Tag Archives: Parramatta Road

Fleets/WestConnex – Ashfield, NSW

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:

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File “cash snap” under Shit My Granddad Says. SMH, June 6, 1931

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…

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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?

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Beside the beloved Philip Lodge is Canova Interiors on Parramatta Road at Ashfield, December, 2009. Image courtesy Google Maps

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:


February, 2017.

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:

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Image courtesy Google Maps

Dry your eyes.

Special shoutout to my homie Flemishdog for uploading these and many other old ads. Love your work, Mr Marshall.

Parramatta Road, 1982

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…”

Exactly what commercial upheaval are you worried about?

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.

A Tour of Homebush Theatre


A common complaint when it comes to this line of work (It’s not work unless you’re getting paid – Ed) is that although we can admire these old buildings and speculate about their history, we’re forced to do so from afar. We’ve all been there: you’re standing in front of an old, seemingly derelict icon from another era, possibly from your own past. You’ve been past it thousands of times, and hell, back in the glory days you might even have gone in. Oh, to have one more look around inside…no one’s around, who would mind? It would be so easy to sneak in and spend a few hours in the past…

And then common sense kicks in, and you keep walking, only now you’re carrying the added burden of regret.

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The call’s coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE!

But thankfully, Past/Lives reader “Cylonicus” took full advantage of a temporary absence of common sense and managed to get inside the forbidding Homebush Theatre/Niterider/Midnight Star et al. In an even less sensical move (but one I’m eternally grateful for), he was kind enough to send Past/Lives the photos. Of course, Past/Lives does not condone this kind of thing, nor trespassing in general…but if you just can’t help yourself, be sure to send me the pics. I have a feeling this won’t be the first time…

I’ve written about this place twice before, so if you’re in the dark you might want to bone up on its history before you step inside:

Homebush Cinema/Niterider Theatre Restaurant/Midnight Star Reception Centre/Derelict – Homebush, NSW

Past/Lives Flashback #3: Midnight Star Reception Centre – Homebush, NSW

And now, without further commentary from me, behold the fractured beauty of the Homebush Theatre one last time (before it becomes apartments). A massive THANK YOU once again to reader “Cylonicus”!

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The Auburn Emporium – Auburn, NSW


Let’s take another trip to that seemingly bottomless well of source material, Parramatta Road. If this Australian Women’s Weekly logo looks ancient to you, that’s because it is. In fact, I’d say there’s a good chance the magazine itself sported this logo the last time it was on sale at this location, which was most recently known as Danny’s Newsagency. But what’s happened to the sign there?


Oh, well this changes everything. Before Danny moved in, the newsagency was Brown’s domain. Perhaps the AWW sign belonged to Brown in the first place. Case closed, unless the awning offers us any more clues…

IMG_8989No. It was Brown’s Newsagency, then Danny’s, and now it’s a freight company called BLM, which is apparently just too busy to take down some old, misleading signs. Mission accomplished, what a great story, we can all go home. Was it good for you too? Seriously, why can’t these shops just present a decent front? If BLM wanted more business, why wouldn’t they dust themselves off a bit (unless they don’t want more business ON PURPOSE)? Does the rest of this row of shops have the same issue?


On the east corner we’ve got Blossoms wholesalers of health, beauty and ugg. Great combo. Looks like they ran out of yellow paint before they could disguise the fact the place used to sell:


..’beding’, among other things. Great. What’s that up there?


You can’t have freezers without fridges. Oh look, the building was finished in 1912. I bet they weren’t this lazy or negligent back then. Next…

IMG_8988The next door down offers no such insights – it’s a boring restaurant. Beside that, it’s this accountant. And a pretty busy one right now I’m sure, given what time of the year it is. Yawn…I’d imagine this place wasn’t so pedestrian in 1912, a time when Parramatta Road wasn’t a huge embarrassment to the city and a great place to park your car on weekends. It would have had a purpose, it would have been the product of some dude’s life’s work. It would have stood out from the crowd and meant something rather than just taken up space with its ugliness.


