I began to lose control…
By 1988, the decade-old Westfield Shoppingtown at Hurstville was outgrowing its baby clothes. The centre had been crafted as the perfect milkshake to bring the boys to Hurstville’s yard, but it had worked too well. The public’s insatiable hunger for more shops, more variety, more ways to waste their money had grown, while the centre itself had remained essentially the same.
What had met the “international standard” just ten years earlier no longer cut the mustard in the decade of decadence. Of course, this standard was set by Westfield itself, which had opened six centres in the USA since 1980 in its quest to become an international presence. Oh but don’t worry all you xenophobes, they’re still as dinky-di true-blue fair-dinkum mate as a dead dingo’s donger:
Despite suffering heavy losses in the 1987 stock market crash – bad enough to force the sale of star asset Network Ten (!) in 1989 – the Westfield Group was keen to apply what it had learned in the international market to its legacy outlets.
And let’s face facts: they don’t get much more legacy than Hurstville.
Dated 1987, Westfield’s plan for aggressive expansion looks very bold on paper. The centre’s extension was to take up an entire block neighbouring the existing site, a proposal that no doubt delighted Hurstville Council. I know what you’re saying, “It’s lucky they had a spare block of land bereft of residents on hand in order to allow Westfield to expand!”
Well, about that…
Just left of the complex in that picture are houses, trees, all that good stuff. But as the caption says, FULL STEAM AHEAD.
Back in their original 1975 proposal, Westfield had been very careful to minimise the impact the centre would have on the community, all in the service of buttering up the Hurstville Council. The pinnacle of this effort was the Snowy Hill Park atop the centre, a nature reserve where people could come and relax away from the hustle and bustle of the retail juggernaut below. In 1988, it was the first to go, razed to make way for a carpark. It says a lot about how the balance of power in the suburb had changed in ten years that this was able to happen. As it stands, this blog entry is now the most public memorial to Snowy. Ouch.
All this talk of growth was all well and good, but what exactly was growing? Sure, Westfield’s profits were hulking out, and Hurstville Council’s take-home wouldn’t have been anything to sneeze at, but was Hurstville itself doing much growing? Let’s see…
1990. It was time. The grand opening everyone had been foaming at the mouth for, that people had sacrificed their homes for – that Snowy Hill had been swept under the rug for – was at hand. Did Westfield spare any expense bringing out the big guns for such an occasion?
Well, okay. Uh…
Hm. So, no.
The biggest jewel in Westfield’s new crown was the addition of Sydney department store mainstay Grace Bros. With Waltons, Westfield had backed the wrong horse, and were determined to make sure that didn’t happen again. The new Grace Bros. also served to steal even more of the floundering Roselands’ thunder, as GB had been that centre’s pride and joy for years at this point. Also new to Hurstville were K-Mart, 125 new specialty shops, as well as some of the biggest and most resilient names in retail:
Take a moment to catch your breath and let’s take a look at the whole lineup:
My award for the best business name ever goes to the hairdresser known as BOSS HAIR TEAM. Untouchable.
Armed with all these new shops and bearing the International Standard ™, Westfield was primed to take the new decade by storm, and for a time it worked. High profile acquisitions and additions peppered the 1990s, but none as exciting as when dying god Venture made way for American toy giant Toys R Us in 1993.
As my contemporaries would concur, the concept of a two storey toy shop was mind-blowing at the time. Compare this to the mere one storey of Bankstown’s World 4 Kids (itself a countermeasure against Toys R Us) and there’s just no competition. Never mind that the bottom level was mainly baby stuff and outdoor junk, that’s not the point. TWO STOREYS.
On the entertainment front, Westfield had topped off its retail sundae with the cherry that was Greater Union. An eight-screen cinema (considered huge at the time, believe me), GU blew away local competition like the Hurstville Savoy, the Kogarah Mecca and the Beverly Hills Cinema. How could those small fry hope to compete with eight screens?
For me though, the high point of Westfield’s desire to innovate during the 1990s was Intencity. Pre-empted by a cool, mysterious ad campaign (below), it seemed as if Intencity was the natural evolution of video game arcades of the past such as Spacetacular and Fun & Games….but that’s another story.
