Half-way houses are, by definition, half way between two set destinations. There are probably millions of them all over the world by that name but I’m going to concern myself only with two today (perhaps 3).
Sometimes my mind is literally swamped with ideas for blog articles (I write them down so that when my mind ISN’T – often), I have a storehouse on which to draw.
Lately I have been drawing on two main sources, my enormous store of old racing photographs that can always be relied upon to suggest a good story or two, and, other people’s photos that I glean from social media. My blog today is provoked by the above photo which was published yesterday on Facebook.
The glorious ST4 Ducati is seen parked outside the sad remnants of what was really known as the Half Way House. In the locality of Garland Valley on the famous Putty Road, the café/servo was actually a little more than half way between Windsor and Singleton but the owners took some artistic licence there.
It was there when I first started travelling the Putty in 1973 and remains to this day though in a somewhat run-down state. In its hey-day it was a hugely popular spot, especially for motorcyclists but also for truckies doing the sneaky run through to Brisbane while avoiding the many checking points along the Pacific Highway. Its popularity mainly stemmed from the fact that it had petrol and diesel pumps (though fuel was always very expensive) and a café/take-away at the one venue. At the time there were no fuel stops between the Caltex at Colo Heights and the one at Bulga (there still isn’t, by the way) so its popularity was almost assured. As a place to gas up before the frantic run through the Ten Mile and grab a burger and a coffee on the way back, it was ideally situated.
But its fortunes took a down-turn when another venue, not CALLED the half way house though it was strategically placed exactly half way between Windsor and Singleton (by design of the original owners) opened up in the district of Putty.
Grey Gum Café had just about everything that Half Way House didn’t. By the time GGC opened the H-WH had stopped selling fuel so their advantage was no longer there but GGC was all-new. The toilet facilities were new (those at the H-WH were rudimentary at best) and proper sit-down service was available. To give the H-WH owners their due, they did try to counter this by opening up the side of the café and offering undercover eating at chairs and tables outside. But it was too little, too late.
Trade slowed to a trickle as riders voted with their feet and started patronising GGC. Short-run riders whose idea of a long ride was under 100kms settled on the Caltex at Colo Heights as an alternative and mid-term riders made the GGC their turn-around point.
Hardcore riders (like me) used the GGC as a halfway house both up AND back, my usual Putty ride being home to Milbrodale at the head of the Ten Mile and back, around 600kms.
The writing was on the wall for the H-WH and it was really no surprise when it closed and, very shortly afterwards, the main building was destroyed by fire. The cause and timing of the fire was questioned by most and no move was made to demolish or rebuild so the suspicions seemed well-founded.
GGC has continued to expand and flourish and, under the guiding hand of Kim Grace, half of the team who built it originally, seems sure to continue to prosper. John and Kim never intended for it to become a fuel outlet and most users of the Putty have long since adapted themselves to the tankage necessary to negotiate the long, country road.
And this could have been the end of the story except that, after a few years of lying derelict, a new owner moved into the H-WH and looked like reviving the venue. I don’t know his name, but he was always known as the Tin Man, after the gigantic metal statue the dominates the forecourt of the venue. It quickly became clear that the Tin Man was a well-known artist and sculptor who, for many years, had had his studio and display area (AND the Tin Man) behind Jerry’s Café at Kulnura on the back-road through to Wollombi.
After moving into the H-WH he started to advertise cold drinks and hot dogs for sale, a simple and basic menu and he has continued to do so. I pass by often and there is rarely too much happening there and I sometimes wonder why he persists, but, who knows? Here’s a photo taken just a few weeks ago so he’s still in business.
Now I did say that there could be three “houses” at the outset and it’s actually grown a bit so stick with me if you can.
Back in the day, late 70’s, there was another eatery along the Putty. It was called The Wooden Spoon (though, truthfully, it should have been called The Greasy Spoon). It was on the western side of the Putty back down the road along the flat (transport) part of the highway. It had a Telecom pay-phone out the front and, in the days before mobile phones, it was a life-saver on many occasions. The other advantage the Wooden Spoon had was that it seemed to be open 24/7. Remembering that the road was saturated with heavy vehicles doing the Sydney-Brisbane run overnight, this made perfect sense. The menu was very basic (“truckie food”) but it was characterised by the provision of bowls of steaming hot soup in the Winter time. Many was the time that I warmed myself and my hands around a bowl of hot tomato soup (motorcycle gloves were pretty basic back then).
But, the venue too, closed eventually as the heavy vehicles began to desert the Putty for the Pacific to the east and the New England to the west. The building lay derelict for years with Telstra just clearing enough undergrowth at the front to allow access to the phone. Then the 2019 wildfires destroyed the building completely and not even a vestige of it remains as the new growth overtakes the site. The phone, by the way, IS still there and is marked by roadside signs to inform motorists.
Oh, and it was purely by accident one night late that I discovered that, as well as providing food, the venue also did a roaring trade in under-the-counter pornographic videos!
And there I could stop but I must not because, even though my last entry does not qualify as a half-way house, it deserves mentioning. The Caltex at Colo Heights has always done food but I was never impressed with the offering, preferring to push on the GGC for sustenance. In the last couple of years, one of the members of the family that runs the Caltex has started her own take-away in Colo Heights, based in a caravan parked on the eastern side of the road. Ample parking, evidently greatly popular with the motorcycling fraternity and seemingly having survived the COVID crisis, Debz Kerbside Eatz is looking good. Again, I haven’t stopped there yet but they have a solid social media presence and a great reputation amongst those who have eaten there. I must stop and give it a try.
So, half-way houses, who’d have thought you could make up a story about that?