Cafe Culture

As a young girl, growing up on the South Coast of Wollongong, not really into underage drinking, parties or surf culture….there was little to do.

What I did want to do was hang out in cafes, drink coffee and look more adult, head in a book or engaged in high brow conversation with other like-minded folk.

But this was the South Coast circa 1992 and no such place existed. There was Jim’s Fish and Chip Shop ( were $2 brought you a kilo of hot chips) or the Rex Hotel, Thirroul – complete with topless bar maids and $3 schooners.

My life was miserable….

And then it appeared….a cafe….in Thirroul…name of which I cannot remember…but it was a cafe….

A planned was devised.

My friend Clare and I would catch the bus home from school, we would have a milk shake at the cafe for afternoon tea, and then Clare’s Mum would pick us up.

I felt so grown up, like all my Christmas’ had come at once. This could also be due to the fact that my friend Clare was two-year levels above me at school….I just felt so lucky.

The day arrived, the bus from school to Thirroul seemed to take longer than usual – such was the anticipation levels of engaging in cafe culture my ‘Sydney’ teenage peers, a mere 1.5 hours from the South, often took for granted…cafes on every city street, open till midnight….

Alighting the bus, we set out on foot to the cafe on the opposite side of town, smiling ear to ear for we were soon to be wrapped in the sweet aroma of coffee beans, home-made cakes and conversation about art, history and of course, and most importantly, local gossip. I knew the importance of this day, it was to be life changing – somewhere to hang out, to chat, to feel a sense of belonging, in my home town….

And then I saw it….a sign of the cafe door, in bold red letters:

‘ Closed’

Yes, cafe culture in Thirroul locked us out – opening hours was 9am – 3pm daily and clearly not accommodating of high school aged teenagers. A sense of bewilderment overtook us. All hopes dashed, and the cloak of misery and hopelessness hung heavy on my shoulders….

I glanced in the direction of the Rex Hotel, I thought of Jim’s Fish and Chip Shop, 1km away….and just felt sad.

We walked to the public phone box and called Clare’s mother to come and collect us.

Epic fail.


That was 1992 and so much has changed in 25 years. I did leave Thirroul for a 2 year period upon graduating University and drank my first cup of coffee whilst living in the UK in 2001. It was my Spanish friends who introduced me to the art of cafe culture and I am forever thankful.

Returning to the South Coast in 2003 I got a job in one of Thirrouls first cafes. Oscar’s Wild Bookstore, a magical place that served coffee, cakes and conversation for many years.

Fast forward to 2017 and Thirroul has in excess of 10 cafes in this tiny coastal town – all with strong customer followings and opportunities for patrons to sip coffee and converse for 6am – 4pm most days!

This blog entry was inspired by an article that features in the local newspaper, the Illawarra Mercury, on March 4th, documenting cafe culture on the South Coast. An article I wish had appeared many moons earlier but better late than never. And yes, a sense of belonging to this region is well engrained in me now!



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