By 1995, the future looked very bright indeed:
But all the glitz and dazzle was blinding Hurstvillians from what was really going on in the area. For every Toys R Us, there was a story like this. For every K-Mart, there was one of these. And for every Grace Bros., there was a Barter’s.
Remember Barter’s (see part one if you don’t)? Living proof that bigger isn’t always better, the three-storey Barter’s had begun its slow decline with the advent of the Westfield itself back in the late ’70s. In January 1985, Barter’s held its last ever sale, and everything had to go:
Scabs from all over Hurstville picked the place clean. What had once been the example of retail elegance in Hurstville was now…well:
The oft-ignored side effect of the Westfield was the damage it caused to the Forest Road shopping strip. Although it had originally been intended to complement those shops, Westfield had done everything so much bigger and better that the little guys outside didn’t stand a chance. Throughout the ’90s and ’00s, stories like this were common:
Not helping matters for local retailers was the debacle that was Forest Road Mall. Proposed in 1988 by council and intended to celebrate Hurstville becoming a city that year, the plan would have seen the two-way Forest Road closed off to private traffic and transformed into a pedestrian mall, ‘Hurstville Boulevard’. It was believed that this mall would combat Westfield’s dominance of the area, although how council thought they could do this and not appear two-faced is beyond me. Needless to say, it wasn’t very popular with retailers:
It may shock you to learn that Hurstville Council went ahead with this plan in 1991, going so far as to hold an opening celebration…
…that featured perhaps one of the least appropriate double-billings in entertainment history:
The madness ended in late 1991, as the recession, coupled with increasingly fierce opposition, caused council to rethink their plans. As so much of the construction work to turn Forest Road into the car-free Hurstville Boulevard had been completed, a compromise was met: Forest Road became a one-way street.
You can imagine the big cheeses at Westfield sitting around laughing at this mayhem, which only served to strengthen their position in Hurstville.
But by 1998, Westfield’s gloss was starting to wear off. Another ten years had passed, and in that time international standards had increased again, Westfield Miranda had expanded to become even bigger again, Westfield Burwood was slated for demolition to be replaced by a more modern centre, and many of the heavy hitters of the mid ’90s were winding down. The ever-shifting plates of retail had unsettled giants like Brashs, Toys R Us and *sniff* Intencity, which was replaced by Target in 1997.
Even the cinema was starting to lose its sheen, seen by locals as a hangout for thugs and hoodlums, as was the neighbouring food court. Suddenly, it didn’t feel so good to shop at Hurstville.
The social climate of Hurstville was something that neither council nor Westfield stopped to consider at any time, especially when they were bulldozing houses to expand the shopping centre. That Hurstville was becoming increasingly multicultural didn’t seem to occur to either entity also, only becoming apparent when it was too late to repackage and restructure the complex to suit the suburb’s new needs. I wonder if Westfield ever stopped to wonder why it was suddenly filled with cheap $2 junk shops and mobile phone accessory outlets?
Today, it’s a far cry from the glory days. This year marks Westfield Hurstville’s 35th anniversary, and you can’t half tell. Let’s take a quick tour.
‘Shoppingtown’ no more. Yeah, that was the most dated part of the whole thing, Westfield.
Here are the steps that once took those of us craving fresh air and nature up to Snowy Hill Park. Now it’s a place to smoke while you’re waiting for your kid to emerge from the daycare centre. See those bushes to the left? That’s all you’re getting.
I don’t understand how only some of the floor tiles are stained. How does that happen?
Jolley’s Arcade lives on today with this dated entrance to a dungeon filled with a pretty dire selection of shops, with the fashionably incongruous Fevercast a notable exception. I wonder if they still pay less rent?
When even Westfield became too depressing, the threatening youth moved outside to hang around. Not quite the pedestrian mall council envisioned, I’m guessing.
What was once a dedicated McDonalds restaurant was cut in half with the 1990 extension, and today it’s Sul Ponte cafe. McDonalds’ original seating arrangements remain inside, but the burgers themselves have moved up to the food court outside K-Mart.
Park Road was built over in 1990 to create this shopping overpass. On the left is the original Westfield, although the carpark on top was added in 1990.
