Yes, the kitschy neon sign is what Sharpie’s Golf House is best known for, but there’s a bit more to it than that. For starters, the sign has been gone for years, having been taken down by the City of Sydney in 2007 for ‘refurbishment’. How long does it take to replace a few tubes?
The origins of Sharpie’s Golf House lie in the shop next door. It’s currently the empty shell of the former Gold Sun Supermarket, but in 1918, when Russian immigrant Harry Landis bought it, it was the Railway Loan Office, named for its proximity to Central Station. Landis moved into the current Sharpie’s address in 1923, and proceeded to divide the pawn shop into two sections: musical instruments and sporting goods, with an emphasis on golf.
After the Second World War, the sporting side was renamed The Golf House, and in 1964 the animated neon sign featuring the world’s best golfer (he always gets a hole-in-one) was erected after six years of construction. Until its removal, it was Australia’s second oldest neon sign (Melbourne features the oldest. You gonna take that lying down, Sydney?). The music business moved to Park Street in 1977, and the Golf House became Sydney’s premier golf store. This prestige attracted pro golfer Lindsay Sharp, who bought the shop in 1985 and renamed it after himself, forcing a change to the neon sign. That’s why the red ‘Sharpie’s’ part looks so out of place.
Sharp himself sold the ever-declining business in 1999, and in 2004 it became Korean-owned Harmex Golf, which limped on for a few years before closing its doors for good in 2007. Looking around the area it’s not a surprise – what was once a thriving business zone has become a wasteland with a bad reputation, filled with backpacker hostels and husks of businesses long gone. I’m not complaining; it’s great for what I’m doing. But it’s a sad look for the city, especially so close to the train line. Besides, it’s not like there are any golf courses in the immediate vicinity, so it’s not hard to imagine the golfing community getting fed up with making the trek out here every time they wanted a decent 5-iron. At least they made for good weapons when they stepped back out into the street.
The building today is a mess. Sharpie’s has been dulled. It’s dirty, covered in posters and falling apart. Even by Elizabeth Street standards it’s an eyesore. The part I’m having a hard time getting over is the indoor driving range. It had an indoor driving range! For how long? How did it work? I’ve played those virtual golf simulators indoors before, but surely this was set up long before those were around. It’s not even that long a building, how did Sharpie have room to get his drive on?
It’s alleged that the sign sits inside, heritage listed, waiting for a spit and polish that’ll likely never come. There have been a few proposals submitted to the Sydney City Council to demolish the current site and reincorporate the sign into whatever is built in its place, but all have been declined. It’s not like they’re going to build another Golf House, so why not just leave it in the past? Why not take the opportunity to breathe some life back into this part of town, and create tomorrow’s heritage listed signs? For all the talk of preservation, Sharpie was quick to flush a 20-year-old sign down the toilet to remake it in his image. It’ll likely go the way of the Regent Theatre on George Street, and we’ll be able to live in Sharpie Tower in 20 years time. There’s something to look forward to.
Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Ltd. started life at our old friend Homebush West in 1909, and over the next few years became the Federation-era’s answer to Sony. In 1918, AWA received the first radio broadcast from the UK to Australia – an address to troops by then-Prime Minister Billy Hughes. AWA then transmitted the first newsreel pictures from Sydney to London in 1930.
Not content to just broadcast and receive the radio signals, AWA entered the consumer radio market after the Second World War. AWA became the leading manufacturer of consumer radios in Australia, and subsequently branched out into other areas. Fans of commercial radio (I know you’re out there) may care to thank AWA for owning and operating 2GB sister station 2CH for many years.
Of course, an Australian company couldn’t do this well without at some point having their own building, and in 1939, that dream was realised in York Street, Wynyard. The AWA Building was the tallest building in Australia until 1958, and remained AWA’s head office until the late 1990s, when AWA backed out of the broadcasting race because it’s kinda hard to get a decent signal amongst all those skyscrapers in Wynyard. Today, the tower is E. G. Collections, “specialising in Ladies Suits”, with office suites above, and doubtlessly the friends of all of the building’s employees are sick of hearing about how you can see the office in that one bit in The Matrix.
Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall for the kind of olde-tyme radio business they were so deeply involved in, 1991 saw AWA acquire Smorgon Technologies. Although it sounds like a Captain Planet villain, it was a world leader in totalisator systems, and this purchase led to AWA’s own acquisition by Tabcorp in the 2000s. Wow.
AWA regained its independence from Tabcorp’s clutches in 2004, and these days focuses on IT and commutation services, which is a newfangled way of saying it’s doing what it always did, but NEW. Strangely, AWA has licenced its brand name to Woolworths, Big W and Dick Smith Electronics for use in generic consumer electronic devices. You know, just in case anyone out there is 150 years old and remembers how good the sound was from their AWA car radio.
If you’ve ever had a birthday, chances are you’ve received a card from John Sands. Although John (1818-1873) has been indisposed for a fair period of time now, he never forgets a birthday, a funeral, an unexpected pregnancy, or any other occasion requiring a “social expression”. These days, John Sands is owned by the fittingly named faceless corporation American Greetings, but back before he sold out, Sands ran his operations from locations (dunes?) in Druitt Street, the flagshop in George Street, and here, in Clarence Street.
As you can see, John and the other Sands made a living sinking dies, engraving plates and printing all manner of stationery. Someone was canny enough to have engraved the business name all over this building too, because now it’s heritage listed. Despite the listing, it’s currently for lease, despite plans in recent years to convert it into an Italian restaurant and a Nando’s chicken shop, among other things. To survive a Nando’s incursion…that’s staying power. I guess you might say [Terrible sand erosion pun removed for everybody’s sake – Ed].