…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?
Get comfy, this’ll be a long one.
Sometimes, it’s not so much about what a place has become as it is about how it got that way. This is certainly true in the case of Auburn’s Melton Hotel. Ordinarily I, like any passer-by, would take one look at the Melton and think ‘I value my life too much to go in there,’ subsequent to the instinctual thought of ‘Just another pub.’ Situated along Parramatta Road at the corner of Station Street, there’s just nothing that sticks out about the hotel in any way; not even the jovially named ‘Hey Hey Kebab’ adjoining gives cause for anything more than a mild double-take.
So why, dear reader, am I subjecting you to this dry account of a seemingly humdrum pub? Well, what piqued my interest (as I’m sure it will yours) was the simple fact that the street running parallel to the hotel’s side of the block is called Melton Street South.
This got me thinking: why was the pub named the Melton Hotel if it wasn’t actually on Melton Street? Clearly it was time for some field detective work, because I knew if I didn’t solve the mystery it would bother me all day. I couldn’t find anything about anyone named Melton in the area’s history (it’s not even clear to historians why the area itself is named Silverwater), but I had a feeling if they were honouring some local hero, they wouldn’t just name a pub and a street after them. First port of call: the Atlas of the Suburbs of Sydney, ca 1885-1890.
This map of Auburn shows that neither Station Street nor Melton Street South existed at the time. Today, they’re located between the map’s Stubbs Street and Sutherland Street (now Silverwater Road).
Next: time to research the pub itself. Thankfully, the pub in question has an illustrious history; according to the hoteliers, its license dates back to 1811 (when it was owned by Samuel Haslem, of Haslem’s Creek fame), attached to an inn located not too far from the current site. In 1877 a former jockey, Fred Martineer, became the licensee of the Melton Hotel and held that position for over 30 years, firmly establishing the pub as a favourite of the area’s myriad meat workers.
Tragedy struck in 1914 when, after too many cases like this…
…the public was swept up by a need to reinstill a sense of public decency via a series of local option acts. The acts enforced a six o’clock closing time for pubs and resulted in 293 hoteliers losing their licenses, including Martineer. Despite the pub’s closure and with flagrant disregard to the after hours prohibition, he continued to live in what became known as the ‘old Melton Hotel’ until his death in 1918:
The Old Melton had been named sometime prior to 1895, when it appeared on that year’s list of Hotel Licensees. It’s this hotel that sat on the corner of Melton Street South (then Melton Road), so from this we can assume the street was named after the pub. But, like me, the Martineers couldn’t let it go. In 1929, the Martineers built the NEW Melton Hotel at its current location, which at the time seemed to take up the entire section of Parramatta Road between Melton Street and Station Street.
That’s all well and good, but today it’s a very different story. Nothing remains of the Old Melton, the New Melton is nowhere near the corner of Melton Street, and there’s a string of dingy shops between it and its namesake street. What happened?
Discounting the obvious greed associated with subletting the Melton Street side of the block to said dingy shops, the true answer seems to lie in the Melton Hotel’s parking lot. The hyperbolic claim of “stacks & stacks of parking” is betrayed by the truncated nature of the car park itself. Here it is, seen from Station Street:
…is all that remains of this side’s former life as an entrance/exit to the Melton’s car park, and indeed of the Melton’s connection to the street it inspired. A closer look at the other side of the fence backs this deep bit of insight up.
The kerb is clearly a lighter shade of cement, indicating the spot where the driveway used to be. The two bushes are doing a laughable job of hiding the wooden fencing that blocks off those driveways.