This is all that remains of Rose Street today. That music lessons shop looks ancient enough to remember when it was a full street.
In the scheme of things, Westfield seems to have moved on and forgotten about Hurstville. They don’t even bother to charge for parking. The corporation has realised that the true profits are to be had in places like Bondi Junction and Pitt Street Mall, and it’s safe to say that ‘Hurstfield’ will not be receiving further extensions.
What was once hailed as Hurstville’s saviour undoubtedly proved its greatest nemesis and ultimately, its assassin. The damage is done, the parasite has sucked the city dry, and the glory days are long behind it. Visiting today is a depressing, colourless experience heightened by the assorted mental patients who frequent the centre. It hasn’t just become a part of the Hurstville experience, it has become Hurstville. Without the centre, the suburb would become nothing.
And given the state of the centre, I’m not so sure that hasn’t already come to pass.
I’d like to wrap this saga up by sharing a letter that I feel is wonderfully succinct, poignant and devastating all at once. This was published in the Leader, November 1 1990, and shows astounding foresight/cynicism. The writer must be dead by now, so RIP Frank, and RIP Hurstville.
…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?
Yes, we’ve been on a bit of a Hurstville bender recently, but it’s all been leading up to this. This is arguably the defining story of a suburb intrinsically linked to its biggest resident. The story of Hurstville cannot be told without Westfield, and vice versa. It’s a long story spanning 150 years and a lot of parking spaces. Get comfy – it’s one of those ones. And away we go…
I was dreaming of the past…
Our story begins in the 1870s, at which time the St George area was home to a grand total of 2038 happy people. Suburbs such as Lugarno, Oatley, Bexley and Kingsgrove had been growing steadily for a few decades. In the midst of all this action was a large, heavily timbered area scandalously known as Lord’s Bush (after its longtime owner, Simeon Lord).
Purchased by a Michael Gannon in 1850, the area was renamed Gannon’s Forest, and the road running through the forest from Lugarno to Tempe was renamed Gannon’s Forest Road. See where this is going? The area got its first frothy taste of the commercial life in the early 1850s when – wait for this – a PUB was built. Turns out pubs and the seedy goings-on within attract people, and soon the people came. By 1864 a post office had arisen beside the Blue Post Inn, and was later joined by another pub (the Currency Lass, later the Free and Easy), a bakery (but not that bakery), and some other exciting retail outlets. A growing population means breeding, and that means kids, and kids means education (most of the time), so in 1876 a decision was made to erect a school for dem kidz wat cudnt spel ore reed no gud. A forward thinking inspector suggested the school be named Hurstville, and because it’s undeniably catchy, it stuck. Soon the post office was renamed thusly, and the population continued to grow.
Until the mid-1880s, the development of the town had centred around that original pub, the Blue Post Inn, which had become an unofficial meeting place for town development discussions and the like. It was during one of those meetings that a railway station was proposed, and if those walls could talk, I feel certain they would have uttered “Well, shit.”
Hurstville Station was built in 1884, one kilometre away from the pub. Businesses changed tack accordingly, and suddenly no one cared about the Blue Post. Perhaps it would have preferred being instantly euthanised like the Free and Easy, which was resumed to make way for the train station. Instead, the Blue Post had its licence transferred to the nearby White Horse Hotel – the greatest dishonour a pub can experience. More like the White Flag Inn, right?
The advent of the public transport hub was like the shot from a starting gun. Hurstville just couldn’t, wouldn’t, be stopped. It became a municipality in 1887, a local newspaper started up (the St George Observer, NOT The Leader, although you could be forgiven for thinking it had been around that long), those big expensive looking mansions were being built all over the place. Even a bank crash/mini depression in 1893 was made less severe by the commercial area that had prospered in the area surrounding the train station.
The land opposite Hurstville Station was swampy marsh named ‘Frog Hollow’. Originally one of the sources of Bardwell Creek, it had been further softened by runoff from both the station and the increasingly busy Forest Road. But Hurstville’s insatiable need for retail saw the swamps drained in 1907 to make suitable foundations for an all new concept in shopping – Croft’s, a two-storey building with four shops within. Why…that means I could get FOUR times the shopping done AT ONCE!
