Did you know that in Summer Hill, where this building now stands, there used to be a Cinema? Grosvenor Theatre. A fantastical art deco/arabesque confabulation, it was the biggest in NSW. Once, people streamed in, families, couples, children, to commune with something flickering and magical. Once, naughty children would piss off the audience by rolling jaffas loudly along the sloped wooden floorboards of the aisles, which would land several times with a “crack!” as they plopped down the steps.
Is it just me or were the suburbs of this town packed full of far more interesting stuff in the past than they are now? Hurlstone Park had, in my youth, an abandoned (haunted!) sugar mill, which had also for a time been an abattoir. Now? You guessed it. Flats. Earlier than my time, the suburb also had tennis courts (now a block of red-brick flats), and what was first a movie theatre and then an ice rink, but is now just boring shops. The milk bar that had been next to that building was still there long after it was gone, but it too closed eventually. I went in there a few times as a kid. It wasn’t run down like the Olympia, but it was old-school. The lady that worked there was nice.
The Olympia Milk Bar! Stanmore’s mystery! You know the one. Once of the windows is boarded up, it’s almost always empty, and the owner is always in there. Speculation on this constitutes a full-blown inner city sport.
On the route in Summer Hill that I walk the kids down, as part of my work, there is a house that has one of those 6ft brick walls around its garden, and a door in that, with a largish old-fashioned knocker in the middle of it. Because of that knocker, younger children are convinced that a giant lives there. The door is only normal sized, and the house itself is quite small. Similarly, there is another house on the route that has been denoted that of a witch, for even less substantial reasons. Which brings us to Mr Olympia Milk Bar, who my housemate is convinced is actually Dracula.
Children, those lucky souls in that part of life where the creative urge is seen as cute rather than inappropriate, see something even slightly different and make up an explanation. Adults have been forced to repress that urge a little, but it still bubbles to the surface the second it is permitted to. Children, of course, are used to their own explanations not working out, so they just accept it and move on. Adults however are not used to being wrong. They hold onto their “truth” and seek confirmation. There is no evidence that the ideas adults have are wrong any less often than children’s, it’s just that they tend to invest themselves in nebulous concepts (also known as “opinions”) that are hard to either prove or disprove. Which is perhaps why of all the opinions I’ve heard regarding Mr Olympia (vampire, drug dealer, doomed lover), nobody has ever found out the truth. That, and that while he is happy to serve you tea or a milkshake, he steadfastly refuses to engage with the curious. What business is it of yours, after all? At least that lends credence to my own opinion – which in the end is worth no more than any of the others, and for the same reasons – that he is just a guy doing what he has always done, and that nowadays people think that odd isn’t about to stop him from doing it. Go him, I say.
(More has been said about the Olympia than I could say, and more touchingly and eloquently, by Vanessa Berry in her post-zine memoir “Strawberry Hills Forever”.)
(Also, I am not entirely sure what prompted me to rant in such a fashion, or whether it will make any sense to me when I read it tomorrow. I should probably have spent that time writing cards...)