Yeah, I’d like to think this was something really special…back in the day…

cumberland argus 23 nov 1912

Cumberland Argus, November 23 1912.

Mr. Webber had sold his other business at nearby Rookwood, presumably the one on which he had built his name, because he had such faith in this place. Wow. “The windows are a picture.” Wow! They sold pianos and had the Auburn Brass Band on site to celebrate the opening. It’s hard to believe that such an event could once have gone on at this place we’ve seen today, but there you go.

Cumberland Argus, June 10 1916

Cumberland Argus, June 10 1916.

Don’t let anyone tell you department stores aren’t a cut-throat (or cut-head, in this case) industry, just like I won’t let anyone tell me that Wylie’s departure from Webber’s empire and Arthur Webber’s injury are just a coincidence. In fact, let’s concentrate on Wylie’s little advertisement for a moment. First, he’s taken it out in the accidents section of the paper, which doesn’t bode well. Second, he’s done it directly below an account of his former employer’s misfortune. Third, he’s included the snide ‘up-to-date Store’ dig, as well as imploring thrifty shoppers to ‘compare his prices’ (to whom, I wonder?)…and yet the very next line tells you there’s one one price to compare. In case you’re interested, his address is a Westpac bank today, which means this paragraph is his legacy. Suck it down, Wylie.

Cumberland Argus, April 30 1921.

Cumberland Argus, April 30 1921.

Gee, the Webbers seem a little…accident-prone, don’t they? In 1921 young Ernest Webber (son of Arthur) cut his finger. And it made the paper. Slow news year, perhaps?

Cumberland Argus, February 22 1922.

Cumberland Argus, February 22 1922.

So successful was the Webber store that a Mrs. Middleton took the fight to Merrylands. I wonder how it turned out?

SMH, April 19 1922.

SMH, April 19 1922.

Ernest E. Webber (who I’m assuming isn’t the seven-year-old with a bandaid on his finger) copped a heavy fine of four pounds for not paying two of his employees the minimum wage. No wonder Wylie left. Shoulda just paid ’em, Ernie.

SMH, November 11 1922.

SMH, November 11 1922.

Just don’t expect minimum wage. Hey, what a deal there at the top: a set of teeth from one guinea. Yuck.

Cumberland Argus, April 12 1924.

Cumberland Argus, April 12 1924.

The Webbers, still in PR crisis mode, provide the furnishings to a local recital. We haven’t forgotten about the third world wages, Ern.

Northern Star, December 31 1924.

Northern Star, December 31 1924.

And neither has Desire La Court (what a name). Read that thrilling tale of escape in the third paragraph, and tell me it wouldn’t make a great white-knuckle thriller starring Channing Tatum.

Cumberland Argus, February 18 1927.

Cumberland Argus, February 18 1927.

Here’s Webber’s castle, paid for by the unpaid wages of his workers.

Cumberland Argus, October 3 1929.

Cumberland Argus, October 3 1929.

I can’t decide whether my favourite part of this story is the thief begging Webber not to call the cops and then offering to drive Webber to the police station, or him playing the ‘my wife and kids’ card for sympathy and later denying having done so. It’s just a quilt, Webber. Even if he did nick it, let him have it. The Depression’s coming.

Cumberland Argus, July 31 1930.

Cumberland Argus, July 31 1930.

And now they know: don’t throw a lit cigarette onto piles of paper.

Cumberland Argus, February 8 1934.

Cumberland Argus, February 8 1934.

Good thing they advertised this, now all the thieves out there with a copy of the 1927 paper and a map will know his house is empty.

Cumberland Argus, June 10 1935.

Cumberland Argus, June 10 1935.

Young Ernest Webber, last seen blubbering like a baby over a cut finger, has turned 21. Lock up your daughters! Nice cheapskate present, Dad – an autographed key. “My signature will be worth a lot of money in a few years, son…”

Cumberland Argus, June 28 1937.

Cumberland Argus, June 28 1937.

Do you think Mark Foy was this plagued by thievery?

Northern Star, July 7 1937.

Northern Star, July 7 1937.

This plagued? This seems just a little suss, don’t you think?