One of the more interesting aspects of all of this is the sign that once guided thirsty drivers into the parking lot. Hidden by overgrown branches and worn away by years of neglect, there’s no real reason for the hoteliers to have left it there – least of all what it’s advertising. After all, if it hadn’t been for the sign, I never would have stumbled upon this madness in the first place. No, for me, the real gold is the sign’s reverse side:
While it would be nice to think that this was Tooheys doing its part to avoid another 1914 Local Option fiasco, the way the ad puts a jokey spin on drunken violence and employs a disturbing tagline clearly aimed at the breathalyser crowd suggests a more cynical set of motives. For better or worse, this didn’t take, and by 1995, 40 years after the Local Option acts were repealed, 2.2 was 6.0 feet under. It’s worth pointing out that 2.2 was supplanted in 1998 by Hahn Premium Light, which is now Australia’s top selling light beer…and owned by Tooheys. A fascinating trail of the significant episodes of 2.2’s short life can be found here (WORTH READING). I think the lesson here is don’t give your beer a name that invites terrible Richie Benaud impressions.
But back to the Melton. Also of note are the apparent remains of either a garbage can or a phone box (remember those?) located between the two driveways.
Let’s stop for just a second to process this. Regardless of whether this was in fact a garbage can which spent countless nights being chundered into by melting Meltonians, or a phone booth which spent its Friday and Saturday nights listening to endless pleas by hopelessly pissed pub patrons for their wives, girlfriends, parents or less drunk mates to come and pick them up, and then being chundered into, the fact remains that it was located BETWEEN the two driveways. How is this a spot for either of those objects which both appear as bright flames to drunken moths? The line for the phone alone would have been both long and drunkenly ignorant enough to queue across the nearest driveway. You can’t tell me this didn’t cause at least one clipped wing.
Even worse is the pub’s proximity to Auburn North Public School. Anyone foolish and drunk enough to ‘breathe easy’ and attempt to drive home via the Melton Street exit (or entrance, depending on the level of drunkenness) on a weekday afternoon ran the risk of knocking over a kid on their way home. If it didn’t happen or nearly happen, I’d be surprised.
With these reasons in mind, it’s easy to imagine just how and why the Melton would have had these driveways sealed up, thereby severing its ties to its own history. It’s also easy (and funny) to imagine particularly OCD and DUI pub patrons attempting to drive out of their usual exit and smashing the fence, otherwise why the need for the bushes and the potplants? Sure, the Melton could have chosen to seal up the Station Road driveways, which face the old Joyce Mayne complex, but it turns out that a child’s life is worth more than that of a shopper looking for bargain whitegoods. Who knew?
And all because some public spirited men didn’t know their limits and couldn’t hold their beer.
Of course, I could be wrong about everything, and I might owe both the Melton and overdrinkers everywhere an apology, but have a look at this:
You may have just read all that and be wondering ‘what was the point?’ or ‘where’s the remove bookmark button?’, but more inquisitive (or less demanding) readers may be wondering ‘What was so drastic that happened to Melton Road to cause it to be split into Melton Road South and Melton Road North?’
Next time, baby.
Here’s another victim of the video shop exodus. This one didn’t even have a franchise attached while it was alive, making it even harder for it to stay afloat once the VHS ocean started to get rough. I bought an ex-rental copy of Surf Ninjas on VHS from here years ago, so I know I did my part. I can sleep at night. Can you?
It’s since been turned into a car park of all things. You couldn’t even use the building for anything else? The cafe next door is that popular that it needs the three or four extra car spaces afforded it by this tiny space? Oatley is full of wide, long, empty streets to park in, especially since Coles won’t be setting up there. Oh, wait.
Inside it looks like a supervillain meeting room, where the Oatley Star Chamber plots world domination…or at least the downfall of Coles, their mortal enemy. It’s so barebones that you can see the rollerdoor that would have been used for new shipments of pure VHS goodness back in that time.
Here’s the after hours return chute the tardy denizens of Oatley would have used to return videos after the shop had closed for the day. Or, in some cases, never used at all:
That was three years ago. If you do that for long enough, of course you’re going to go out of business. This must have occurred to the kindly owner at some point, because a year before closing down he changed his tactics:
Take note, Darrell Lea.