Rae's comment on my post about Footscray, about shopping at the old Coles Variety Store had me remembering.
When I was a child, growing up in a small country town in Tasmania, one of the biggest excitements in life was a shopping trip to the Big Smoke. Going off to Big Smoke was a rare treat, reserved for school holidays although if Mum had to 'go through to town' it was always worth putting on a sore throat or a sniffle that miraculously disappeared just before the car was due to leave.
We'd get dressed up in our best outfits. For some reason you'd need to put on a pretty party dress and panty hose and, later on, make up to go shopping.
The highlight of the shopping day was a trip to Coles Variety Store in Big Smoke. In those days, Coles had broad rectangle counters, with the shop girls working in the middle section. The counters were divided into sections containing all kinds of fascinating things. My favourite was the stationary section, with pens and pencils and erasers in an amazing range of shapes and colours. I'd spend hours working out what I'd spend my money on then wait for the girl to serve me. When I got older I realised the advantages of this system when I shoplifted for the first time - a blue Starlet eyeshadow.
Once we'd spent all our cash, it was time for lunch at Coles cafeteria. The cafeteria was a section at the side of the store with about half a dozen booths and a counter with stools. We would have to hover over dining families so we could swoop down on their table when they left. To us kids, the coolest thing ever was to actually sit at the counter with the stools but it was rare that we could convinvce Mum of this. We'd cram into the booth with all our shopping bags and Mum would order us a serve of fish and chip with an extra plate so we could split it, because Coles didn't do child's serves.
Their speciality was Blue Heaven spiders. I've never really understood the spider - the combination of soft drink and icecream just seemed wrong to me. But I loved the iridescent blue glow of these drinks. It was almost enough to tempt me and was the beginning of a penchant for brightly coloured beverages.
Years later, I moved to Big Smoke to do Year 11 and 12 (high schools in Tasmania at the time only went up to Year 10, then you had to go to 'Matric' college). Halfway through Year 11 we found out that Coles was closing down because a spanky new K-Mart was being opened. As zany youngsters, we did the right and proper thing. On the last day of business at Coles Variety Store we gathered on the front steps to hold a memorial service. I stood up in front of about 50 mourning teenagers and delivered an eulogy. I can't remember what I said but I'm sure it was a touching memorial.