The Auburn Emporium – Auburn, NSW

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Let’s take another trip to that seemingly bottomless well of source material, Parramatta Road. If this Australian Women’s Weekly logo looks ancient to you, that’s because it is. In fact, I’d say there’s a good chance the magazine itself sported this logo the last time it was on sale at this location, which was most recently known as Danny’s Newsagency. But what’s happened to the sign there?

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Oh, well this changes everything. Before Danny moved in, the newsagency was Brown’s domain. Perhaps the AWW sign belonged to Brown in the first place. Case closed, unless the awning offers us any more clues…

IMG_8989No. It was Brown’s Newsagency, then Danny’s, and now it’s a freight company called BLM, which is apparently just too busy to take down some old, misleading signs. Mission accomplished, what a great story, we can all go home. Was it good for you too? Seriously, why can’t these shops just present a decent front? If BLM wanted more business, why wouldn’t they dust themselves off a bit (unless they don’t want more business ON PURPOSE)? Does the rest of this row of shops have the same issue?

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On the east corner we’ve got Blossoms wholesalers of health, beauty and ugg. Great combo. Looks like they ran out of yellow paint before they could disguise the fact the place used to sell:

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..’beding’, among other things. Great. What’s that up there?

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You can’t have freezers without fridges. Oh look, the building was finished in 1912. I bet they weren’t this lazy or negligent back then. Next…

IMG_8988The next door down offers no such insights – it’s a boring restaurant. Beside that, it’s this accountant. And a pretty busy one right now I’m sure, given what time of the year it is. Yawn…I’d imagine this place wasn’t so pedestrian in 1912, a time when Parramatta Road wasn’t a huge embarrassment to the city and a great place to park your car on weekends. It would have had a purpose, it would have been the product of some dude’s life’s work. It would have stood out from the crowd and meant something rather than just taken up space with its ugliness.

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Yeah, I’d like to think this was something really special…back in the day…

cumberland argus 23 nov 1912

Cumberland Argus, November 23 1912.

Mr. Webber had sold his other business at nearby Rookwood, presumably the one on which he had built his name, because he had such faith in this place. Wow. “The windows are a picture.” Wow! They sold pianos and had the Auburn Brass Band on site to celebrate the opening. It’s hard to believe that such an event could once have gone on at this place we’ve seen today, but there you go.

Cumberland Argus, June 10 1916

Cumberland Argus, June 10 1916.

Don’t let anyone tell you department stores aren’t a cut-throat (or cut-head, in this case) industry, just like I won’t let anyone tell me that Wylie’s departure from Webber’s empire and Arthur Webber’s injury are just a coincidence. In fact, let’s concentrate on Wylie’s little advertisement for a moment. First, he’s taken it out in the accidents section of the paper, which doesn’t bode well. Second, he’s done it directly below an account of his former employer’s misfortune. Third, he’s included the snide ‘up-to-date Store’ dig, as well as imploring thrifty shoppers to ‘compare his prices’ (to whom, I wonder?)…and yet the very next line tells you there’s one one price to compare. In case you’re interested, his address is a Westpac bank today, which means this paragraph is his legacy. Suck it down, Wylie.

Cumberland Argus, April 30 1921.

Cumberland Argus, April 30 1921.

Gee, the Webbers seem a little…accident-prone, don’t they? In 1921 young Ernest Webber (son of Arthur) cut his finger. And it made the paper. Slow news year, perhaps?

Cumberland Argus, February 22 1922.

Cumberland Argus, February 22 1922.

So successful was the Webber store that a Mrs. Middleton took the fight to Merrylands. I wonder how it turned out?

SMH, April 19 1922.

SMH, April 19 1922.

Ernest E. Webber (who I’m assuming isn’t the seven-year-old with a bandaid on his finger) copped a heavy fine of four pounds for not paying two of his employees the minimum wage. No wonder Wylie left. Shoulda just paid ’em, Ernie.

SMH, November 11 1922.

SMH, November 11 1922.

Just don’t expect minimum wage. Hey, what a deal there at the top: a set of teeth from one guinea. Yuck.

Cumberland Argus, April 12 1924.

Cumberland Argus, April 12 1924.

The Webbers, still in PR crisis mode, provide the furnishings to a local recital. We haven’t forgotten about the third world wages, Ern.

Northern Star, December 31 1924.

Northern Star, December 31 1924.

And neither has Desire La Court (what a name). Read that thrilling tale of escape in the third paragraph, and tell me it wouldn’t make a great white-knuckle thriller starring Channing Tatum.

Cumberland Argus, February 18 1927.

Cumberland Argus, February 18 1927.

Here’s Webber’s castle, paid for by the unpaid wages of his workers.

Cumberland Argus, October 3 1929.

Cumberland Argus, October 3 1929.

I can’t decide whether my favourite part of this story is the thief begging Webber not to call the cops and then offering to drive Webber to the police station, or him playing the ‘my wife and kids’ card for sympathy and later denying having done so. It’s just a quilt, Webber. Even if he did nick it, let him have it. The Depression’s coming.

Cumberland Argus, July 31 1930.

Cumberland Argus, July 31 1930.

And now they know: don’t throw a lit cigarette onto piles of paper.

