The great Warrandyte milk bar odyssey
by BILL McAULEY
9th July 2019
IN THE 1960s, Yarra Street was a milk bar trail.
Amazingly enough, then, there were eight milk bars in Warrandyte, stretching from West End to Pigtail Hill at the East end of town.
Sadly, there are no milk bars here today, but plenty of cafes where you can sit down to a café latte and a plate of smashed avocado on sour dough.
L overs of Drumsticks, Choc Wedges, bags of chippies, liquorice allsorts, sherbet bombs, root beer and milkshakes were in business.
When it came to sugar addiction, we local kids were spoilt for choice.
The milk bar trail was blue heaven on a stick.
Sugar was not a dirty word in 1963!
The first stop at the Melbourne end of town was The Golden Gate.
Run by George and Voila Leek and family, the white building — with a sizeable car park out the front — housed a large and busy shop selling fruit and vegetables, a selection of newspapers and magazines, as well as the usual fare of ice creams, biscuits, lollies and other groceries.
The old building has been pulled down and today; Bocca Pizzeria occupies the site.
George also ran a green grocery home delivery service and drove fruit boxes full of produce to our homes once a week.
George would cheerfully park his truck at the bottom of our driveways and run the box of veggies up to our doors, then come inside and heave the box up onto our kitchen table.
He had time for a natter and a bit of local gossip, before driving on to the next customer’s house.
Locals from West End, Jack “The Hat” Williams and his wife Pat, also ran The Golden Gate in the late 60s.
Across the road was the White House at the recreation reserve.
Attached to the end of the large hall which comprised the White House reception venue was a little milk bar, which was always open on Saturdays.
Howard and Joyce Bensch ran the reception area during the week and Joyce manned the milk bar during Saturday’s football and cricket
She specialized in selling pies, pasties and sausage rolls from her pie warmer as well as the usual selection of ice cream, lollies and packets of chicken chips.
Before the Bensch family bought the business, well known character Alice Watson lived upstairs there.
The White House was sadly demolished in 1991 after serving the community for 150 years.
The next port of call was Dottie McKay’s milk bar opposite Stiggant Street.
The shop front is still there, but today it serves as a studio for reverse glass artist Bruce Jackson.
Dottie was an elderly eccentric spinster who was always polite to us local kids when we were sent down there to buy milk, cereal and boxes
She was none the wiser when some of the local kids would sneak around the back of the shop and pinch the empty soft drink bottles stacked in crates.
They would come around to the shop counter, cash the bottles in and buy choc wedges, chicken chips and bottles of Passiona, (a passion fruit flavoured soft drink) with the refund money.
After drinking them, these young entrepreneurs would bring back the soft drink bottles to cash in yet again!
A confirmed spinster, Dottie surprised the locals by marrying Fred Bawden Sr. when she was in her 60s.
They lived happily ever after.
Moving eastward along the trail you would eventually arrive at Dixon’s milk bar situated in the village where currently Now and Not Yet Cafe is serving café lattes.
Then the shop changed hands and became “McDonalds” long before the hamburger franchise came to Australia.
There was no red wigged clown running the show, instead the new proprietor, John McDonald quietly went about the business of serving
locals their pies, pasties, sandwiches and milk shakes and also selling the latest newspapers, books and magazines.
Many Warrandyte kids had their first job at McDonalds, selling and delivering the newspapers of the day: The Sun-News Pictorial, The Sunday Observer, The Herald, The Argus, The Truth and Women’s Day.
The McDonald paperboys would wander into the Grand Hotel and sell The Herald to the news hungry patrons.
Their famous catch cry, “Hee errrrald!” echoing down Yarra Street.
During the days of “early closing” laws, kids had to sell their papers before six o’clock, because, amazingly enough, the pub stopped serving
beer at 6pm right up until 1966 when licensing hours were extended.
Aggie Moore’s milk bar sat right next to the Mechanics’ Hall, which held a matinee movie session every Saturday.
During interval, the theatre crowd would swarm over to Aggie’s shop to swill down her specialty: lime or coke spiders.
The spider consisted of a tall glass full of soft drink with a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream floating on top.
The concoction fizzed loudly as kids hurriedly sloshed them down before returning to the matinee.
Kids also bought Minties, Chocolate Frogs and Fantails to take back into the theatre with them.
And especially Jaffas.
The round orange, chocolate filled sweets were perfect for naughty kids to roll down the aisle during a Hopalong Cassidy feature.
Next on the trail was Bennett’s milk bar, right on the corner just past the Mechanics’ Institute Hall where the Sassafras Sweet Co. is now situated.
Mr and Mrs Bennett both worked behind the counter.
The large ice cream cone that advertised their wares still hangs off the front of the building today.
Next in line was Les Gilholm’s milk bar [Now Folk Art] that was situated opposite the bridge.
Les, a popular character, would enthusiastically sell us his specialty – iced pineapple.
He’d reach into a refrigerated canister with a huge soup ladle and pour the sweet-tasting yellow, icy liquid into a big chunky glass.
It was an exquisite way to quench our thirst on hot summer days, as we listened to Les’s amusing and teasing banter.
We ended our milk bar crawl at Selby Store at the eastern end of town.
The beautiful old historic stone building is now The Yarra Store.
It was the perfect place for local kids to get a hit of carbs before attacking
the bike track that ran around the swampy area beside the river.
All in all, the milk bar trail was a wonderland of chips, ice cream and chocolate treats and for us kids, a great way to spend our weekly
allowance, which in the mid 60s was about two dollars if we had generous parents and were willing to do the chores required to earn our weekly ‘salary’.
One wonders if our collective sweet tooth, not only helped keep these’eight milk bars in business, but also supported the nearby dental clinics in Ringwood!
Photos courtesy Warrandyte Historical Society