A fragmented day.

I went in search of Anthony at the bottle shop. When I first met Anthony (weeks ago now) he recommended I visit this fellow who ran a real estate / immigration agency on New Canterbury Road back in the ’60s. I’m pretty sure, from what Anthony was saying, that this guy was responsible for finding houses for lots of Portuguese folks around Petersham. Hence the large Portuguese population here. But I couldn’t remember where Anthony said I could find him. So I stuck my head in the bottle shop to find out. But Anthony wasn’t in. He was off delivering booze somewhere.

I wandered down the street, thinking to get a haircut at “The Locals” barber shop. But there were already a few people in the queue for cuts. Instead, I bought a take-away samosa from the new Indian place which everyone’s so excited about, and headed over to see Geoff at the Metropolitan Community Church. The last time I visited, I promised to come back and show him The Story of Petersham. On page 125, there’s a photo of the MCC building when it was brand new, circa 1940s. But when I rang the bell, it wasn’t Geoff who answered. It was a guy called Russell.

Russell invited me in. We went through to the office where he photocopied the page from the book. He said he’s one of the only people who still remembers what the old church was like inside. He went to mass there once in the early ’60s. Not long after that visit, the 5th Church of Christ the Scientist shut up shop, and the premises was sold to the Mastertouch Company as a factory for pianola rolls.

[Start of digression:

Incidentally, around 2000, Mastertouch moved in next door to Borsellino’s up on Stanmore Road. They’ve only recently finished up there too. I don’t know why…

The best account for the failure of the pianola roll business is at the Wired4Sound website – it seems that the crisis wasn’t due to a lack of demand for the rolls themselves, but a dwindling in the supply of the sundry materials needed to produce them:

From the commercial point of view the most significant aspect of the Petersham years was that there was a gradual withering of the “support” industries to roll manufacture. The roll leader tags for example, had always been made “out of house”. Suddenly with accounting rationalisation the suppliers decided it would only be practical to supply orders of 500,000 or more! Mastertouch was forced to make its own tags! It then became Company policy that the whole product should be produced “in house”.

They even had to begin manufacturing their own boxes for the rolls, which led to the establishment of a whole sideline in box-making: The NSW Fancy Box Company.

That article is worth reading. It’s a testimony to the will to belligerently soldier on, in full belief that the product is good and worthy, albeit “somewhat” anachronistic. (Pianola Rolls in the age of the MP3!) My favourite part of the article is this – that with the advent of television, the pianola industry was in crisis even as early as 1956!! But “because of his sentimental attachment to the machinery and piano roll manufacture,” the boss agreed to keep it going, until – fingers crossed – “good times came along again”.

…end of digression.]

But I digress. Russell asked about my Petersham project. I told him what I’m doing, wandering around, talking to folks, perhaps being passed along from one person to another to follow some whimsical lead. The writing being as much about the process of meeting people as it is about the information itself. “Hmm. As a sociological study, it’s kind of anecdotal, isn’t it?” he said.

[Start of digression:

If you google “anecdotal evidence”, you come up with sentences like “Unfortunately this is all anecdotal evidence because we don’t actually have…” and “The only evidence for me being in gaol is flimsy, anecdotal accounts…” etc etc. I’m getting the idea that in sociology, “anecdotal” (as opposed to “empirical”) is not regarded as a particularly reliable sort of evidence.

…end of digression.]

“Yeah, you’re right,” I said. “In fact, it’s entirely anecdotal.”

He told me about a study (I imagine an somewhat more scientific one) that was done in Bowral. In this study, the research findings were so “close to home” that they had to change everyone’s names – including the name of the entire town. Bowral was changed to “Bradford”… While writing this entry, I’ve been trying to find out more. But the only thing I came up with online is that Bowral was the childhood home of Donald Bradman. Coincidence? (Russell, if you tune in, can you help us follow up on the Bowral story?)

I trundled back towards the main street. Anthony was back. He took me down to Harvey World Travel, where apparently this old Portuguese fellow works. But he won’t be back ’til Tuesday. Anthony stood with me in the doorway of the bottle shop for a while, looking up and down the street, casting his mind about, trying to come up with more places for me to visit. Here’s a few New Canterbury Road things I learned from Anthony:

  • the old National Australia Bank on the corner of Livingstone is heritage listed. Someone tried to open up a Brazilian nightclub in there, but it got knocked back by the council. “Why?” I asked. “Have you ever heard a Brazilian nightclub?” Anthony replied. “They’re pretty loud, and they go all night!”
  • There’s still a sign out the back of the roller rink which says “Majestic Theatre”. Before being a roller rink, he said, it was some sort of vaudeville strip club place…
  • The old building on the corner of Audley is a factory for the fabric linings of the insides of coffins. I kid you not. A sarcophagus upholsterer, right here in the ‘sham!
  • “Cathay Studio (Major Credit Cards)” is indeed a brothel. I’ve often wondered about it. It certainly didn’t look like a credit card shop. Anthony said the council demanded they should, for legal reasons I don’t understand, have “a window display and an open door” at the front. Initially, their window display contained lingerie, but before long they just painted the glass pale green…

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