Visiting The Entrance on the Central Coast recently, I was struck by how many shops had illuminated signs in their windows. Typical examples are the Open signs pictured here but there were others too, flashing and blinking, scrolling and winking their endless words of welcome. It was as if a gung-ho illuminated sign salesperson had been through the town and cleaned up - you'd better have one because the guy two doors down the street has one.
They were all subtly different. The colours are typically red and blue, sometimes with green added or a pale yellow, and they can be flashing, or spell out each individual letter separately and then blink the word, or just glimmer unwaveringly. Some show a bit more creativity - I particularly like the vertical OPEN sign with the green cup of tea and the purple steam rising from it. I like them all though - they're gaudy and cheerful, tacky and brash. They ain't tasteful nor pretentious, and I like that. I like that about The Entrance too, which has the feel of a place which is less like an entrance and more like a dead end.
Once upon a time, perhaps when the new bridge was put across the channel in the 60s, there must have been hope that The Entrance might become a favourite playground for Sydney's day-trippers and holiday-makers. Instead, the expressway by-passed the Central Coast and Sydney's hordes moved further north to the likes of Coffs Harbour and Byron. Holiday-makers and day-tippers still go there - I did - but there is a dogged down-at-heel feel to the place; whatever schemes and aspirations other towns may hold to move upmarket - see Port Macquarie for instance - they seem to have eluded The Entrance completely.
The surrounding suburban streets are one of the most bizarre urban landscapes I have seen. Interspersed among the old fibro shacks and red-brick bungalows are isolated modern apartment blocks, all glass and concrete, seemingly transplanted here from another world with no regard for the location nor any consideration given as to how the new buildings might relate to the existing environment. The contrast between the low-lying and the vertical is shocking. It's like every street is offering you a choice between the old and the new, but the choice is too stark, too severe.
Maybe this will change over time and the town will become virtually all high-rise, a mini Gold Coast, but for now the transition process is incongruous and alienating. In the midst of this, something as homely and jolly as a bright light in a window is oddly comforting.