One of these shops was occupied by a mercer named Bert Jolley, who would later describe himself as “a young man with more confidence than money”. Success wasn’t instant; three months after opening, Jolley’s ledger recorded this lacklustre return: ‘Total Customers, 1; Total Sales, 1’, despite being open from 7am to 8pm.
The story goes that Jolley, despondent and faced with bankruptcy, found himself moping around the city looking for a cup of coffee. He ended up at the Black Cat Cafe beneath Her Majesty’s Theatre, and as he drank his black coffee he was transfixed by the walls of the cafe, which were plastered in pictures of black cats. In his crazed desperation, Jolley became convinced the black cat was his spirit animal and good luck charm, and immediately devised a ‘Lucky Black Cat Sale’ for his store. Amazingly, the gamble paid off: by 1910 he’d bought the whole building, leaving both he and his variety-starved customers very jolly indeed.
Jolley’s success as a suburban department store inspired plenty of copycats (heh); in 1917 local trader Diments, a hardware and produce store, expanded in size to rival Jolley, while 1921 saw the advent of Barter’s, a rival department store.
In a tale so similar to Jolley’s that these days copyright lawyers would be involved, Charles Barter bought a single-storey shop at the approximate location of the former ANZ Bank on Forest Road. Before long it wasn’t enough, so Barter very shrewdly bought a piece of land beside the entrance to the railway station with the intention of building the greatest department store the suburbs had ever known.
Can I just interrupt the narrative for a moment to ask where Hurstvillians were getting all this money to spend with these guys? Like maybe you wouldn’t have had to live on a swamp filled with frogs if you’d invested in making your town nice instead of buying hats and black armbands or whatever it was they bought back in those days.
Anyway, during excavation for his wonderful new three-storey building, Barter unearthed an old horseshoe, which he hung in his office for luck. Yes, Barter was such a plagiarist he even swiped Jolley’s good luck charm concept. But Barter would get a taste of his own medicine in 1922 when the Allen brothers opened their own department store (with an emphasis on menswear) further up Forest Road.
Now, do you think that’s enough department stores? Let’s review – at this point, there’s Barter’s, Diments, Jolley’s and Allen Bros., all on Forest Road, all creepily surrounding the station like vultures. Spoiled for choice much, Hurstville? Wouldn’t it be more convenient if, oh, I dunno, they were able to combine many stores and even department stores into one giant superstore?
Jolley was somehow able to stave off these attacks, maintaining a healthy profit throughout. Healthy enough to – you guessed it – expand yet again in 1933. Jolley had grown tired of paying council rates for his ever-expanding shop frontage on Forest Road, so in an ingenious move, he dug out an arcade of shops beneath his existing building, allowing for several new businesses without having to pay any excess rates. The move opened Hurstville’s eyes to the idea of an even greater shopping experience at the expense of cutting into the heart of Hurstville itself. But you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs, right?
Jolley’s clever tactic paid off so well that he was able to retire in 1937, selling his 24-shop building and arcade to Woolworths. While at the time it was seen as a ‘local boy done good’ success story, today it’s easier to see the development as the beginning of a pattern; local businesses nurtured by the community being taken over by the big boys and allowed to rot. And oh, how the big boys were beginning to sit up and take notice of Hurstville successes.
Ashleys, a big city clothing store, swallowed its pride and expanded to the sticks of Hurstville in 1940 (the 1926 electrification of the Hurstville train line meant it was easier than ever to get to the retail paradise from the city should Mark Foy not satisfy your desires). When eponymous owner Ashley Buckingham died in 1962, Woolworths were there to buy up his stores. Uh-oh.
Diments had done its dash by 1961, and the 40-year-old business was liquidated that year. The empty store, on the corner of Forest Road and what is now Diments Way, was bought by Coles. Double uh-oh.
Perhaps the biggest boy to observe what was happening in Hurstville was Grace Bros., which was arguably the biggest department store chain in Sydney at that time. In a show of true spite, and indicative of just how worried they were by this commercial boom they weren’t getting a piece of, Grace Bros. schemed to sap Hurstville’s custom by buying up a disused golf course in a nearby suburb. It was far enough away to appear innocuous, but the intent was clear.
