…and my heart was beating fast.
Frank Lowy and John Saunders had arrived in Australia in the early 1950s, both Jewish immigrants who had been scarred by the horrors of fascism in Europe. Australia offered them opportunities, hope, a new start. In 1953, Saunders owned and operated a Blacktown delicatessen he’d bought after years of working as a packer, while Lowy was running a smallgoods delivery business. Saunders was impressed by Lowy’s punctuality and work ethic, and the two hit it off.
The pair went into business together, with Saunders shrewdly choosing to focus on the growing suburbs on Sydney, out west in particular, rather than the inner city. Soon their delicatessen was joined by a continental coffee lounge as the area’s efficient railway network delivered a steady influx of customers.
But Saunders had been keeping an eye on American developments in the small business arena. The newest trend there was a strip mall with a roof. In Australia, shops were strictly on the streets, never indoors. The duo saw an opportunity.
1975. Hurstville’s legacy as the place to shop in St George was in tatters. Long gone were the suburb’s retail pillars Diments and Jolley’s, and dying a slow death was Barter’s. Coles Variety and Woolworths Arcade came off as second best, imitators rather than the innovators their predecessors had been. It was a sorry state of affairs, but at least they had plenty of parking.
There was also the ill-conceived Super Centre, which strangled the train line, but the Hurstville Council’s hope that it would become another shopping success had long gone. For the first time since its inception, Hurstville lacked an identity.
Starting with Hornsby in 1961, Westfield had opened shopping centres all over Sydney. Burwood opened in 1966, and Miranda Fair was swallowed up by the Westfield Group in 1969. Roselands had remained beyond their grasp, however, and the group was looking to fill the shopping void in the southwest.
In November 1975, Westfield put forward a proposal to Hurstville Council: a shopping complex that would contain a department store, a large supermarket and various small shops, spread out over three floors. A town park, office space and extensive car parking only helped to sweeten the deal, with the park especially taking steps towards complying with Hurstville Council’s plan for the area. If you’re shocked to learn that Hurstville Council had a plan for the area at this point in time, join the club.
Westfield’s choice of words were kind to say the least in its description of Hurstville’s current state. The new centre would ‘reinforce’ Hurstville’s ‘existing trading character’. Well, that’s one way of putting it.
Considering it was to be placed between the current commercial area and residential housing, the centre’s design was very careful to adhere to Hurstville Council’s then-provisos that the visual bulk of the building be minimised.
A unique aspect of the building’s layout was its system of ramps. It was possible to traverse the entire centre without ever encountering a set of stairs, presumably so one could take their time browsing and purchasing, or to make it harder to escape.
What’s particularly interesting about this initial plan is the town park. This breezy artist’s conception makes it look like a kind of leafy paradise, but it’s harder to imagine in practice. How long until all the trees would have names carved into them, until all the benches were covered in gum and graffiti? Would Westfield even go ahead with the park, which by their own veiled admission was a wheel greaser? More importantly, had the wheel been greased enough? Would Council submit to this corporate shaming at the cost of their pride? The Super Centre wound was still fresh, but if it scabbed over in time it could still be a viable shopping outlet…couldn’t it?
Of course, we know how this story ends.
In order for this beast to be constructed, something had to go, and since the new centre would provide parking unlimited for St Georgians, the then-new yet deeply unpopular council car park got the axe.
Construction began in May 1977, and they didn’t waste any time. Half of Rose Street was obliterated:
…while the new-old car park was levelled:
The existing retailers looked on with trepidation, worried for their future and rightfully so.
Finally, on October 9, 1978, it was ready. Premier Neville Wran was on hand to usher in the birth of a new age for Hurstville.
As you can probably tell by the plans above, the centre was much smaller when it opened than it is now. 1978 was a simpler time when people didn’t need as much junk. But what junk did they need, exactly? What did this behemoth of retail extravagance boast that Forest Road’s usual suspects couldn’t? Let’s take a look at 1978’s centre directory to get a better understanding of just what Westfield had brought to Hurstville’s threadbare table.
