Can the humble roadside attraction be a citadel of the pinnacle of western civilisation?
Or is that a total contradiction?
The We Push Buttons team took a country drive one Thursday morning in May to visit Eddy’s Garage in Eddington. Eddington is a small town 40 minutes north west of Castlemaine, with about 15 residents. A lovely part of the Loddon river meanders past the town.
Driving through the parched and stunning countryside, vast brown paddocks and distance mounts, wheat silos, shedding and horse studs; quintessentially the central Victorian landscape disappears into the distance. It’s been a long time since we had decent rain. Cruising into Eddington around a sweeping curve, crossing the Loddon river we happen upon a goofy looking dinosaur standing by the roadside. Eddy’s Garage awaits like an oasis in the desert, good coffee and home baked goodies inside.
Tim and Debbie Bray are the proprietors of this funky establishment almost in the middle of nowhere. Tim was trying to fix a septic problem as we arrived, after all where would you find a plumber in the middle of nowhere? It’s all DIY here.
After meeting the dinosaur on the highway, there were more surprises inside, and it was wonderfully kooky. There is a friendly tropical holiday atmosphere with Tim’s homemade palm trees and retro knickknacks everywhere you look. Old record covers decorate the cornicing and bamboo wallpaper covers a feature wall. Debbie’s hand made giant Easter Island Head sits in a corner watching over diners and you can play board games and giant chess while you have your coffee. There are mannequins draped in Debbie’s stage costumes standing around the dining area. Just when you think you have taken in everything, something else like a mounted moose head teddy pops into view. Because this café was once a garage the massive front windows allow you to feast your eyes on a wide flat farming landscape outside. Music is also part of the atmosphere with Tim’s records playing in the background.
You get a sense that Eddy’s Garage is an immersion into our Aussie culture of days gone by, that Tim and Debbie want to share their history and the things they love about family culture in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, a time before digital entertainment, music and cars.
After ordering our coffee and lunch, made up of home baked goods by Debbie, (vegans and gluten intolerants are well catered for) we sat with Tim and Deb to ask them Why?? And then the what, where and how of the Eddy’s venture. Little did we know this would be a story of small-town revival, about locals with generous hearts welcoming in outsiders and supporting new business in their town, and how these outsiders came to be here with their hearts in the right place. I also think it’s safe to say that Tim and Deb are the nicest couple one could ever meet.
It turns out that Debbie is a tap dance teacher and runs a tap school in the tiny town of Guildford. Tim describes himself as coming from the “arse end” of the entertainment industry. Now he is cleaning toilets and septic systems, sourcing and making props, and learning the art of the barista.
Where it all started
Tim started his career on the streets busking and performing as a clown and a freak, with acts that included fire breathing and industrial organ performance with the Hooper Brothers. Debbie and Tim met as street performers when Debbie was travelling around with an underwater puppetry show. Both of them have given up performing to put their energy into this new café venture.
At the back of the café is a small stage and a drum kit. Tim is in a band called the Itchy Scabs which is a local punk band for kids. Tim and Debbie would like to have live music at Eddy’s so they had a couple of live bands performing over the Easter break as a test run. They invited World Turtle World from Castlemaine and it went well. Tim says there are plenty of great acts in central Victoria to choose from and they will never run out of gigs to book. Debbie is aiming in the long term for a licensed bar on band nights to make the business more viable.
Debbie is the cook and her fare is homemade, unpretentious and delicious, especially the flourless lemon cake. She says she has never cooked commercially before. It has only ever been a survival thing for her, so cooking for the first time for a café came out of necessity. Since Eddy’s was turned into a café by the previous owners, she thought how hard can it be? In her positive approach to life she learns skills when she needs them. It appears, nothing can really stop her if she puts her mind to it. In order to make living out of the old servo Tim and Debbie are learning new skills like making good coffee, cooking and fixing the septic.
So why did they choose Eddington?
Tim and Debbie have always wanted to live in an old petrol station and this old servo came up for sale. It was not derelict or in a completely isolated area, which was on their checklist. An old retro petrol station has a particular charm of days gone by. It encapsulates their appreciation for car culture and passion for 50's-60's garage punk and pop. The whole garage theme goes together; rough music, cars; motor bikes; it all makes sense. Also, Debbie grew up in a family of mechanics so it’s in her blood.
When asked if there is a significance to the dinosaur out the front Tim says it’s purely to alert tourists that the café is there. It is definitely a surprise find when you are lulled into a country driving mode, coming round the bend into Eddington. Tim is on the lookout for another fibreglass friend for it, so if you have one that needs a new home…..
Debbie has made most of the props inside the cafe and Tim makes all the games such as the mini golf, giant Jenga, giant noughts and crosses and a bunch of other things in the shed. The mini golf has a future as an outdoor attraction.
Apart from offering good food and coffee, Eddy’s future is going to be in the long-forgotten genre of the roadside attraction/ theme park. It brought a collective sigh of nostalgia for all of us at the table. We are all old enough to remember long family road trips or the Sunday drive broken up by stops to buy petrol, a coke or a truck stop meal and as a bonus there would be a petting zoo, mini golf or miniature railway attached. Stopping at these places made road trips feel special, memorable family time. They were the good things in life.
Tim attributes the death of the roadside attraction to long range petrol tanks and in car entertainment. He says people these days move too fast from one destination to another. It’s about the destination and not about the journey anymore. Or if people go on holidays it’s more about fancy holidays overseas rather than in your own back yard. Eddy’s Garage is about bringing that culture back to community, to people’s lives and to families. Culture changes so fast and the speed and competitiveness of life has meant a loss of what was so good about the past, often without even realising it is happening.
