The Melton Hotel – Auburn, NSW
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:
Further encroachment into the lot reveals a flimsily constructed wall on the Melton Street side. Hmm…
And a gap in the northern end of that wall. HMM…
The gap leads out to Melton Street, whereupon you’re immediately facing a school. This sign:
…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.
Even stranger is the choice to keep these former barriers, and simply cut them where the new fence intersects.
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:
Remarkably well-preserved, the sign advertises Tooheys 2.2, which was an attempt by Tooheys to introduce a light beer to their otherwise heavy range in the late 1980s.
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.
Joyce Mayne Shopping Complex/Domayne – Auburn, NSW
If you grew up glued to the TV as some of us were, you may remember this funny old lady. You might have smiled as she used her elderly belligerence to implore you to buy a washing machine, but then threw in an interest free period as if to remind you that the kindly granny look wasn’t entirely an act. You might have cringed as she attempted to entice you into her complex from a bubble bath. You might also have wondered whatever happened to Joyce Mayne, the doyenne of discount whitegoods in the dying decades of the 20th century.
Born in London, Mayne started out as an actress (and who’s surprised, given those ads) and a tap dancer. She arrived in Sydney in 1956, and the very next day got a job selling TVs at a shop in Penrith. A background in demoing gas and electrical appliances back in England, not to mention being the first woman to pass her all-male management course, didn’t hurt. When the shop owner’s wife learned that *gasp* a woman was selling TVs, she demanded Joyce be fired and replaced by a respectable gentleman. Unperturbed, Mayne went on to a job managing an electrical goods store in the same area, and in 1973 opened three of her own outlets. So great was her devotion to astrology that staff were recruited according to their star signs. “We prefer to employ Sagittarians, Scorpios, Capricornians and Aquarians – they’re the birth signs that produce the best sales people,” Joyce told the Sydney Morning Herald in January, 1979 – the eve of her greatest triumph as a retailer.
The ‘Joyce Mayne Shopping Complex’ on Parramatta Road, Auburn opened amid controversial circumstances in early 1980; filling the void left in the electrical retail scene by the 1978 death of Keith Lord, Joyce had the balls to hold the grand opening on a Sunday despite Sunday trading being completely illegal for a company of her size at the time. Damn. By exploiting a loophole in the law – subletting the 25 shops that made up her complex, thereby establishing herself and her tenants as equals – she was able to cash in on the more than 7,000 shoppers the centre would receive each Sunday. The downside? As a tenant, you had to endure the indignity of managing a store with a name like ‘Joycie’s Jean Barn’ (an actual 1982 store name), but for Joyce herself, business was booming. Aside from an abortive flirtation with car sales in 1982, Joyce stuck largely to whitegoods and furniture, with locations soon sprouting at Taren Point, Camperdown, Alexandria and Newcastle. So involved was Joyce with the business that you’d often find her manning the registers during busy weekends. I bet you didn’t see Jean Lord doing that.
Once she’d created the Joyce Mayne chain, she quickly became a star of Sydney television in a long-running series of commercials. Anyone who watched late night commercial TV between 1978 and 1996 would at some point have caught a glimpse of Mayne’s ads, which showcased a shameless, unique kitsch and a garish sense of glamour, even for that era. This was in an age where furniture and whitegood chain owners all had a crack at fronting their own commercials, thus forcing an unsuspecting public to invite the vacant John Coote or the reptilian Gerry Harvey into their living rooms on an uncomfortably regular basis.
Joyce’s borderline offensive commercials, including one involving Mayne enjoying a bubble bath with Mafia types and making them offers they couldn’t refuse, didn’t immediately endear her to the public (something the low, low prices and interest free periods must have done instead). A subscriber to the ‘any publicity is good publicity’ tenet, the ads kept coming despite the public’s distaste. So too the profits – by 1990 Mayne, Harvey and Bing Lee had risen to the top of the industry. The woman herself attributes her winning ways to astrology (and a lifelong love of gambling, particularly on the horses). She took the riskiest punt of all in 1985 when she published Joyce’s Winning Ways, a bizarre part-memoir in which she claimed the stars picked winners. Unfortunately for Joyce, the stars never divined any victory for her own horse, Defilace.
In 1986, Joyce began winding down her involvement in the brand she’d fronted for so long, with hopes of retiring to Queensland. She’d spent the year writing a never-released followup to Joyce’s Winning Ways (perhaps she’d discovered a few more) and had fallen in love with the Sunshine State, retiring to Townsville in the late 80s but sporadically appearing in further, increasingly cantankerous TV ads in Sydney. In just a few short years she was calling herself Queensland’s Leading Progressive Astrologer, and claimed she could forecast up to ten years into the future. Given that the ads seemed to stop in about 1996, it makes you wonder…did you see this coming, Joyce?
Information on the end of Mayne’s life is scarce; she appears to have died in Townsville sometime prior to 2006, in relative obscurity. This obituary of Bing Lee’s son and Mayne contemporary Ken Lee (d. 2007) mentions that ‘the reclusive multimillionaire was last seen at the funeral of Joyce Mayne‘. Just to make sure she was dead, right Ken? The electrical retail industry is cutthroat, as evidenced by the way Mayne’s turf was carved up after her death. 1998 saw ubiquitous retail overlord Gerry Harvey step in to purchase the Mayne stores for his wife to run. Something feels very…misogynistic about that. The Joyce Mayne brand name has since been banished from Sydney, with only a handful of outlets remaining in regional NSW and Queensland. Six of Mayne’s seven ageing stores inherited by Harvey Norman were rebranded Domayne in 1999 and given a more upmarket makeover; gone were the lurid pinks and greens and all the associated tacky charm, replaced with a sleek modern finish and a very cold, corporate feel.
And so it is at Auburn, formerly the site of the aforementioned Joyce Mayne Shopping Complex. The complex has been largely replaced by a Harvey Norman outlet and the Domayne centre itself…it’s a far cry from the pink and brown monument splashed all over town in Mayne’s commercials throughout the 1980s.
But Joyce’s spirit lives on in this, the only feature in the entire complex that still bears her name. Yes, every time an item is taken away from the premises without a receipt, a part or fitting is pinched from a unit, a graffiti artist damages the property or the 99.99% of sensible, honest people feel the need for an apology, Joyce and her legion of invisible security cameras are there. The brutal juxtaposition of strongly worded threats in a bold, dangerous font signed by Mayne’s dainty typeface is classic Joyce, and wouldn’t seem out of place in one of her ads.
It’s sad that a pioneer like Mayne has been so thoroughly relegated to the annals of history, but by making herself the brand, Joyce may have inadvertently brought it on herself. Who was the real Joyce Mayne? An amusing excerpt from the SMH interview, January 1979 provides little illumination:
‘”And in another life I’d like to be a criminal law barrister,” she added mysteriously, without further explanation.’
Perhaps that life is being lived now, and maybe someday the full story will be told. For the time being, as always, if you know more, let Past/Lives know. Vaya con dios, Joycie.