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?

14 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! 😦

  8. Well actually it was also the NSW state office. I worked there in 95.

  9. Nice to read the stories of where I grew up. Just one correction about Ken Sams Toyota. The site, on the corner of Tennyson Road and the Hume was originally a small caravan sales yard, owned by the Baker family. Then in 1965, when Toyota’s first hit Australia, it became Nicholls & Meek ( Ron Nicholls and Pat Meek )Toyota, the same year I started working there as apprentice mechanic. A couple of years later Ron Nicholls bought out Pat Meek and began trading as Nicholls Motors. By this time I was transferred to the spare parts department ( thank goodness ). Unlike today, back then in the beginning Toyota really had to prove themselves. The just twenty year old end to the second world war still cemented in many older people’s minds. The above can be treated as gospel if only because I was there during the events. However, I can just remember that Suttons Chullora opened up, or at least was being built in 1963.

  10. Yep, Dick Smith Chullora – I used to work there in the mid 90’s… There was a big warehouse out the back that was always full of ‘T2 Stock’ (stuff returned by customers or repaired, and thus sold at a discount). Nobody wanted to buy it so it just piled up at Chullora. The staircase at the side went up to a space used for the Dick Smith NSW state office. It was a good store to work in because there was no foot traffic so everyone that went there was there to quickly buy something specific, it had a business-to-business feel about it.

    I was allowed to smoke out the back, there were ashtrays in the store for the customers, and because computers used floppy disks back then I’d often stay back late drinking, eating pizza, and loading the 31-floppy-disk set of Microsoft Office onto new computers. One night some cheeky bugger broke in to the crawl space under the store, tunnelled up through the floor into a display cabinet, and made off with all the stock in the ‘expensive stuff’ cabinet without setting off the alarm!

    Being in the middle of nowhere there was nothing to eat so lunch was one of those food trucks that visit construction sites – when you heard the horn blow you had about three minutes to finish up with your customer and get outside!

    …and yep, people paid by check all the time. We’d stamp a big rubber form on the back of the check, fill it out from the customer’s ID, call Telecheck to make sure they had no history of bouncing cheques, and then process the sale. Sounds like a pain but back then we had to do the same thing for credit cards- carbon paper, ‘click-clack’ imprint, then take ID and call the credit card company.

    10, 000+ stock lines, awesome staff discount, 24hr+ stocktake marathons… aah, good times!

  11. I worked here in the late 80’s till around the mid 90’s. We put those security posts in about 1995 after someone ran a car into the doors to try and smash their way into the store. They managed to grab a few Uniden scanners (expensive) and some early Kodak
    digital cameras (also expensive) from the smashed display case that you could see from the doorway but they couldn’t get in further through the second set of shutters which we had installed in the early 90’s due to someone smashing the glass doors to break in. They were pretty close but with the alarm blaring and the back to base security system going off, someone would have been on the way as soon as the alarm tripped. So they were gone before the staff member and alarm company security guy arrived to check the store. Because I was the closest staff member living near the store I’d often get a call in the middle of the night till the early hours of the morning to be asked to go up and take a look as I lived only 150m from the store at (107 Hume hwy Chullora) never got paid for this either as Woolworths was a cheap company.

    Telecheck was a device that you would run a check through a machine which would scan the numbers on the check and tell you if they would honour it or not. Cheques took up to a week to clear back then and we’re a risk to take on really high value items because of bounced or cancelled cheques, so the way telecheck worked was they would give us the money claimed on the cheque straight away and we would receive the money up to a week later which we would get billed for and have to pay to them. I think it cost us about .80 cents per cheque. If the cheque bounced, we’d still get paid in full and the loss was on them. For cheques under $15 we would just accept them because I think the company was trying to avoid the fee when most of the cheques were good anyway. I’m pretty sure it was around pp or 01 that they stopped accepting cheques at dick smith alltogether as credit cards and cash made up the bulk of the payments by that stage and cheques were something we’d see once a week whereas before it was every day.

    This was the second dick smith store to open and the homebase where dick himself was in constant communication with his people on ham radio during his trek around Australia back in the early 80’s.

    Parts of that radio setup were still in the roof in the late 90’s like the antennas and wiring left from that era.

    The very back of the store where the author couldn’t take pictures because of a drug deal, was the site of many weird moments I’m sure.

