I have a lot of fondness for Wollongong, but as I came in from the west I was dismayed.
Starting in the late 1980s, but especially since the major Australian recession of the early 1990s, Wollongong has suffered. It has recovered in some places, but not quite in other places – or even not at all.
To me, this is especially visible along the west-east stretch of Crown Street between the railway station and Keira Street. When I was a kid, it had been filled with lots of interesting shops and major department stores like Waltons…
…but for most of the past two decades, that stretch has always seemed stuck in a dreary and half-empty rut.
And that afternoon, it still hadn’t changed. As well, it wasn’t even 6pm, and what shops that were there were shut or closing.
About 10 minutes later, though, I came to the western entrance of the Crown Street Mall. It’s the main shopping precinct with a large open-air walkway through its centre. My spirits lifted…
…but a moment later, they fell as I saw that the Mall was almost completely deserted and the only shop still open was a 7-11.
Friday night, and the centre of the Gong was like this? A shame.
About halfway along the Mall, I turned south into Church Street and then east onto Burelli Street, which runs parallel to Crown. I was heading (or so I thought) to the Downtown Motel, another place I had found online the night I had planned this trip.
Soon, however, I realised that I had gotten my streets mixed up because as I walked along, there was no sign of the Downtown (the next day, I would discover that it was actually over on Crown).
I followed Burelli all the way to where it ended at the eastern edge of the city, near the sea – and along the way, I was saddened yet again by the uneven state of the Gong. In this part of town, the sights alternated abruptly and starkly between nice-looking modern architecture, older buildings looking the worse for wear, and large overgrown vacant lots. A description that sadly came to mind was “half-ruined”.
As I neared the end of Burelli, not far away to the south I saw the impressive-looking Chifley Hotel Wollongong – although it was perhaps too impressive for my wallet.
So when I came to the corner of Burelli and Harbour Street, I turned north instead and headed towards another place I had found the night I had planned this trip.
* * * *
Hundreds of years ago when I was a kid back in the late 1970s, on many Thursday evenings my family had visited the Wollongong Markets where the WIN Entertainment Centre now stands. I had always hated going to the Markets, though, because they were cramped, crowded and consisted mostly of boring clothes stalls.
Across Crown Street was a place that had always intrigued me, though. It was the Surfside 22 Motel, painted blue and with colour TV in its rooms (colour TV didn’t arrive in Australia until 1975, and my family didn’t own one until about 1980). Hotels and motels were exotic places to my childhood self – the only people I knew who stayed in them were characters in movies and TV shows – and from the Markets I used to look at Surfside 22 and wonder what it was like over there.
About thirty years later, I was about to find out – although Surfside 22 was now the white-and-brown City Beach Motel, on the corner of Crown and Harbour across from the WIN Entertainment Centre.
As I crossed the street, I saw that just above the southern wall of the reception office, there was the now-white number 22. I smiled.
Reception was open, and I walked right in.
The young guy behind the counter was friendly, and I asked him if (a) he please had any vacancies and (b) what were the rates, to which he replied (a) yes and (b) he could give me a room for $110 a night.
$110 was quite a leap from $77, and for a quick moment I considered whether I should just stay one night or two…
…but just as quickly, I thought Why not? and said I’ll take two nights, please.
I completed my paperwork, took my key, thanked the young guy and went back outside to head upstairs to the top floor.
As I headed along the top floor’s walkway, I quickly glanced inside the open doorway of one room to get an idea of what lay ahead. Wow, I thought – that room looked pretty big.
And a moment later, when I stepped inside my room, I said “Wow!” out loud.
My room was huge – so huge, in fact, that I estimated my studio apartment back home could fit inside it three times. I felt like I was in a penthouse suite.
And it was a very cosy penthouse suite with everything I could possibly need – including an enormous flat-screen TV, which I presumed was colour.
* * * *
About 30 minutes later, after unpacking and having a wonderful shower, I was seated at the desk next to the TV and beginning a long night of surfing on my PC.
I felt great, for several reasons.
I would be spending two nights in a very comfortable hotel room.
I had unexpectedly realised a childhood ambition.
And most of all, I had take yet another step out of my comfort zone and it had paid off very handsomely. While my childhood self would be pleased that I had accomplished something exciting, my pre-2007 adult self would be amazed and pleased that I had done something which he would never have imagined myself ever doing – walking around a city far from home and looking for a place to stay.
* * * *
The next day at lunch with my friend, I told him about my adventure the night before – and during the Piccadilly Motor Inn phase, he laughed a lot. He was familiar with the Inn – not as a former guest, but via someone he knew who’d stayed there.
Unlike me, my friend’s acquaintance had been able to get into the Inn and stay there for some time – until a relationship with a female fellow guest that began on his first night later went very wrong, and ultimately he decided he had to leave.
* * * *
I never did find out if the TV in my room was colour, but I would happily return to the City Beach Motel again so there’s always next time.
Until then, or my next post here, stay well and take care 🙂