Don’t ask me how I’ve managed to live in Sydney most of my life and yet I’ve never had a pie at iconic Harry’s Cafe de Wheels.After all, I’m a Sydney local and yet Colonel Sanders, Elton John, Jerry Lewis and other overseas celebs have somehow managed to not only find Harry’s and sample his Tiger Pie but have also had their photo taken and slapped onto the walls of the cart. Yes, the walls of Harry’s cart read as one hell of a hall of fame…a veritable who’s who.
Yet, isn’t that way when you’ve lived in a place most of your life. You become complacent. Go elsewhere on your holidays and immerse yourself in the absolute experience and yet you only skim over the surface at home.
On the other hand, Sydney is a huge city dissected by it’s glamorous Harbour and has its pockets. You’d be spreading yourself pretty thin to really get to know all of our fabulous city and it’s environs.
We ended up at Harry’s Cafe de Wheels after visiting the Garden Island Naval Base to tour HMAS Toowoomba, which was opened up as a charity fundraiser for Kids in Need , which includes Muscular Dysdtrophy NSW, which also supports my neuromuscular disease, dermatomyositis.
As our taste buds wrapped around the iconic Tiger Pie, which is basically adding mashed potato and mushy peas to a variety of basic pies…chicken, beef, cheese and bacon. The pies are also served up with a pond of tasty gravy on top and a fork. We also ordered some hot chips which had to be among the very best hot chips we’ve ever eaten…crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.
Although “Tiger” was a nickname the original Harry picked up while he was serving in the Middle East during WWII, it truly did feel like trying to devour a tiger of a pie as we wrestled with all that potato, peas and gravy armed only with a humble plastic fork and hoping and praying that the lot wouldn’t end up splat on ourr laps. The Tiger eaters amopng us, therefore, decided to sit at the tables provided on the side of the cart rather than joining Mister sitting by the water. I really loved my pie but found it very salty…possibly due to the gravy.
However, the pie is only part of the whole Harry’s experience. There’s also the history which is etched into its walls.
The original Harry’s Cafe de Wheels is on display at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum and they offer a quick historic tour:
In 1938 Harry ‘Tiger’ Edwards first opened a food cart at the corner of Macleay St and Cowper Wharf Road in Woolloomooloo. When war broke out he joined the army, serving with the 2/2nd Machine Gun Battalion in the Middle East. He was wounded and discharged in November 1942 suffering from severe asthma. Edwards was said to be ‘quite a character’, a gambler and a man who liked to be his own boss. He drove a taxi and a fruit truck before rigging up an old army ambulance as a mobile canteen which he operated at rugby league matches and other sporting events. In 1945 he swapped the ambulance for a makeshift caravan – the one in the Museum’s collection — and parked it outside the Garden Island Naval Dockyard.
When the police told Edwards to move his van as it was disrupting traffic, a thief mysteriously stole the wheels. This was in 1945 and for years, Harry’s Cafe de Wheels had no wheels at all. The Maritime Services Board and Defence officials who controlled the Dockyard negotiated a permanent spot for Harry’s Cafe outside the naval base. ‘Besides, in 1945, people did not like to see bureaucrats pushing around wounded veterans who were trying to make an honest quid for themselves’ (Jefferson Penberthy, ‘Sydney Morning Herald’, 11 July 1981).
Despite harrassment by the Council, State and Commonwealth Police, Harry’s nocturnal eatery remained, although it was shifted up and down Cowper Wharf Road a number of times.
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It was perhaps Harry’s finest moment in 1978, when Rear Admiral David Martin – over a pie and glass of Champagne – commissioned the caravan as “HMAS Harry’s”.
In 1974, chicken king, Colonel Sanders, stopped at Harry’s and enjoyed the food so much that he ate three ‘pies and peas’ while leaning on his walking stick in front of the caravan.
So after such an impressive cast of patrons, in 2015 we turned up.
Have you ever been to Harry’s Cafe de Wheels? Do you have any thoughts about getting to know your own backyard?
PS I wonder if Katy Perry has tried the Tiger and that’s what made her roar? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CevxZvSJLk8