MILK so old the sell-by-date is written in Latin, chiko rolls so bright yellow they look like they’re from Chernobyl, and sandwiches as limp as a federal election debate.
Ah, the humble lunch bar.
Well, I’m probably doing them a huge disservice, but they are a bit like your larrikin best mate who comes over, drinks too much and leaves a loving trail of destruction behind.
Fremantle photographer Brett Leigh Dicks pays homage to the glorious Aussie institution with an exhibition of 40 photographs of lunch bars scattered across Greater Perth.
Having recently spent two decades living in California, he says the exhibition was inspired by the down-to-earth parallels between southern california’s hole-in-the-wall taquerias – serving mexican street food – and western lunch bars.
“I was surprised by how many there are locally – there’s a concentration in O’Connor and another outcrop in Spearwood and Bibra Lake,” Leigh Dicks says.
“One of my favourites is the Wattleup Lunch Bar on Rockingham Road. It’s a gorgeous example of a traditional Western Australian lunch bar.
“It’s in a strange location with not a lot surrounding it, there’s a faded sign proudly proclaiming the place has been there since 1964, and it was always full of customers. There’s not much around it, but it wasn’t hurting for patronage.”
Originally from California, Leigh Dicks says he didn’t know anything about the Aussie lunch bar until his wife from Fremantle mentioned her parents used to own The Nordic Lunch Bar on Barrington Road in Spearwood.
Now called Cheffy’s Food Bar, Leigh Dicks photographed it for the exhibition and his wife came down to have a chat with the current owners.
“That’s what I loved most about the series – getting to know some of the owners,” Leigh Dicks says.
“The Wunderbar Lunch Bar in Bayswater is a small industrial strip and owned by a gorgeous German couple. They open on Saturdays in summer and serve the best bratwurst I have had in Australia.
“And then there is the Bibra Lake Lunch Bar that specialises in Vietnamese Street Food. The food at that place is amazing yet so reasonably priced. There is a true passion behind some of these lunch bars. They have certainly moved beyond meat pies and crumbed sausages.”
Leigh Dicks collection of stark photos – boxy buildings pressed against the piercing blue sky – show the lunch bar in all its uncouth glory.
“There was a photography movement that arose in the 1970s called New Topographics and those photographers have been a huge influence on me,” he says.
“They turned their cameras on the everyday and the mundane, in the attempt to reveal the poetry of it. And they did. That’s what I try to do in a contemporary setting. That approach allowed the character of each lunch bar to come shining through, unveiling a collection of dystopian eateries buried within the industrial parks of Perth, all brimming with character, flavour and flair. I even sampled some of their wares!”
The Lunch Bars exhibition is at Ellenbrook Arts in Ellenbrook from June 3 – 30 (Plans are afoot to hold it closer to Freo next year).
by STEPHEN POLLOCK