Waltons! Backing winners as always, guys. We can laugh now, but Waltons was one of the biggest drawcards of the new centre, a department store that would hark back to the glory days of Jolley’s (or would it?). The rest of the shops on display are (mostly) before my time, so take your time and reminisce.
Of special note is the much-ballyhooed town park. True to their word, they actually went ahead and built it, even going the extra mile of suck-uppery by naming it after former Hurstville mayor and enthusiastic supporter of the Super Centre, Gordon “Snowy” Hill, who had died in 1978. From one Hill 2 anotha…
The entrance to Snowy Hill Park was located at the junction of Cross and Crofts Streets, or just opposite where you’d emerge from Jolley’s Arcade.
Or just behind that car.
The stairs led up to the park which included tennis courts, amenities, an area for exhibitions and this statue:
The statue is holding a cornucopia, supposedly a symbol of the “plenty” available to all in the Westfield. There’s something oddly creepy about that. Or creepily odd, your choice.
By the way, if you’ve gotten this far and are not happy with those image watermarks, take it up with Hurstville Council, who see fit to charge $20 per photo for a decent quality digital copy. Yeah, right, let me reach into my wallet for you, HC, since I am a millionaire. Has anyone ever paid that fee? Do the Hurstville Councillors believe they’re sitting on a goldmine of photographs once people start craving digital copies of old photos of a shopping centre? Then again, I’ve just written two articles about said shopping centre, and you’ve read them, so the joke’s on us I guess.
It goes without saying that the Westfield opening was a huge success, and galvanised shopping in the St George area. Suddenly, Roselands was looking a little long in the tooth, and Miranda was just too far away, whereas Hurstville, with its new cache of ‘plenty’, was once again the convenient option. Profits soared, retailers and customers alike flocked to the suburb, and any sourpusses in the old commercial area of Forest Road had their complaints to council fall on deaf ears.
Five years later, that momentum hadn’t slowed. Let’s take a look at a few choice pages from the December 1983 catalogue, shall we?
I’ll put more up on the Past/Lives Facebook page. If you haven’t liked it yet, go and do it! Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Best of all, the catalogue contained 1983’s centre directory. What’s changed?
Not much. Brash’s is there now, so yet another success story to look forward to.
It seemed as if Westfield could do no wrong in the 1980s – the greed decade. Hurstville in particular was outgrowing its allotment by 1986, just over ten years since the initial application. In an even more powerful position this time, Westfield approached council with plans to expand. Do you think council was going to say no?
Thanks for another excellent article. I grew up in Hurstville and my mother still lives in the same house that she moved into on marriage in 1962. I remember vividly Westfield being built and sneaking into it one day as it was nearing completion. I felt like a journalist with a wonderful scoop as I relayed the details to my friends!
One of my school friends worked at the McDonalds pictured in the later years of High School and my first job, which lasted all of one Thursday night and Saturday morning, was at a take-away/coffee shop which I can’t see listed. I’m sure it was called The Tram Stop. My career in the hospitality industry was short lived because I made a pot of tea and put sugar cubes rather than tea bags into it 🙂
Thanks for sharing! What did you find inside when you snuck in? And are you able to reveal what ‘Spacetacular’ was?
I entered the ground floor from the Humphrey’s Lane entrance opposite the Woolies Arcade. I wandered around that area for a short while before I got cold feet. If I recall rightly, the stores where in place however none of them were yet fitted out. I’m pretty certain that some of the shops had signs up, though, so I would have relayed that to my friends.
As to “Spacetacular” I seem to recall an amusement parlour, although I’m not 100% certain. I wouldn’t have gone into it as my Mum had always told me that “bad types” hung around them 🙂
Yeah, like myself. Still, that sounds like an eerie experience. Excellent!
Yes Spacetacular was a games parlour with all the arcade games of the time. It was near Mcdonalds. Of course it was the hang out that you would never go into because of all the undesireables that apparently hung out there.
