds.
A better view of the house itself. It’s not all that impressive on the outside. I was expecting something grander. Inside, however…
…it’s still just an old house. No, it’s actually fascinating in its own ancient way, and the weight of history here is pretty hefty. Many of those visiting for the open day were former inmates. One hadn’t lost his rebellious nature at all over the years, ducking under the ‘do not cross’ tape to venture deeper into the house before being shouted at by the supervisor. The system doesn’t work.
You wonder just how much they cared about child welfare back then.
Out in the courtyard it’s pretty bleak. Though they did have one great feature I’m consistently a sucker for:
Yes, that’s right. The door to nowhere.
What’s also notable is the nearby Yasmar Avenue, further adding to the sense of entrenchment of the estate within the Ashfield area.
Although neglected and misunderstood like so many of its inmates, Yasmar, Sydney’s Mayerling, exists as a unique example of a 19th century estate virtually unchanged since its establishment. While governments and councils have fooled around for decades over Yasmar’s fate, the estate itself has become an integral part of the Parramatta Road experience. In its current state, it is to Parramatta Road what that ancient expired carton of milk is to your fridge – an indicator of just how bad a housekeeper you are.
For more on the illustrious history of Yasmar, check out Sue Jackson-Stepowski’s excellent write-up here.
I remember when I was a child, I was taken on yet another tedious day trip to Brescia Furniture, on Parramatta Road at Ashfield. When we attempted to sit on one of the lounges to see how it felt, we were rudely told to get off by one of the staff. We left empty handed.
Karma’s a bitch, isn’t it, Brescia?
The showroom was built in 1975 for Keith Lord Furniture, replacing their old site:
Lord died in 1978, and by 1994 his chain was dead. Along the way, this showroom was sold to Brescia, for whom it became a model store. But in 2005 it went up in one of the worst and most intense fires in Sydney’s history. It was said that the combination of leather, varnish, wood and other flammable materials all stockpiled together in a 30-year-old building didn’t help over 900 firefighters put out the blaze over three days. I guess that’s why they didn’t want us on the lounges.