The Milkbar

The local milk bar has closed.

A quick visit yesterday to grab a loaf of bread was met with disbelief. Door locked, lights off, closed sign on the window. Peering inside revealed shelving gone, fridges unplugged, all stock removed. Graffiti is already sprayed across the outside brick walls, and the a-frame signs for Pura milk and Streets ice-creams lie kicked over in front.

But there has been no warning. Shopping trips randomly over the last few weeks didn’t disclose any signs of business waning nor no mentions of renovation. The loss is akin to a death in the family.

The milk bar is the Australian venacular for the ‘general store’. It is as Australian as thongs and blowflies. A 70s childhood was full of milk bar experiences. 20 cents went a long way towards mixed lollies or a Glug. There was truly juvenile delight at appraising all the goodies laid out in the windowed counters – 3 mates or aniseed balls for 2 cents, wizz fizzes and big bosses! A space where teenagers would hang outside – cool milk bars would even have Space Invaders or PacMan.

So how can this have happened? Where is the sense in this? Who will now make the best fish and chips? (They were the best because they were indeed scrumptious but also in walking distance.)

What brings about the close of a small business like this? And more importantly, where is the community outrage. If this was a small public library, there would have been hell to pay! And long before any doors were closed. Ratepayer committees up in arms, petitions, scathing editorials in the local paper, vicious emails to the Library Manager (been there, received them). Now, of course, a milk bar is a private enterprise and not a community learning space – and yet the disquiet that surrounds this closure is equally upsetting.

Shopping habits have indeed changed over the last couple of decades. Memories from childhood linger of regular, sometimes more than daily walks or rides to the milk bar to get milk, or bread, or the paper. Parental requests were usually accompanied by bribes of 5 or 10 cents. No kid would do it now! With the extended hours of supermarkets and the lack of motivation of shoppers to walk anywhere, it’s easier and faster to drive. Children also don’t roam freely around their communities anymore. Shopping centres are as readily accessible as the milk bar, likely to be cheaper and have more variety.

The mind knows all this, and understands the passing of the milk bar. But the heart still hurts.

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7 thoughts on “The Milkbar

  1. Very sad – I have fond memories of my local milk bar in Melbourne. But a correction – it’s not vernacular outside of Victoria, as far as I can tell. In Queensland we call them the “corner stores” or “local shops” and they don’t usually have fish & chips. I don’t think they’re called milk bars in NSW either – according to wikipedia they call them corner stores too. I remember living in London and a Victorian girl said to me “Wish I could go to the milk bar for a potato cake and a Big M” and I was like “???????” In Qld lingo that would be “Wish I could go to the corner store for a scallop and a Breaka”.

  2. bookgrrl says:

    I used to go to the milkbar at my mum’s request for milk, bread, the paper (The Herald), and occasionally my mum’s cigarettes! My 10 or 20 cents reward was usually spent on mates (which I still yearn for) or swap cards.
    It is sad to see a business quietly disappear without fanfare, and even sadder when it’s a milkbar- it’s like a part of your childhood is disappearing.

  3. very Victorian – probably a real librarian (not me) could find you the dairy references … I miss having a milk bar in my new place, but have to be honest and say I was more broken hearted about the several blocks to the nearest pub!

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