Cumberland Argus, February 8 1934.

Cumberland Argus, February 8 1934.

Good thing they advertised this, now all the thieves out there with a copy of the 1927 paper and a map will know his house is empty.

Cumberland Argus, June 10 1935.

Cumberland Argus, June 10 1935.

Young Ernest Webber, last seen blubbering like a baby over a cut finger, has turned 21. Lock up your daughters! Nice cheapskate present, Dad – an autographed key. “My signature will be worth a lot of money in a few years, son…”

Cumberland Argus, June 28 1937.

Cumberland Argus, June 28 1937.

Do you think Mark Foy was this plagued by thievery?

Northern Star, July 7 1937.

Northern Star, July 7 1937.

This plagued? This seems just a little suss, don’t you think?

Barrier Miner, 7 July 1937.

Barrier Miner, 7 July 1937.

The plot thickens. I like the use of quotation marks around “square”, as if to square this divorce meant some drastic action.

Cumberland Argus, October 21 1937.

Cumberland Argus, October 21 1937.

And finally the truth comes out! Picture the headlines: “Webber of Deceit”. I wonder if Webber’s trip to Jervis Bay was advertised in the paper? Maybe all those other times Webber was thieved from was the result of some cuckolding. I can only imagine how his wife must have felt…

Cumberland Argus, January 27 1938.

Cumberland Argus, January 27 1938.

Oh.

Cumberland Argus, January 14 1942.

Cumberland Argus, January 14 1942.

From philandery to philanthropy. Wisely replacing the adulterous E. Webber as media spokesperson, Arthur Webber sets off on his quest to repair the Webber reputation, 150 shoppers at a time. I’m guessing they had a sign, “Toilet and air-raid shelter for customers only.”

Cumberland Argus, November 28 1945.

Cumberland Argus, November 28 1945.

Cumberland Argus, August 14, 1946.

Cumberland Argus, August 14, 1946.

With the war over, the Webbers put some distance between the scandals and tragedies of the past by backing the Auburn ‘Popular Girl’ Competition. Really rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? You’re pretty much asking for trouble inviting someone named ‘Mrs. Crooks’ to your fancy ball, especially given your history, Webbers.

Sadly, this grand event is where the Webber story comes to an end. The trail went cold, and nothing more hit the papers. But despite the abrupt and mysterious ending it kind of feels like we were right there with them…almost like we were one of them. Do we need to know what happens next? Do we need the sad details of the day the Webbers signed their pride and joy over to Brown of Brown’s Newsagency? Of the day one of the shops was demolished to make room for Gypsy Leather, ruining the established style? Probably not. The best years are behind us at this point, and we’ve only the advent of Danny’s Newsagency to look forward to. We can use our imaginations to fill in the blanks.

Plus it’s been an adventure. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve been scandalised and burglarised, but above all, we’ll never look at this innocuous little row of shops with the same eyes again. Right? Here it is again, just to be sure:

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8 responses

  1. Shit that was great as in superb. I love your writing and your brilliant take on the ordinary as well as the less Sydneyfied areas. You should have your own TV show or something similarly huge because you’re such a talented person. It’s so refreshing to see someone write with heart and never once have you disappeared up your own arse. Well done lad and keep em coming.

  2. Great writing! Agree with the tv show comment! Either that or a walking tour! Wonder if the old air raid shelter still exists…

  3. Hi, loved this article about Auburn. My mother grew up next but 1 to the Webbers in Auburn Rd. She and Beryl were friends. In your quoted article about “Webbers Hold Ball for Popular Girl Candidate”, the Winsome Salsbury mentioned is my Aunt. Loved reading this. I also spent the first 10yrs of my life in the house my mother lived in then, my grandad Hugh Salsbury was a coach builder and all his trappings were on our property, I only wish that I had photographed it all before the property was burned down. I do have some photos of his business and car taken about 1920s and would happily share them if you are interested. Thankyou for this site.

    1. Sarah Hayse-Gregson | Reply

      That was a great story and fantastic research. Just seen on our Auburn/Lidcome (Liberty Plains) Memories site. Would love to see those photos Cheryl Kinsey.

    2. I don’t suppose Cheryl Kinsey will see this comment after so long but if she does I grew up in the house you are talking about. My grandparents bought the place from the Webbers around 1930. You must be Rita Salsbury’s daughter Cheryl Robbie. I am Marjorie Manks’ daughter Roslyn Forster and we played together as young children along with my brother Glenn and your brother Peter. Our mothers grew up as neighbours and went to school together and our grandfathers were friends and air-raid wardens together during WW11. Your grandfathers name is mentioned in many of the letters I have in my possession which my uncles wrote to my grandparents back in Auburn while they were away at the war. I last saw you and Peter 50 years ago so on the off-chance you should see this, hi Cheryl.

      1. Stories like this are why I love writing this blog.

  4. As Ernest E. Webber’s great niece (even though I never met him), I was very interested in your article. I’d love to know if you have any more information on the family, especially his parents, as I have no photos of any of them. I have been researching the family but my Webber family lived in Melbourne and we seemed to have no contact with the Sydney branch.

  5. Great story! I would also like to know if the bomb shelter is still there.

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