When Roselands Shopping Centre opened on the site in October 1965, it was only the biggest shopping centre in the southern hemisphere. To top things off, the beating heart of this beast was – yep – a giant Grace Bros. department store. You hear that, Hurstville? Oh, does Barter’s have a rain-themed water feature? Does Jolley’s Arcade have a cinema? I didn’t think so. Roselands has parking space for 3500 cars, what have you got?
Ooh, I’m shaking!
Hurstville’s commercial sector was starting to feel the heat. No, Roselands didn’t have a train station nearby, but who cared when it had that much parking space? Could Barter’s three storeys really compare to the 30 acres occupied by Roselands’ 80 stores? No. No, they couldn’t. With Miranda Fair having opened the year before, Hurstville found itself besieged on two fronts, and immediately began taking stock of its assets and liabilities. Coles Variety and Woolworths just weren’t cutting the mustard. The train station was no longer pulling its weight…weight…wait a minute…
In 1956, a cake shop owner at Wynyard Station lodged an unusual application with Hurstville Council. Inspired by the way shops sat above Wynyard’s train line, he proposed an five-storey development above Hurstville Station. Flush with cash from years of financial prosperity, council approved the plan. The Railways Department approved the plan. Kogarah Council, which had jurisdiction over the Ormonde Parade side of the train station, approved the plan. With all this approval, what could go wrong?
Construction of the Bowes Supercentre began in 1957 by Bowes Corporation, but was pipped at the post by that year’s opening of the Top Ryde Shopping Centre, the first American-style retail hub to open in Sydney. Plans for the Super Centre, already changed from five storeys to eight storeys during development, were altered again, with final plans blowing up to ten storeys. And parking? You’d better believe it:
But Bowes was more adept at making increasingly outlandish promises (‘LUXURY HOTEL TO STRADDLE RAIL LINES’ read one headline) than he was at construction, which ground to a halt in 1959, the same year two former delicatessen owners opened a small shopping centre, ‘Westfield Place’, at Blacktown.
In 1961, the project, now known as the Hurstville Super Centre, was taken over by W H Duffy, who projected a completion date of late 1962. The Supercentre became the object of special interest of both Hurstville Mayor G W “Snowy” Hill and the Federal Transport Minister John McMahon, even as setback after setback stalled construction.
By the time of the Hurstville Super Centre’s grand opening in September 1965, only the first stage had been completed and Roselands was only a month from opening. Even worse, attendees who could get a park then had to endure an appearance by Premier Robert “Don’t call me Robin” Askin among others:
In the same year, Transport Minister McMahon lost his position following election defeat, and was criticised by the Opposition for a “lack of vision in providing transport infrastructure”. Even Snowy Hill was no longer mayor by the time it opened. Am I calling the Super Centre a total failure that stained the character and reputation of all involved? Yes.
Throughout the late 60s and early 70s, empty promises were made to finish the Centre and bring it up to speed with the original vision, as if anyone was hanging out for that to happen. It was the modern age, no one relied on trains anymore. Department stores and giant shopping centres were a thing of the past in the city, and Roselands and Miranda (purchased by Westfield in 1969) were only quick drives away.
Away…from Hurstville. It seemed that despite that initial promise, no one had the vision to truly exploit Hurstville to the full extent of its commercial potential. Of the giants of the 20s, only Barter’s was still around (I guess that horseshoe worked), and even it had been overshadowed (literally) by the disastrous Super Centre. With no money coming in, council was sweating. Retailers were coasting on fumes. The swamp suddenly seemed thicker than ever.
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?
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…
No. 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?
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:
..’beding’, among other things. Great. What’s that up there?
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…
The 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.
Yeah, I’d like to think this was something really special…back in the day…
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.
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.
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?
So successful was the Webber store that a Mrs. Middleton took the fight to Merrylands. I wonder how it turned out?
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.
Just don’t expect minimum wage. Hey, what a deal there at the top: a set of teeth from one guinea. Yuck.
The Webbers, still in PR crisis mode, provide the furnishings to a local recital. We haven’t forgotten about the third world wages, Ern.
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.
Here’s Webber’s castle, paid for by the unpaid wages of his workers.
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.
