Summer in the Sydney suburbs brings still hot days and long afternoons when the hours seem to move slowly in the humid air. On the hottest of days there can seem to be little respite, and the only thing that might offer some relief is a cool drink from the Mixed Business on the corner, a big BIG drink.
Of all advertisements Coca Cola’s are the most ubiquitous, decorating the awnings and walls of almost every corner store that ever was. They’re so pervasive that it’s easy for the eye to skim over them, and usually mine do, although there’s something stoic about these big cans that captures my attention. Here, stranded above an ex-corner store in Summer Hill that now sells bodybuilding supplements, is one such big can, still advertising the “Mixed Business” that was once below. As I look at it I imagine a giant lumbering up Old Canterbury Road, thirsty, reaching out to wrench the can off the side of the building …
Over in Maroubra is another Big Can, on a long-shuttered Mini Mart. The white cord leading down from it makes me wonder whether the can once lit up at night. While the big cans are familiar to me, I have no memory of seeing them softly glowing atop the awnings when I was a child in the 80s, surely the era of the Big Can.
Other big cans have been repurposed, such as this one on Booth Street in Annandale, now promising pizza, a somewhat less enticing proposition when available in a can. The pizza shop is on the corner has turned into a chicken shop these days, which means it probably, unlike the examples above, sells Coca Cola.
Sydney’s most famous Coke sign is, of course, the one that has been at the top of William Street since 1974, and was recently restored. When it was taken down off the wall in 2015, some obscure painted shapes were revealed. These were discovered to be the remains of a 1973 artwork by Roger Foley, a.k.a. Ellis D Fogg, who had been commissioned to “project images of moving liquids” on the wall.
Some preferred this to the Coke sign, but now the sign is restored to its previous intensity, its neon glow a beacon to those approaching from the west. Some of Coca Cola’s other initiatives – such as the 1996 Coca Cola Quayside museum at Circular Quay, have been less enduring. For the $5 entry you could drink as much Coca Cola as you wanted at the “Fountain of Drinks”, discover the history of the beverage and buy trinkets from a gift shop in the shape of a Coke bottle. There is scant information about this short-lived museum online, although this 1996 review from Architecture Australia provides an arch overview of the experience:
The museum’s content is equally straightforward and presents an almost fetishistic, single-minded focus on the product. Its manufacturing and marketing history fills a sequence of handsome ash-veneered showcases, whilst aurally and visually dominating the centre of the museum is the video wall—showing, to the irritating accompaniment of an animated narrator who ensures that our attention span is limited to 30 seconds, the history of Coke and its advertisements against a backdrop of 20th century events—war, sport and pop music predominate.
Back in the present, I am on the search for more Big Cans as I travel around the suburbs. Last night was the hottest on record, and summer is far from over. I will need some big refreshment to get me through.
Update: some additional Big Cans of Sydney, thank you Kirsten Seale for tipping me off about the Kingsgrove Can:
And Kylie for the Bexley Can:
Past the al fresco diners drinking cappucinos under striped umbrellas, up the stairs and above the courtyard with the waterfall fountain, there was the Kings Cross Waxworks. It was on the top level of the Village Centre, the shopping court that was one of the less risque new attractions of 1960s Kings Cross. Amid the neon signs and nightclubs the Village Centre was a safe realm of coffee lounges, restaurants and souvenir shops. It had a neo-Victorian atmosphere, with lights shaped like gas lamps and white, wrought iron chairs at the cafes. In the 1960s Kings Cross was the most cosmopolitan of Sydney locations, and the Village Centre was a good place to people-watch, sitting on the benches under the plane trees in the courtyard.
The Beatles had toured Sydney in 1964, but for those who had missed them or wanted to re-live the thrill, they could visit the Waxworks. Here their wax likenesses, lifted from the Sgt. Peppers album cover in their shiny suits, stood in front of glittering curtains. The figures had come from the famous Tussaud company, along with a disparate collection of historical figures, royals, heads of state, femmes fatales, authors and fictional characters. Where else but the Kings Cross Waxworks could Beethoven, Robert Louise Stevenson, Katherine Mansfield and Brigitte Bardot be found in close company? The souvenir booklet acknowledged the uniqueness of the experience: “We hope the moments you spend with the supreme and honoured people who await you in our Kings Cross Wax Works will always linger in your memory”.
Memories of the waxworks have lingered, moments and scraps from its twenty year history. The waxworks opened in 1968 and was, at the time, one of the go-to school holiday activities in the city. By the 1980s it was in decline and described as deserted, dusty and in bad repair, the exhibits confined behind metal cages. Open daily from 10am to midnight, the waxworks was there for everyone from school excursions to drunken night visits to the Mad Hatters Tea Party diorama.
Those with hands small enough could reach in and reposition the displays, making their own modifications to the exhibits. By this time the original collection of world leaders and film stars had been joined by some more sensational displays: a shark attack scene which showed an undersea view with a set of legs, one bloodied and footless. The “optional” horror section included a ‘body snatchers’ exhumation scene, a hideous torture scene with a wax victim hanging from a butcher’s hook and a Dracula with a bloodied chin. Other unintentionally horrific scenes included the rising and falling chest of Sleeping Beauty and a twenty-something Prince Charles in cravat and sports suit.
The Waxworks closed in 1987 and over the next 20 years the Village Centre became increasingly dilapidated, until it was demolished in 2008. The fate of the wax models is unknown. I like to think Dracula went on to a life somewhere, as did Salome and Prince Charles, Donald Bradman and Brigit Bardot, wherever wax figures go to retire.