Tag Archives: cars

Olympia Speedway/Coral Sea Park – Maroubra, NSW

Traffic moves quite slowly in South Head Cemetery, both vehicular and otherwise. Nobody’s in that much of a hurry; even the post-hip, ridiculously overpriced motivational sportswear-clad joggers slow down to take in the breathtaking vistas the graveyard offers.

Only most of the time, there’s no breath to take.

The Victorian era saw a boom in ‘the art of death’ – society as a whole had an endless fascination with death, and paid particular attention to the manner in which deceased were committed to the void. This carried over into the early 20th century, and the ornate tombstones and mausoleums of this era are a far cry from today’s dour marble efficiency.

Bloody Sunday drivers...

Bloody Sunday drivers…

Look at this. It’s kind of like the headstone equivalent of one of those racing car beds, isn’t it?

Immediately eye-catching, the final resting place of Reginald “Phil” Garlick ensures its fair share of stares. A prodigious racer, Garlick’s love of motorsport is forever tied to him in the afterlife. At the time of writing, it’s getting nigh on close to 90 years since his death aged just 39 years at…Maroubra Speedway?! What the…?

Pretty sure you can still get speed at Maroubra if you know where to look. Image courtesy James Cockington

Pretty sure you can still get speed at Maroubra if you know where to look. Image courtesy James Cockington

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This…this couldn’t be! Where would such a racetrack even be? Superfast hoony driving and Maroubra…it just doesn’t make any sense!

SMH, Wednesday, Sept 16 1925

SMH, Wednesday, Sept 16 1925

Actually it makes perfect sense, and this one’s pretty common knowledge. The Olympia Speedway drew an estimated 70,000 petrolheads to its grand opening in 1925, blowing the attendance of that year’s VFL Grand Final away.

Guys, maybe you should be handing out the helmets BEFORE the race...

Guys, maybe you should be handing out the helmets BEFORE the race… Image courtesy SpeedwayAndRoadraceHistory.com

The Olympia became notorious for the dangerously steep incline of its concrete saucer, reaching 48 degrees in one stretch. Suddenly, helmets like Phil’s up there don’t really sound like they’ll cut the mustard, do they?

Flag girls dressed very differently in the 1920s...Olympia Speedway, late 1925. Image courtesy State Library NSW/Sam Hood

Flag girls dressed very differently in the 1920s…Olympia Speedway, late 1925. Image courtesy State Library NSW/Sam Hood

And how’s that bloodthirsty crowd! 70,000 ghouls who couldn’t get their violent thrills at the VFL filled the Olympia’s seats hoping to see one of those poor bastards lose control and wipe out. Talk about a fascination with death…

In time, the Olympia gave its audience what it wanted:

Brisbane Courier, Friday, July 30 1926

Brisbane Courier, Friday, July 30 1926

Brisbane Worker, Wed, Feb 23 1927

Brisbane Worker, Wednesday, Feb 23 1927

Adelaide Mail, Saturday, Nov 24 1934

Adelaide Mail, Saturday, Nov 24 1934

Melbourne Argus, Thursday, July 2 1936

Melbourne Argus, Thursday, July 2 1936

SMH, Tuesday, Feb 1 1927

SMH, Tuesday, Feb 1 1927

And I thought Maroubra was a tough suburb these days!

The Olympia was actually shut down twice: 1927 saw the end of its days as a professionally promoted speedway due to a combination of anemic finances and negative attention surrounding the mounting death toll, and then again in the late 1930s after a series of fitful re-openings throughout that decade. By the time the light went red for good, the track was in serious disrepair. Yeah, a real HEALTH HAZARD. Could be DANGEROUS. LIVES AT RISK.

Another factor in play was the advent of public housing. The Housing Commission was snapping up as much ‘wasted’ land as it could and filling it with bland, efficient brick housing for war vets and refugees. By 1948, Maroubra was unrecognisable, a sea of brown roofs and 50km speed limits, strictly adhered to by residents at all times.

I can see why they call it Coral Sea Park!

I can see why they call it Coral Sea Park!

Coral Sea Park doesn’t look like much now, but this is pretty much our ground zero today. This was the centre of the speedway track back in the day, and the edges of the park are almost as steep as they were back when Phil and the boys were tearing it up.

Take a sherpa...

Take a sherpa…

It’s almost lazy, the way no effort was made to do anything but grass things over and slap a speed limit on the roads. But it does give us a great insight into just how dangerous it was to race around the Olympia. Look at the angles!

Watch your step...

Watch your step…

Image courtesy VintageSpeedway.com

Image courtesy VintageSpeedways.com

It’s said that the tablet laid on the speedway’s opening day is still buried beneath Coral Sea Park somewhere, and that any efforts made to find it have stopped short of the finish line. In 1925, this infield area was a swampy wasteland, known and feared for an abundance of snakes. But they’re gone now, so c’mon, find the damn tablet.

It’s also said that between its lives as the track’s infield and Coral Sea Park, this portion of land was a tip, and it closed in the 1960s after a boy was found dead inside a fridge. Will the killing never end, Maroubra?! I couldn’t find any hard evidence of this, but if you know more, or you were that boy, get in touch.

IN MY DAY...

IN MY DAY…

Just before we go, there’s one last interesting remnant of what was once Australia’s “killer track”: on the western side of Anzac Parade, there sits Heffron Park and the neighbouring Des Renford Leisure Centre (folks of my generation probably remember man of leisure Des Renford best from that Martin/Molloy skit. IN MY DAY…). This park too sees a sharp incline as you head east toward where the speedway would have been.