Tim reminisces about an old servo on the Gold Coast in Queensland that was a UFO. Ah the Gold Coast, the land of the big, gaudy and fantastical. Just on the alien subject: drivers doing a long-haul trip up the Stuart Highway in the Northern Territory will get a huge surprise by the giant alien standing on a hill beside the road. Nearby is the road stop, Wycliffe Well. There are alien murals and green fibre glass men leering at you. You can buy alien juice and spaceship fuel. But alas, Tim doesn’t like “those creepy aliens”, so he plans to build a crashed UFO out the front of Eddy’s as a deterrent. Aliens are not welcome.
So, what do the locals think?
The Eddington towns folk are supportive. They love their little hamlet and their community and welcome new business opening up here. As outsiders Tim and Debbie have been really embraced by the locals including residents of the closest town, Dunolly.
When you drive into Eddington there looks only to be a farmhouse, a mechanic shop and Eddy’s Garage. The little township is hidden off the main road. There’s a couple of families who are very active in the community, running their own ANZAC and Australia Day events. The town has events at Christmas time and vintage car sprints every year, which is a much celebrated event. There is also a vintage railway open to the public once a month.
Sitting in the café you can’t help but notice how busy the road is, generally trucks and cars, travelling to and from Maryborough. Eddy’s attracts locals and passersby, tradies stop in for a milkshake and a sausage roll. A local group of six women come in every morning when the café is open. Customers from the surrounding area and towns come to Eddy’s for a change of scenery and perhaps the groovy music played from Tim’s old vinyl records. One can’t help but notice the steady stream of walk-ins, and they are all greeted by name. Debbie already knows what they will have from the menu.
Debbie says people from Maryborough on their way to Bendigo or on their way back or vise versa that are tired and realise “holy shit this is the last coffee stop before I get to where I am going”. When did Australians become so dependent on this marvellous beverage?
What’s the furthest people have travelled to be here?
Tim had served a big group of vintage bikers before we arrived, and they had a couple walk in for a coffee who came from Queensland (Tim’s brother and partner made a surprise visit so technically he wins on the distance).
Eventually they would love more visitors from Melbourne and beyond to make Eddy’s a destination. They don’t feel they have enough on offer yet. Their ambitious to build on their outdoor theme park and have more attractions before they start to advertise as a destination to Melbournians and those farther afield.
How is self-employment going?
To Debbie, it is still in the set-up stage. Not fun yet and she describes it as building an adventure park before you can play in it. It’s a labour of love for both. Tim doesn’t mind fixing the toilets, he feels fulfilled because he is driven to do this for the community. He’s coming from a place of bringing families together and strengthening community cohesion.
Tim muses that the roadside attraction is “a citadel of the pinnacle of western civilisation” as society becomes more digitised and people become more isolated and divided. That is profound and perhaps true.
Looking around the café again you can’t help but notice there are toys for all ages of human beings. There is a psychedelic rocking snail for toddlers and one wonders why the toy company didn’t make them for grownups. We need to put the fun back into being an adult, what better way than a giant psychedelic rocking snail?
Everything about Eddy’s Garage is an expression of Debbie and Tim. They are a very nostalgic pair, and this could be seen as a retrospective of their life’s work. Or in Debbie’s case an expression of her family background, filled with memories of childhood, her mother’s kindness, pineapple upside down cakes and homemade sausage rolls. The significant tastes and smells of the past bring about a shift in time, invoke sentimental memories and yearnings for a simpler less competitive materialistic culture.
On a more practical note, Debbie has tried to sell her mum’s pineapple upside down cakes complete with a glace cherry on top, but they were too wacky and people weren’t game enough to try them. Still, they are part of that era of the 50’s to 70’s when canned pineapple went with everything and before the glamour of packet cake mix. Deb plans to reintroduce them onto the menu, finding a way to make them more appealing to modern taste buds. Referencing a time where food, especially baked goods, had good energy because they were made by hand, is humbling. She makes sure there are gluten free and vegan options. People have high expectations of the quality of scones, so she makes sure they are very good.
Apart from being a tap dancer and performer, we asked Debbie what else she did over the years.
She wasn’t made to go out and get a job when she lived at home as a teenager. Her mum always gave her money for what she needed, she was very sheltered which didn’t help her extraordinary shyness. Eventually she worked at the family mechanic shop and learnt customer service skills that have been very useful over the years. She answered phones and would have to make those very difficult calls, telling customers the cost of repairs and dealing with their despair. This job made her face her fears and learn compassion. She worked in the family business for a long time, and in childcare which was an extension of customer service and the next level of coming out of herself. Recently, over the last 10 years, Debbie has run a tap school which she is closing soon so she can give 100 percent to Eddy’s.
With all that customer service experience, Debbie loves to meet and greet customers and be genuine with people. She has worked out that it’s much easier to be nice to people, everything becomes so much better when you are genuine. Deb recalls her mum always told her ‘if people like you, your life is going to be a lot easier’. For a time, Deb said her only skill was people skills and tap dancing.
Both Tim and Debbie are big Disneyland fans. They would like to emulate the Disney experience; customers have a unique and fantastical experience before they get through the gate. Everyone feels special and equal at Disneyland. That’s a big influence for them. It’s an essential ethos, enhancing people’s lives. Its all about coming together and having a good time.
Eddies Garage is an intentional project, its not about going backwards but more about bringing what Debbie and Tim love about past into the present. It’s colourful, celebratory and family oriented.
It can be hard living and working with your partner in a home-based business, keeping positive and avoiding burn out. It’s obvious that the great respect and admiration Tim and Debbie have for each other, keeps them going. As a customer, Eddy’s is a really nice place to spend time.
It’s a unique experience to go there and enjoy a good coffee in a warm and loving atmosphere.
They are open Thursday to Sunday.
Oh — and that lemon cake was to die for!