Ha ha I remember Spacetacular being full of undesirables! I’d forgotten the name of the joint though but I remember my mother telling not to go in there (it was 1982 and I was 4 when we moved to Sydney and started going to Westfield’s). It seemed like a dangerous place to me as a small kid. I do remember the McDonald’s opposite as well when it had the seating area. They were still selling burgers in Styrofoam packaging in those days and they had to travel down these big slide things to the front counter area.
Thanks for letting me reminisce the old stores….I would have loved to see a store directory from around 88 and I hope you include one from post extension times, 1990 onwards….I would love to see some photos of these shop fronts mentioned in the directories..
So would I, Petta!
The store directory is killer. The most surprising bit to me is that Orange Julius used to have an Australian presence?!
Yep, and now we can file it away with Hartee’s, Taco Bell, Boston Market…
And the ill-fated Arby’s which was also at Hurstfield!
What was Arby’s as I was too young to remember? I was also surprised to see as at 1983, many well established shops that popped up later on had not yet set up shop, in Westfield eg Events, Jacqui E (Jacqueline Eve), American Shoe Store, Ted Sissian (though I suspect this was Soul Pattison or chemart prior), WitchCraft, Noni B…
Also Wendy’s hamburgers – there were several in Melbourne in the mid-80s.
Arbys USP was sliced roast on a roll and curly fries. Arbys chose Hurstville as a test location to see how Australians would accept their food. Perhaps Hurstville was not the best place to test the market.
I remembered September being called September Girl and from memory I thought it was next door to Sportique. Around the spot Events is now. I have been told September or September girl was the old name for Events. The store numbers on the map though suggest these two shops were very far apart at different ends….can someone shed some light on this so I can sleep at night.
Arby’s is a fast-food restaurant in the USA. Their speciality is roast beef sandwiches and they’re well known for being really awful (at least that’s how the gag goes)
There was one in Hurstville Westfield where McDonalds was before it moved up into the new building beside KMart in the early ’90s. I could be wrong, but I think it was the only one in Australia (or at least Sydney) before it shut down in less than a year. I loved it because they had chocolate brownies (which you couldn’t buy in Australia at the time) and a Laser Juke.
Whenever I look at old advertisements it always amazes me just how expensive white goods, electrical goods, watches, cameras and a plethora of other items were. It explains your comment concerning Westfield being much smaller because we all bought much less stuff then. Is it any wonder that it took 3 or 4 years for my family to get a colour TV when you were paying $500.00 for a 19″ set (with free mobile stand). Consumerism really has gone mad and has been greatly facilitated by cheap and disposable products. It sometimes makes me pine for a time when everything was so much simpler and the peer pressure to consume was not so great!
I totally agree. My mum owns that larger sized Ezky pictured. While she won it in a raffle, $35 was a lot to pay back then for that. She still has it though, despite the bumps and scrapes.
LOL, what memories. I went to school in Hurstville and in year 10 worked in Countdown, the discount variety shop in the Supa Centre. Think I was getting $4 an hour!
Another interesting little fact that I have just come to realise…shop 106 near Frankins (now food for less) was always a music store before it became a fresh food shop right?It was originally called Sound Advice when opened on 1978, was then Brashs as indicated on the 1983 store directory, but must have been Edels between those years. Someone enlighten me if they remember better, but I vividly remember it was called Edels and the australian crawl album “sons of Beaches” released in 1982 being displayed as a new release out the front of the store, this it must have been in 1982.
your research is fantastic..wow wow wow….love it..
Not really research…..just childhood memories vividly engraved in my head. And obviously a keen longing to revisit the past.
Petta, I wish I could revisit Hurstville circa 1975 to 1983. Good times.
Spacetacular. Haven’t heard that name since I was 13. I was one of those undesirables that used to hand out up there after school.
First ten years of my life was in Hurstville, leaving in 1967. Interesting article. No mention however, of how the expansion of Westfield almost brought the Forest road shops to their knees and Hurstville Council decided to allow the Chinese in to run the shops with cheap rent to save the strip. It worked a treat for a number of years….