An upside to building a racetrack in the middle of a bunch of sandhills was that it was easy to get a saucer in place for the kind of angles necessary for DA THRILLZ. A downside is that tightass locals could sit their tight asses down on said sandhills – like this one – with a perfect view of the action without paying for the privilege, and that’s just what they did. And the Olympia went into voluntary liquidation, you say?

Thanks to my pal Viv for her help with the modern day photos. Gorge!

Dick Smith Electronics/Vacant – Chullora, NSW

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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…to the downlights above the doorway…

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…to the Secur-A-Posts preventing Smash-N-Grabs, gadgets had this place covered. But who had done the covering?

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The glass door didn’t reveal many secrets, except for a distinctly retail feel inside…

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…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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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?

Past/Lives Flashback #7: Rick Damelian – Leichhardt, NSW

Original article: Rick Damelian/For Sale – Leichhardt, NSW

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Over the last year, you’re likely (I would hope) to have enjoyed a healthy bank balance, a good credit rating, a roof over your head. Simple stuff that the people of Sydney take for granted. Rick Damelian on the other hand…

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When we last left the epic tragedy that is the Rick Damelian saga, things weren’t looking too good for both Rick and his former dealerships. Despite their desirable location along Parramatta Road at Leichhardt, the caryards, weren’t attracting any offers, and Rick himself was staring down the barrel of a pretty severe bankruptcy.

But hold on. Look there, in the window…is that what I think it is? Let’s take a closer look.

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Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. In November 2012, these showrooms finally sold, and since then have returned to doing what they did so well at the peak of Rick’s success – selling cars.

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Even on the roof, Rick’s private helipad has been obscured by a legion of cars. The staff might want to check to make sure Rick isn’t living in one of them.

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Remember Ric’s Cafe, the on-site licenced restaurant that was the jewel in the crown of Rick’s decadence? It’s since been replaced by even more cars! It’s funny, Rick might not be in the situation he’s in today if he’d just thought to sell a few more cars instead of food and helicopter rides. Live and learn, I guess.

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Further down the road, a modestly priced used car dealership has set up shop on Rick’s old turf. So toxic was the land, so tarnished was the site’s reputation as a car seller that the signs feel the need to be as explicit as possible: “WE BUY CARS! WE SELL CARS!”. It’s a trick Rick didn’t seem to be able to employ in his last years: speaking the language of the customer. Having cars onsite helps too, I’d imagine.

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Rick’s old bedfellow, Honda, has returned as well. Formerly the core of Rick’s sales strategy, Honda left Rick holding the bag when the Japanese tsunami decimated their inventory, and some speculate that this marked the beginning of the end of the Damelian empire.

Yet here they are.

Fancy that: it’s easier to come back from the ravages of a tsunami than it is to survive Rick’s management.

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One thing Honda has held onto are Rick’s ‘Dealer of the Year’ awards. I can see what Honda’s trying to do…but Honda – you issued these awards. It’d be like me giving myself the ‘Blog called Past/Lives of the Year’ award.

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Over the road, Morris has set up shop at the old Rick Damelian Prestige lot. A few examples of Rick’s flamboyance remain: the floodlights, the pointless sign on the far left, the Hollywood-style palm trees. But the cold, impersonal MG style sits heavily at odds with these elements, further highlighting their uselessness.IMG_0010But fortune hasn’t been so kind to the man himself. As Rick Damelian and his wife sit together in their $3.3m McMahons Point townhouses, arguing over whose turn it is to heat up the beans tonight, the banks and other creditors hover over him like a hawk. Should he decide to sell his two townhouses – thereby leaving himself, his wife and his mother homeless – he’s so in debt that he’s likely to receive nothing. It’s reported that Rick has just $73 left in his bank account, and can’t even afford to buy a car. You really have to feel for his wife at a time like this…with no car, she may never get off her Ls.

After nearly 40 years in car sales, Rick’s biggest accomplishment was establishing his own name. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – take Dick Smith for instance – but it meant that Rick’s triumphs and tragedies didn’t stick to Honda, or Fiat or whatever brand of car he was flogging at the time, they stuck to him.

$200m-a-year sales? “Damelian’s business savvy creates sales juggernaut.”

Your new car sucks? “I wouldn’t buy from Rick Damelian again.”

While it’s true that the financial crisis hit everyone hard, Rick’s lavish showrooms didn’t help him weather the storm. And since he put himself forward so often, it was his name that thousands daily saw stagnating as they passed his high-visibility caryards at the top of Taverner’s Hill.

No matter what should happen in the future, the name Rick Damelian will forever be tied to car sales, and there are plenty of dealers who would kill for that kind of association. At least in his downfall, Rick has provided a cautionary tale for the next generation hungry to make an impact as the world’s financial situation improves.IMG_0019Fitting then, that it appears it’s harder to expunge Rick’s name from his old dealerships than it is from bankruptcy court.

Cathouse Spares/For Lease – Enfield, NSW

Damn, Jenny’s left boob exploded, Cyndi’s on her last legs and John reckons Nautica needs a complete lube job. Where will I get spares for my cathouse?

In reality, Cathouse Spares was a specialist spare parts shop for Jaguars….in Enfield. It’s much more of a Maserati area, so no wonder things didn’t work out. It’s since moved to Rydalmere, leaving this building empty and awaiting its next trick. C’mon madams, you couldn’t ask for a more perfect location!