Dick Smith Electronics/Vacant – Chullora, NSW

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It’s on a main road. Hundreds, if not thousands, of cars pass it every day. They pass it. They don’t stop. Would you?

I did, because there was something about this building…something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

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It wears its former tenants like bad tattoos all over its festering body. On the eastern side, the Japanese Car Centre dares car shoppers to compare their prices.

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A quick glance across wild grass to the neighbouring site almost has you thinking that was possible, but the cars on the lot were peppered with P plates and those flag boxing gloves, the 21st century fluffy dice. A quick inquiry in the Toyota dealership revealed that the Japanese Car Centre had been abandoned for years, and was now used as Toyota staff parking. As I left the slightly confused receptionist to her absent Facebooking, I thought about the reality of what she’d said: staff parking. Hell of a lot of staff.

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On the western side, trees had worked to cover this once-prominent advertising canvas. The lights were long dead, whatever the sign had said was lost to the ages.

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Buildings like this have a way of opening up to you after awhile. In this case, it was the abundance of electronic doodads covering its face like piercings that gave it away. From this former sign…

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…to the downlights above the doorway…

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…to the Secur-A-Posts preventing Smash-N-Grabs, gadgets had this place covered. But who had done the covering?

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The glass door didn’t reveal many secrets, except for a distinctly retail feel inside…

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…a notion backed up by their generous acceptance of TeleChecks. Now, the kiddies in the audience might be wondering what the hell a cheque is, and even if I told you you’d probably doze off halfway through. Let’s just say that this TeleCheck company – which I’d certainly never heard of – claims to have been around for 50 years. This must have been an early adopter.

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And then it struck me: the colour scheme. Look at the building for a moment. It’s canary yellow. What kind of madman would have it this way?

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Yes, the truth is revealed at last. For years, this was a Dick Smith Electronics outlet, back when Dick Smith Electronics emphasised the electronics side of the business rather than the dicksmithing. When Dick sold out to Woolworths in 1980, they (for a time) stuck with his main street store approach. This would have been one of the last, dying out sometime in the mid 1990s.

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From the look of things, a furniture factory outlet took charge of the prominent location and eye-grabbing paint job before (in a cruel parody of the corporate 80s) it was absorbed by the Japanese Car Centre. And now that’s been gone for years, so who’s here now?

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The Japanese Car Centre traded up to become Five Dock-smiths (You’re fired. -Ed) while this building has been left to rot, and that’s where the story should end. But you’re my readers, and I love you, so I want you to know I tried to go the extra mile. I know that you love photos of docking bays around the back of places like this…I know that. But when I went around to the abused little alleyway that ran behind the site, I, for the second time in Past/Lives’ history, interrupted a drug deal. So I’m very sorry, docking bay lovers – I just couldn’t get that shot.

Epilogue: Don’t cry for Dick Smith. His NSW warehouse is situated just a bit further up the Hume, where Homebush Bay Drive intersects, with a small retail outlet tacked on for good measure. He ain’t hurtin’. The Japanese Car Centre’s doing just fine too, joining a thriving indie car dealership strip on Parramatta Road, and abandoning the big boys who dominate this section of Chullora. In fact, the only loser in this story is me, because I had to spend so much time across from Fairfax’ offensive billboard of “journalist” and apparent buccaneer Peter FitzSimons while I took these photos. What’s that doo-rag all about, Peter?

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9 responses

  1. You could’ve asked *me* what it was! You’re right, it was a Dick Smith Electronics store, I used to go there with my Dad sometimes in the 80s. A recognisable building along the Hume at Chullora due to its odd shape (and of course the colour). And yes, those were the days where you went to a Dick Smith store to get a part for an electronics project you were working on. And while I’m here, another odd-shaped building very close by was the Suttons Holden car showroom, which sadly has been demolished and rebuilt.