    I can recall a moment where an older customer came running into the store looking for a staff member and seeing me started yelling that some guy was giving a sidewinder in the back car park. Like what the hell is a sidewinder?? When I ran out to see what was going on I was expecting to see a guy assaulting a woman with a knife or something similar.. and I was kind of close. But I did find out what a sidewinder was. It was just two amorous people in a car. I mean what am I going to do about that? I just tapped on the window and asked them to move on and the guy yelled he was almost finished. I just left them to it. The old gent was still pretty angry about it though.

    Also at the back was a cutout in the brick wall which was the seconds outlet where we used to sell off the broken or returned goods that had been returned because they didn’t work or people didn’t like or want them and we couldn’t return them to the manufacturer and we couldn’t resell them at full price. So between 10am and 2pm we sold them out of this window at the back of the store at a greatly reduced price (either cost or a lot less depending on the condition and the accessories with the goods) with no returns, no refunds and no warranty, So everything we sold here was untested (despite some people saying otherwise) there was just TOO much stuff with more coming in each day and the store was run by ONE person, it was impossible to test it all!!. All the stores at the time used to send their broken and returned stuff here for re-sale in the outlet but they stopped this when the goods for sale started to pile up in the store as well as filling both the back rooms as dick smith grew, so did the amount of broken and returned goods. People would buy stuff from there and then I’d see them selling some of it as new or factory reconditioned at the various markets around Sydney at the time so there were people that profited greatly from that stuff.
    I recall being at the markets in homebush and I was talking to one of the people who would buy from us at the seconds window and the vendor next to him came over and offered him money if he would share his source for this stuff and I started to say something and the guy quickly started to talk over me saying he never gives away his business dealers and the other vendor looked at me and walked back to his stall and the vendor told me he’d give me $50 if I didn’t say anything to anyone lol..I said I wouldn’t say anything and I didnt take his money but afterwards the other vendors daughter came and asked me if I’d share his supplier details because they weren’t doing well and needed help. Her dad had told her I knew something and I told her that it was obviously coming from someone at Dick Smith because of the branding on the gear he was selling. He would have also been repairing the stuff too.
    There was a lot of history in the back of this store (where customers couldn’t go) as it had been storage for all the stores in the past so there was a lot of old old dick smith stuff here.
    At the side entrance of the buildings there used to be an upstairs apartment which in the 70’s had been an apartment. It was converted into an office in the 80’s and became the head office of dick smith. All the higher management worked there (the various area managers, the state managers etc) I moved on to the first dick smith powerhouse in 96 when it opened. Dick smith worked back then because everyone that worked there had good knowledge and could help you with your electronics,tv or radio and computer issues.

    When woolies bought dick smith they began hiring whoever was cheaper to do the job and suddenly there was a new generation there without a clue how a lot of the stuff worked or what it did. A lot of the original people left around this time and some stayed on. The next big move woolies did was dump all the all electronics stuff, so it went from dick smith electronics to just dick smith. I think they had thrown a lot into selling mobile phones and phone contracts at this stage because it was a LOT more profitable.
    They lost a lot of customers after this move because a lot of the stores just turned into mini Harvey Norman stores.
    It was a good place to work but the summer heat in that store was miserable as the place had only a single aircon which was too small to cover the entire store.
    There was a few break-ins over the years but the worst one was when 5 people armed with guns came in and robbed the place. They belted the manager with the butt of a shotgun until he opened the safe and knocked the assistant manager out too. The rest of the staff were held on the floor at gunpoint.
    They never caught the guys and it had a bad psychological effect on one of the guys that was belted with he butt of a gun.. he changed a LOT after that day and woolies didn’t get him Al the help he obviously needed and he left the company pretty soon after this with major issues. That was sad. But a lot of the guys working there changed on that day. That would have been in 96 just before I left.

    The bankstown square store didn’t replace this store. We had a lot of truckers that spent up big on radio gear here because they could stop on the Hume straight out front of the store.

    You could enter from either the front of the shop or rear, you didn’t have to drive around to the rear only for parking.

    This wasn’t site 3, it was site 2 🙂

    Jaycar and Altronics are now the go to places for electronics hobbyists.

    Simon, I don’t remember you from the mid 90’s but I would have been there.
    There was rob, manager, Brett assistant, Shaun and me, but if course that rotated a lot as they used to bring new assistant managers here and then send them out from here.

    1. Yeah sorry you’re right it was site #3.. I just spoke to one of the guys I used to work there with and he confirmed it.

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