And now they know: don’t throw a lit cigarette onto piles of paper.
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.
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…”
Do you think Mark Foy was this plagued by thievery?
This plagued? This seems just a little suss, don’t you think?
The plot thickens. I like the use of quotation marks around “square”, as if to square this divorce meant some drastic action.
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…
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.”
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:
“I once walked through the burial grounds on the Surry Hills, in the commencement of Spring, just as the flowers were beginning to bloom forth in all their beauty…”
Bridget Flood was in the same situation too many of us have found ourselves in all too often: stranded at Sydney’s Central train station, hopelessly late. The big difference is that she was waiting there for over 60 years.
As we’ve previously learned, 1820 was a good year to die in Sydney. Rather than ending up beneath the public piss-pot that was once the colony’s first burial ground, you could find yourself in a brand new plot freshly dug at the just-consecrated Devonshire Street Cemetery.
Chosen for its abundance of space and central (heh) location, the area bordered by Elizabeth and Devonshire streets was chosen to replace the Old Burial Ground as Sydney’s premier final resting place. Quartermaster Hugh McDonald, 40, was the first lucky stiff to be buried there following his death in 1819. Long waiting lists…so Sydney so chic.
“It was early in the morning when I commenced rambling amongst the tombs, the dew had not yet been dissipated by the genial rays of the invigorating luminary, and the cool fragrance of the atmosphere had not yet given way to the noon-day heat…”
Bridget Flood died in October 1836 at the age of 49 and, like virtually all deaths in Sydney at the time, was interred at the Devonshire Street site. Quoth her headstone:
“Pain was my potion
Physic was my food
Groans were my devotion
Drugs did me no good
Christ was my physician
Knew what way was best
To ease me of my pain
He took my soul to rest.”
They don’t write ’em like that anymore. And rest she did, as did all those buried at Devonshire Street Cemetery well past its 1867 closure.
Although steadily employed by the city’s dead between 1820 and 1866, the nail in the coffin (heh heh) for the cemetery was the latter year’s introduction of the Sydney Burial Grounds Act (NSW), which prohibited burials “within the city of Sydney from 1 January 1867, with the exception that persons with exclusive rights of burial at that date could still be buried on application to the Colonial Secretary who needed to be satisfied that ‘the exercise of such right will not be injurious to health’“. Phew. Just tie some rocks to me and throw me in the harbour!
You’d think this act would be in anticipation of some kind of grand plan for the burial ground, but no. With the exception of infrequent additions to family plots as outlined by the overly wordy act (and even these ceased in 1888), Devonshire Street was largely ignored by the growing city while new sites like Waverley Cemetery and the Rookwood Necropolis served the public’s burial needs.
By 1900, its advanced state of neglect and decay reflected its residents and disturbed the public:
…although it wasn’t all bad:
“In short, it was exactly such an hour as an imaginative or sensitive being would delight to rove about, and lose himself in the regions of fancy…”
It wasn’t long before some of the more opportunistic voices began to speak out about the the site’s real estate value:
And as early as 1888 there were rumblings about how best to use the land:
It made sense, given that Central Station’s predecessor, ‘Sydney Station’, lay opposite the cemetery along Devonshire Street.
Since 1884, Sydney’s existing rail network had been under the stress of increasing traffic and a limited reach (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). Sydney Station was constantly receiving upgrades and additional platforms, culminating in a messy setup of 13 train platforms and numerous tram sheds (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). The city’s railway commissioners initially struggled to decide upon a plan for the future which would provide Sydney with a central hub expansive enough to extend the rail network to the suburbs (sounds- never mind).
An 1897 royal commission proposed the resumption of Hyde Park for use as the central terminal and, to counter the public outrage over the loss of parkland, the Devonshire Street Cemetery would be converted into a park. For a time this plan seemed to be a go until the unexpected death of Railway Commissioner E M G Eddy (of Eddy Avenue fame) that same year. This forced a literal return to the drawing board, where it was decided that it was probably easier to resume just one giant park instead of two. Nice thinking, guys.
In January 1901, the Department of Public Works served notice that anyone with relatives buried at Devonshire Street were to front up and make known their desire to have the remains reinterred at other cemeteries by train, with the cost to be borne by the NSW Government. These days, they’d just tell you to bring a shovel.
