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.
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.
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.
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.