  2. I once bought a Commodore 64 computer (with external cassette player) from this Dick Smith store in 1982. Getting to the rear parking area from Hume Hwy involved turning left onto Tennyson Rd, left again into Cahill Lane and left again into the tiny rear carpark. This Dick Smiths may have been replaced by one opening at nearby Bankstown Square, which is still going. The big Dick Smiths at Dunlops Corner at Padstow has closed, with a Nick Scali furniture store there now. Jaycar has filled the electronic component market once held by Dick Smith. Yes Sharon, that Suttons showroom, with glass walls that leaned outwards, was something of a landmark. It was where you turned right onto Roberts Rd to go to Chullora drive-in!

  3. In between this Dick Smiths and the Suttons showroom was once the Chullora RTA Motor Registry, where I passed my driving test in the early 1980s. It was a very large registry, two storey if I remember righly, with a large concrete parking/test area. It was demolished and the Formul 1 /Sleep Express motel and Caltex station built there. The Toyota dealer was originally Ken Sams, who had a radio jingle with the line ‘Ken Sams puts the value back into buying a car.’ Their first lot was a couple of blocks further up, on the corner of Tennyson St, but they outgrew that and moved down to their current site. Not sure when it became Noble Toyota.

  4. I like the part about the former tenants wearing like bad tattoos! I see that a lot too

  5. I went to that Dick Smith to buy a short wave radio in the early 90s. I guess people still listen to short wave today but most of us use the Web to access odd overseas programs. Interesting that Chullora Motor registry is mentioned. I also passed my driving test there in the early eighties (my second attempt). I mentioned this to my daughter last week who just got her licence on her first go. Dick Smith was a real treasure trove in those days. Jaycar seems to be the modern version, however they are few and far between in the country. If anyone sees the old movie, “The FJ Holden” it features footage of Roberts Road, Chullora in late 1976. Great also for scenes of Bankstown.

  6. As a former employee of “the electronic dick” from late ’99 to mid ’01, I can verify that this was still occupied by them until at least some time in 2001, and I had the pleasure of setting foot in there a few times. It was known internally as “site 3” and I think was one of their earliest stores, where my old store (the old showroom on the corner of Lane Cove and Waterloo rd’s North Ryde, attached to their main warehouse) was known as “site 11”. The former North Ryde premises are now occupied by MAN. In early 2001 dickies relocated their warehouse operation to the new Chullora premises built across the road from the abandoned premises seen in these pictures, with the North Ryde showroom finally being closed in early 2002. The new warehouse in Chullora also has its own showroom (site 120 or 122 if memory serves.. it’s been a while!). We were also still using Telecheck when I left in 2001 🙂
    Thank you for the great photos. It’s a little sad to see the old place in such a sorry state 😦

    1. The Eminent Joshua E. Hrouda | Reply

      I knew it as #3, too. As the receipts of that era (90’s) showed the store number as part of the receipt number, something like #3-12345.
      I went i there once. Can’t remember what for. But what about this: I had a copy of EA magazine, or maybe ETI, from the 1970’s, ’76 maybe. It said “Dick Smith to open new store on Hume Hwy, Bankstown.” It referred to the store which later became Pizza Hut (deliverys only) and later Easy Living Systems, opposite the Hamburger House, which later became Jaycar from about 1992 to 2014 (corner of Meredith St & Hume Hwy). And now stands vacant. I used to work at that Jaycar store in 1994 & 95. I have fond memories of there, and the area. I used to live very nearby, in 2 different houses, and went to school at St Felix, and later De La Salle, Bankstown, just down the road.

  7. As many others have mentioned, that was the store to go to for all manner of electronic bits and pieces. A real hobby place to get new knobs for your hifi or transistors for a project or a needle for your record player. Early Dick Smith stores (and Tandy) were places that fed your imagination and a place of comfort because you knew they had a part you were looking for. These days, only Jaycar fills this role.

    1. The Eminent Joshua E. Hrouda | Reply

      Jaycar may partially fill this role. Even Jaycar has changed quite a bit since the 80’s. In some ways for the better, in other ways – very poorly. The staff often just don’t have a clue! 😦

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