Unfortunately, these relatives were given a strict time limit of two months to act, and by the end of that time, only 8,460 bodies had been claimed (not among these was Eddy, who had been buried at Waverley following his death). This left 30,000 remains unclaimed, most of which were transferred to other cemeteries anyway, but due to the rushed nature of construction and given they did such a bang-up job the last time, it’s safe to say there are more than a few commuters at Central waiting for a train that will never come.
With that many bodies to exhume, you can imagine just how many creepy stories must have come out of the venture. Here’s just one:
The reason for the rush was that Melbourne had started work on their Central equivalent, Flinders Street Station, that same year. Sydney was determined to get the drop on Melbourne this time, as Flinders predecessor ‘Melbourne Terminus’ had been Australia’s first city railway station back in 1854, pipping Sydney by a year. The Devonshire Cemetery site had been completely cleared by 1902, and stage one of Central’s construction, which aimed to have the station operational, was completed in 1906. On opening day, the new station featured…13 platforms. Despite being twice the size of its predecessor, this was no improvement, and did nothing to alleviate Sydney’s transport woes (but then again, what ever does?).
“I directed my footsteps to a cluster of tombs on an eminence, which was thickly covered with green and blooming geraniums…”
But the unexpected fruit of the Department of Public Works’ labour was the emergence of commercial activity in the areas surrounding the new station. Its proximity to the city made department store shopping for those out in the sticks a treat, with Grace Bros., Marcus Clark, Anthony Hordern, Bon Marche and Mark Foy all within walking distance of Central by 1908. The Tivoli and Capitol theatres became entertainment meccas for those starved of entertainment in the ‘burbs.
The station itself was hardly the thing of beauty its early designs had suggested, with the rushed development cycle omitting many intended features – least of all Central’s iconic clock tower, which wasn’t completed until 1924.
The construction wasn’t just focused on making sure the station would be operational before Flinders Street, though; there was particular care taken to ensure no trace of the Devonshire Street Cemetery remained, going so far as to completely eradicate Devonshire Street west of its intersection with Elizabeth. Other structures that once stood on the land now occupied by Central and its surrounds – the Belmore Police Barracks, the Benevolent Asylum, the womens refuge – have similarly been lost to time.
“I at first almost forgot the ravages of the grave in contemplating the enchanting appearance of the place.” – James Martin, 1838.
Today, nothing remains to remind commuters of the morbid nature of Central’s past. The cemetery itself was largely situated underneath today’s platforms:
Devonshire Street Tunnel, once Devonshire Street, runs directly underneath the path once carved between the cemetery and Sydney Station, depositing Surry Hills pedestrians into Railway Square amid el-cheapo bargain shops, youth hostels and fast food joints.
Also in Railway Square is a series of plaques designed to inform passers-by on the history of Central Station and railway in NSW. The cemetery is mentioned in passing (heh).
The uneven terrain of Belmore Park perhaps provides us with the nearest idea of what the Devonshire Street Cemetery was like in its natural state as is possible today, although even it has a sordid and ugly past as an open gutter for the refuse of the nearby Belmore Produce Markets and Paddys Markets.
Rookwood Necropolis, Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park, Woronora Cemetery and many others were the recipients of many of the (not so) permanent residents of Devonshire Street, but none feature as striking and immediate a memorial as the tiny, eerie Camperdown Memorial Rest Park. Here, amongst the sombre atmosphere of tombstones and gloomy, gnarled trees lie what were once the gate posts met by visitors to Devonshire Street. These were removed along with everything else in 1901, and mysteriously disappeared from existence until 1946, when…
It seems almost sacrilegious that thousands of commuters tread all over this once-consecrated ground every day without any kind of marker to signify what was and who mattered, even if it was nearly 200 years ago. C’mon, NSW Government! They’re even in the right electorate! Meanwhile, to the 30,000 Sydneysiders scattered to the four corners by the winds of progress, the term ‘final resting place’ has little meaning.
Finally, here’s a fascinating account of a visit to Devonshire Street Cemetery just as its demolition was beginning. It originally appeared in the Clarence and Richmond Examiner, October 1 1901.