Food & Drink

Coke Adds Life… And Death In South Australia

Coke Adds Life… And Death In South Australia

Growing up in Port Pirie in the 70s, I went to the Kingston Road Fish Shop every Saturday afternoon with three mates for a family-sized bottle of Coke with four paper straws sticking out of it. It was every man for himself. I stopped sucking an inch from the bottom when the bits of potato fritter floating on the surface joined up to form a sludgy crust.

Coke Adds Life… And Death In South Australia

Pirie had a Coke factory. The red logo appeared on every scoreboard, trotting trophy, bar fridge and beach ball. Coke sponsored footy team sheets displayed in the windows of Four Square stores. A Coke panel van pulled the Mickey Mouse float in the pageant. There was even a Coke logo on the bull’s arse at the Crystal Brook rodeo.

“Every bride and groom drove out of Pirie for their honeymoon in Stansbury with empty Coke cans dangling from the exhaust pipe, waking up the town.”

Coke brought the world yo-yo champ to our school; he had a tight body shirt, flares, Elvis shades and more confidence than I had ever seen in anyone. He gave free strings to anyone who could walk the dog.

We drank Coke in Vegemite glasses with Gold Top pies at kids’ parties and on other special occasions like sitting in the lounge room watching Neil Armstrong step on the moon on the Rank Arena. On summer nights we drank Coke spiders with Golden North ice cream, dressed in our pyjamas at the beach café overlooking the mangroves, electricity towers and ranges, the harbour lights from the ships and smelter adding to a kid’s dream night out.

The deli had a pig dog out the front, scales on the counter and an illuminated Peter Stuyvesant clock on the wall. We bought five cents worth of freckles and a Coke. We used the bottle cap to play footy on the carpet at home, flicking a moist ball of newspaper through the little sticks – pencils.

Coke Adds Life… And Death In South Australia

Every bride and groom drove out of Pirie for their honeymoon in Stansbury with empty Coke cans dangling from the exhaust pipe, waking up the town.

Bottled water was unheard of. Tap water was brown and rubbery. It was Coke or Fanta. And for a few lost years – Tab or Tresca. Mr McMahon’s Olympic Cordials and FC Grubb in Gladstone made killer sarsaparilla, but it wasn’t Coke. The 10 teaspoons of sugar were a thrill, as was the secret recipe – like KFC. When the Colonel came to town, you didn’t get a Coke with your Thrift Box, you got a Pepsi. It wasn’t Coke.

I drank Coke before, during and after my first 10-kilometre marathon jog from Napperby to Pirie. I drank Coke after making a hundred in cricket on a 44-degree day with a north wind. I drank Coke crabbing. One morning when Mum and Dad were away, I even drank Coke in the shower.

Disco bar staff wielded Coke guns. The carpet stuck to your desert boots, making dancing difficult. Then Coke in flagon-sized plastic bottles. I got fat. Lost a few teeth. Coles arrived and sold Coke so cheaply that even the deli owners bought trolley-loads of it. The trains stopped coming. Corner stores closed. The Rosella and Arnott’s signs faded. The beach café closed. Olympic Cordials closed. The Coke factory closed. FC Grubb held on for a whole century, finally closing its doors just a few months ago and relocating to New South Wales.

Coke Adds Life… And Death In South Australia

Now the Adelaide Coke factory is closing. Raise a Vegemite glass to the workers. I never tasted a bad Coke. Bad schnitzels, shiraz, mandarins and beer – but never a bad Coke.

Coke Adds Life. And death – to jobs – as we saw this week.

I haven’t had a real Coke since the 1987 Smelter’s Picnic. The affair fizzled out. But wonderful memories of Coke’s glory days – and their role in helping my dentist to drive the type of car that you would never want to spoil with a common old Coke sticker on the bumper bar – will never go flat.

Do you have some old Coke merchandise from a bygone era? Let us know in the comments, below.



  1. Kenny Connor

    24/02/2017 at 10:29 am

    I remember the Coca-Cola factory running and one or two school excursions to see it in operation.
    Coca-Cola always had a fantastic Christmas display accross the front of the building behind the glass and you could see the bottling going on behind.

    I worked for the company for several years after the bottling side of it closed (which probably wasn’t a news item in Adelaide when that happened and Pirie people lost their jobs, Also worked at Golden North Dairy untill they closed that down also not a headline in papers).

    Will always remember Kevin Hunt the Coca-Cola sign-writer/artist really single handedly covered the whole area with the signage even got to help him in the cooler months when deliveries was quiet what an absolute character.

    • Anthony Madigan

      28/02/2017 at 9:25 am

      Hello Kenny!
      Thanks for the feedback. Yes wonderful memories.

  2. Grant Tubb

    24/02/2017 at 9:20 pm

    Sold a Coke Yo-Yo a few years back, a black special executive one for $2300 on ebay, dad worked at Coke in Pirie in the 60’s & 70’s and was given it by a colleague, I have cuff links, service badges, 60’s Coke shirts, more Yo-Yo’s etc, great story Madge.

    • Anthony Madigan

      28/02/2017 at 9:27 am

      Hello Grant
      Thanks for the feedback.
      I vaguely remember black yo-yos.
      Nice money for that!
      Yes Coke was entrenched in the community.
      Hope you’re well.

  3. James Congdon

    11/03/2017 at 8:48 pm

    Still only drink Diet Coke as my Dad had it with his Black Bottle Brandy! Remember him buying it in large glass bottles from Skellys deli on The Terrace

  4. Sophie Tsouflidis

    22/07/2018 at 9:08 pm

    I remember going to school with a tony madigan i think… i lived near the coke factory and when the local paper ran its weekly competion of finding the ancor among its pages sponsored by coke .. i would put my entry in as soon as i found it … the proximity of my home never won me a free slab coke unfortunately …. i just had to contend with looking through the high wire fence that separate me and the endless crates of coke…

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