Small town Australia… is a place I could never live.
Seriously. I’d be bored out of my mind.
Weekday evenings in the cities are a bit disappointing – with shops closing right as you get out of work (except for Thursdays when the malls are open late). But restaurants are open as are plenty of other activities. Small cities are pretty bad. In Wollongong – Australia’s 9th largest city – one Sunday afternoon in 2010, a mate and I quickly realized that our only late lunch (3pm) option was fast food. Restaurants closed between the lunch and dinner shifts. But in small towns, the restaurants shutter their doors after lunch and they don’t reopen for dinner. I’ve had encounters with small town Australia before, but the trip to the South Coast really brought to life just how boring small towns really are. The small towns along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria didn’t bother me. They are touristy, and things were open in the evening because of the large number of visitors. But South Coast NSW is a far different area. While it is a popular weekend getaway for Sydneysiders, the region doesn’t have the international recognition that the Great Ocean Road has, or even recognition by people from other parts of Australia. Going during the week, when all of Sydney is at work, proved a bit challenging when it came to finding dinner.
First stop: Berry! A cute little town consisting of one main road, it had all of the essentials that make small towns great – mainly sweets. Because a road trip isn’t a road trip unless you stop in a small town and get some fudge, right?
Berry is also famous for their doughnuts. Hell yeah!
Lunchtime in Berry was nice – we walked up and down the road until we found a café that suited our appetites. For a small town, it seemed like we had endless options, so we decided to venture back in for dinner as our hotel wasn’t really near any other towns. We parked and proceeded to walk up and down the street. The bustling little tourist town that we had encountered only hours ago had become…
A ghost town.
Only three things in the entire town were open: one little grocery store and the two pubs (because you can’t deprive an Aussie of beer). So, pub grub it was. We picked the cheaper of the two options – they had a Tuesday schnitzel special – and placed our order. Good thing we ordered when we did. When our little buzzer went off and it was time to pick up our food from the kitchen, the register already had a sign up that the kitchen was now closed.
Had we been ten minutes later, we surely would have starved!
Ok, we wouldn’t have starved, but we would have had to eat granola bars from the local grocery store, and that in no way, shape, or form is a proper dinner.
The next night we drove through a town called Nowra. It is a relatively big town with an urban area population of 32,000 – much larger than Berry. Not bad for a place that most people have never heard of. We picked Nowra on purpose as we knew there would be nothing in Berry, and we assumed that all of the other small towns would be shut as well. With 32,000 people, surely there must be a few dining options. So, we drove into the town centre, parked, and walked around. From what we could tell, we had four options. Only four. Just four. And two of them weren’t even really options.
2. Pizza Hut
3. A Chinese restaurant
4. Another Chinese restaurant literally next door to the first one
When in Rome… we opted for one of the local Chinese restaurants. The sign said that it was founded in the early 1950’s by the first Chinese immigrant to the region. Having been around for so long, we assumed it must be somewhat good. All of the employees inside were white though. That was a bit strange.
Oscar and I both ordered chow mein. What we got was: a bunch of steamed stuff in a bland, gooey sauce tossed over some of those thin little crunchy noodles that they put in Chinese chicken salads in the US. Seriously? They weren’t long, hot, tasty noodles. They were those little crunchy bits you can buy in a bag in the supermarket. Ugh!
I took a closer look at the menu. With the history of the restaurant, there was also a little note about the hosts. The hosts’ last name: Ng. Ng. Would you like to buy a vowel?
Ng is not a Chinese last name. It’s Vietnamese. People from Vietnam own the Chinese restaurant.
I’m angry. And hungry.
Are small towns in America this bad? I honestly can’t really remember the last time I’ve been to a small town in the evening in the US. I tend to stay away as they usually have too many rednecks and religious nutbags.
Though, I should probably give a point to Australia. I suppose I’ll take shitty imposter Chinese “noodles” over religious crazies any day of the week.