Getting Harry's Cafe de Wheels to push off pie in sky, says owner

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 October, 2007, 12:00am


Its meat pies, mash and mushy peas are legendary but Sydney's best-known late-night eatery has fallen out of favour with its increasingly upper-crust neighbours.

Harry's Cafe de Wheels is a pie cart located in the harbour-side district of Woolloomooloo, right next to the city's Garden Island naval base. Established on the eve of the second world war, the tourist icon has been a must for visiting celebrities since the 1940s, when the likes of Frank Sinatra and Marlene Dietrich tucked into its famous pie 'floaters', which consist of a pie sitting in a bowl of pea soup. More recently, Pamela Anderson, Virgin boss Richard Branson, Rolf Harris and Elton John have wolfed down its chicken, curry and vegetable pies and pasties.

But the garishly lit food stall's development consent is about to expire and wealthy locals are calling for it to be moved or closed down altogether. They say Harry's Cafe, which opens most nights until 3am, creates noise, litter and a traffic nuisance as late-night snackers descend on the area after a night on the town.

A powerful alliance of more than 30 judges, lawyers and business executives has written letters of complaint to the local council.

The row reflects the dramatic changes Woolloomooloo has undergone in recent decades. It was once a gritty working port, where tens of thousands of Australian soldiers embarked on troopships for the two world wars.

But the timber wharf from where they left has been redeveloped as an exclusive apartment complex which counts among its residents Gladiator star Russell Crowe.

Multimillion-dollar yachts and cruisers are berthed in a sparkling marina, overlooked by a string of some of the city's priciest restaurants.

In a city in which the gap between haves and have-nots widens every year, Harry's Cafe remains a beacon of gastronomic democracy, where reality television starlets rub shoulders with pot-bellied immigrant taxi drivers.

It began as a converted caravan in 1938, serving hot food to sailors from the naval base. It was owned by Harry 'Tiger' Edwards, who joined the Australian army at the outbreak of war and fought overseas. On his return home he restarted the business. Its name derives from the fact that it was once mounted on wheels - the local council decreed that mobile food carts must move a minimum of 30cm each day. These days the wheels are gone and it sits on a solid concrete base.

The current owner of Harry's Cafe insists that far from bringing down the tone of the neighbourhood, the pie van makes it more secure.

'We make a big difference to safety,' said Michael Hanna. 'If you've had a few too many to drink and you sit down outside the stall, there'll always be someone to keep an eye on you.'

He has vowed to fight his opponents. 'If they get their way, we'll be at war. We won't go quietly.'

He will seek to extend his licence to run the eatery at a City of Sydney council meeting on Monday.

He claims to have solid backing from local pubs, police and council rangers - making any attempt to close down his beloved stall, well, pie in the sky.