Barrier Miner, 7 July 1937.

Barrier Miner, 7 July 1937.

The plot thickens. I like the use of quotation marks around “square”, as if to square this divorce meant some drastic action.

Cumberland Argus, October 21 1937.

Cumberland Argus, October 21 1937.

And finally the truth comes out! Picture the headlines: “Webber of Deceit”. I wonder if Webber’s trip to Jervis Bay was advertised in the paper? Maybe all those other times Webber was thieved from was the result of some cuckolding. I can only imagine how his wife must have felt…

Cumberland Argus, January 27 1938.

Cumberland Argus, January 27 1938.


Cumberland Argus, January 14 1942.

Cumberland Argus, January 14 1942.

From philandery to philanthropy. Wisely replacing the adulterous E. Webber as media spokesperson, Arthur Webber sets off on his quest to repair the Webber reputation, 150 shoppers at a time. I’m guessing they had a sign, “Toilet and air-raid shelter for customers only.”

Cumberland Argus, November 28 1945.

Cumberland Argus, November 28 1945.

Cumberland Argus, August 14, 1946.

Cumberland Argus, August 14, 1946.

With the war over, the Webbers put some distance between the scandals and tragedies of the past by backing the Auburn ‘Popular Girl’ Competition. Really rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? You’re pretty much asking for trouble inviting someone named ‘Mrs. Crooks’ to your fancy ball, especially given your history, Webbers.

Sadly, this grand event is where the Webber story comes to an end. The trail went cold, and nothing more hit the papers. But despite the abrupt and mysterious ending it kind of feels like we were right there with them…almost like we were one of them. Do we need to know what happens next? Do we need the sad details of the day the Webbers signed their pride and joy over to Brown of Brown’s Newsagency? Of the day one of the shops was demolished to make room for Gypsy Leather, ruining the established style? Probably not. The best years are behind us at this point, and we’ve only the advent of Danny’s Newsagency to look forward to. We can use our imaginations to fill in the blanks.

Plus it’s been an adventure. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve been scandalised and burglarised, but above all, we’ll never look at this innocuous little row of shops with the same eyes again. Right? Here it is again, just to be sure:


Past/Lives Flashback #3: Midnight Star Reception Centre – Homebush, NSW

Original article: Homebush Cinema/Niterider Theatre Restaurant/Midnight Star Reception Centre/Derelict – Homebush, NSW


It was only a matter of time before we found ourselves back in front of this beast. As we already know, the Homebush Theatre has experienced a long afterlife as an ice rink, a theatre restaurant, a reception centre and a squat before it was finally allowed to rot alongside the other corpses on Parramatta Road. For more on its years as a squatters paradise, check out this fascinating account and accompanying video.


Shortly after I wrote my original article last year, it came to light that the Midnight Star was to be redeveloped into two towers of high-density living space in the hope of rejuvenating its necropolyptic surroundings. This plan was rightfully met with community outrage, and has since been dropped by the developers without explanation, granting the Niterider another stay of execution.


While attempting to spruce up the area is a good idea, this was not the right way to go about it. Sure, put in your two towers full of people, but consider the lack of amenities or decent infrastructure in the area before you start getting the dollar signs in your eyes, greedy developers! You know, if the M4 was finished, you could transform the stretch of Parramatta Road between Homebush and the city, and smart developers could really clean up… Oh wait, this is Sydney we’re talking about. Carry on.


And so the Midnight Star returns to its seemingly-eternal slumber, waiting for a new set of idealistic developers to take another crack. The Strathfield Council has welcomed attempts to get something happening here, but only if the community at large receives some benefit. Personally, I think the community would benefit from a return of the theatre restaurant format. Come on, who doesn’t like to be entertained while eating, especially by dodgy panto? Get Dirty Dick on the phone! Homebush would learn to laugh again, instead of sinking further into bleak, oppressive hopelessness. It’s not a good look.

UPDATE: Someone has awakened the beast. Come for a tour of the Homebush Theatre before it’s gone forever (or even after it’s gone, these blogs last a long time).