In this episode of Undunn, Matthew Dunn asks: “Do you remember these retro tech products from the 80s and 90s?”
WELCOME to Gympie. The Queensland town that refuses to let the 1980s die.
While the mobile internet era continues to fuel the seemingly relentless march of the Netflix-Domino’s-Uber juggernauts, it seems there is one place left, at least, that will not let it cost them their local businesses.
In the past couple of years, the people of Gympie have mobilised in outrage over looming store closures the internet age has foisted upon them.
First, it was when there were moves afoot by Pizza Hut to close the town’s all-you-can-eat restaurant, one of just 15 left in Australia.
Then came the news last month that its last remaining video store, Blockbuster, would shut its doors.
Now, in a Big-M shaped cherry on top, the town has just welcomed a brand new roller skating rink, 25 years after the last one shut up shop.
It comes complete with a regular Saturday night disco.
“If it’s not going to work here, it’s not going to work anywhere,” owner Lena Nyberg laughingly told news.com.au, nearly a week after Skatezone opened its doors for the first time.
The gold rush town is celebrated locally as the town that saved Queensland.
Could it now be responsible for reviving arguably the Sunshine State’s greatest decade?
While the 1980s had many elements best relegated to the past — its hair and fashion, for example — in the past couple of years, the good people of Gympie have mobilised to hold onto or revive, the elements they clearly regard as its best.
THE PIZZA HUT THREAT
Remember the all-you-can-eat Pizza Hut?
The mountains of self-made soft serve, jelly and smarties that made it the staple special occasion venue of many an 80s and 90s childhood?
Far from following the mullet, blue eyeshadow and stonewash jeans into the annals of history, the ghosts of restaurants past continue to live on in a handful of Australian towns.
In May 2016, the Gympie venue looked set to join the list of the lost.
The local paper, the Gympie Times got wind of a proposal that, like many a dine-in Pizza Hut before it, the store was to downsize to a delivery-only venue, the market competitor Domino’s dominates.
More than 1300 people in the 20,000-strong town shared the story on Facebook.
“God dam (sic) it. Why do they destroy all the good things Gympie has?” one resident wrote, among the largely nostalgia-themed objections.
“This is devastating,” wrote another.
It did not take long for the powers-that-be who remain at the ailing Pizza Hut to cotton on to the fact that shutting down the all-you-can-eat side of the business may be killing off a cash cow.
“Pizza Hut Australia can confirm there are no approved plans to convert the Pizza Hut dine-in restaurant in Gympie into a delivery outlet,” it said in a statement.
And so the buffet salad and dessert bars live on in Gympie, as if the 21st century never came
Chalk that one up to a win for people power.
THE LAST OF THE VIDEO STORES
No sooner had the threat of the lost Pizza Hut subsided than a new one emerged.
Blockbuster, the last remaining DVD hire store in Gympie, was apparently still a thriving business when the once-powerful company announced in late January that a dispute between owners had forced its closure.
In a world where Netflix has hundreds of movies on demand at the touch of a button, it turns out many people in the Wide Bay-Burnett region town still prefer the tradition of heading down the DVD store to choose their evening’s entertainment.
The opposition to the news was almost equally as vehement, or at least equally as mournful, as that directed Pizza Hut’s way.
But just as there had been a sad kind of acceptant of the apparent inevitability of the move, up stepped the knight Gympie didn’t know it was looking for.
Peter Fife, a veteran of the town’s home entertainment scene as owner of the Gympie Video Movie Barn, in the halcyon days of the 1980s, stepped in to revive the store.
“I felt for the staff when I heard and I felt for the regional area of Gympie,” he told The Gympie Times.
“I realise a lot of people love this store. Where else can they go?”
Blockbuster closed, as planned, and reopened this week as Network Video, complete with a brand new library of 20,000 titles on offer.
A new member sign-up day is being held this Saturday.
BACK TO THE SKATING RINK FUTURE
Long before the skate park, there was the skating rink, where many an 80s romance bloomed on rollerskates.
Now, 25 years after Gympie lost its last skating rink, a new one has emerged, where, now, many an excited parent is returning to eight wheels to show their children where it all began.
Pretty gross, right, kids?
Lena Nyberg, who opened it with her roller hockey playing husband Darren, said it had taken them five years to find the right venue, and many people had been eagerly awaiting its return.
“We haven’t even done any advertising, only Facebook and word-of-mouth so far,” she said.
“The people who grew up at that rink skating are now in their 40s and are now bringing their kids here because it’s something they can do as a family.”
But the 80s revival of the most 80s of sports does not end with the rollerskates.
Saturday nights are disco nights, complete with music and light show, while there are also talk of the return of a Blue Light Disco to the venue in the near future.
And outside the rink is an nostalgic’s dream.
“We have a games table, with galactic space invaders, glass tables with all old school arcade games, pinball machines, and, of course, two Daytonas,” she said.
Despite the closure of the last roller skating rink in Bundaberg, two hours from Gympie, just last year, Mrs Nyberg said she and her husband believe it will be a successful business.
“Everything goes in roundabouts, fashion, sports, everything tends to go around, and I think it just phased out for a while,” she said of the skating rink.
“People who did it a lot in the 80s got a bit bored, I suppose.
“It’s really making a comeback. We know a few people who own rinks in Brisbane, the numbers are increasing, the popularity is increasing, and its definitely something making a comeback.”
We can only hope it’s a comeback sans leg warmers and leotards.