A Tale of Two Doll Hospitals – Bexley, NSW
Suspensions of disbelief get a thorough workout these days. Whether you can’t believe there are Superman movies that don’t star Christopher Reeve, or you refuse to believe it when NRL stars run afoul of the law, you’re likely having a tough time of it in this, the dawn of the information age.
For a long time, I refused to believe that one area, nay, one stretch of road could support not one but two doll hospitals. So when the Doll Repair Centre at 444 Stoney Creek Road, Kingsgrove ceased to exist a few months ago, that suspension vanished, the disbelief came crashing down, and here you are reading my attempt to process a lifetime of astonishment and uncertainty.
In simpler times, kids played with toys. ‘member toys? Action figures, Matchbox cars, those lame wooden ones that barely moved…and dolls. Back then, dolls were seen as a “girls toy”, and the levels of attachment the little girls of the past had for their dolls was in the minds of many a by-product of “maternal instincts”.
I speak from experience when I say this: when an action figure broke, it went in the bin. Too bad, so sad. “Boys toys” were expected to take damage through rough play. A broken doll, on the other hand – be it a loose seam, a torn dress, or a missing head – was a tragedy, and required immediate repair.
And so it was in 1913, when a Mr Harold Chapman of Campsie established Sydney’s first doll hospital. The demand was there, and carried the business through to the late 1930s, when Chapman’s son Harold Jr moved the Doll Hospital to Her Majesty’s Arcade in the city. If you had a shop in the city at this point in time, you’d made it.
Her Majesty’s Arcade had a problem, however – it occupied a most plum piece of real estate on Pitt Street, and in 1968 plans arose that sent all tenants packing. The Doll Hospital ended up here, near the corner of Stoney Creek and Forest roads in Bexley.
The arcade was demolished, and by 1981 Sydney’s favourite 309m-tall resident stood in Her Majesty’s wake.
But back to the Doll Hospital, as it stands today.
Unlike most hospitals, patients line the windows, exposing their medical issues to the world.
Sorry, but dolls are creepy. Maybe that’s why this is going up on Halloween. There’s something about those glassy eyes and pre-sculpted faces that rub me the wrong way. The public’s tastes have also skewed away from traditional dolls in recent years, and toward licenced merchandise instead.
There’s no better way to brag about your mad surgeon skills than by showing off no less than three fully intact Humpty Dumptys, the most frail of all toys.
Handbags and umbrellas need love too, so they’re also welcome here. They don’t repair signs, I’m guessing?
That’s a double no, then. Honestly, I was surprised to find it’s still in operation. Imagine my shock when I saw this sign:
That’s right – if your doll’s blue in the face and unresponsive at 2pm on a Wednesday afternoon, you’re shit out of luck.
Or are you?
Carmo’s got your back after hours, but I bet it ain’t cheap. Even with this safety net, don’t let your doll go for a big night in Newtown anytime soon.
The Doll Hospital wears its heritage proudly via its suit of signage armour. It’s still in the Chapman family: Harold Jr’s son Geoff runs the joint these days, and has a full team of dolly doctors on his staff. Though not everyone is a fan. Check out this “nit-picking whinger”:
Ignore the ominous green building and check out the sign on the western side of the doll hospital. It hides the identity of the building’s previous owner, but only just. If it ever comes down for an update (perhaps at the 180 years of service mark), we might get a look at that piece of blue and yellow history. But not today.
The building is old – “olde”, in fact – and in one place seems to literally be held together by a plank of wood. The signs boast that the Doll Hospital’s provided “Over 80 Years of Service”, but the sign above the awning says it’s “Over 100 years”. Get your story straight, guys.
The sign also makes the curious, almost defensive claim of being the “original” doll hospital. Is that to suggest there was at one time a pretender? An upstart that wished to usurp the Doll Hospital’s monopoly? A firebrand so ballsy that it would take up residence in the Chapmans’ own backyard?
The incredible answer is yes. This may be the “the Olde Doll Shoppe” of Sydney, and you should go and check it out. But imagine just for a moment, there was a doll shoppe that looked even olde-er…
Yep. This is where I’m gonna go when I need something repaired.
It’s hard to read as the sign has cracked and rusted from years exposed to the elements, but once, this was the other doll hosp- uh, I mean doll repair centre.
Until recently, that is. Now it’s anyone’s, so if you want to challenge the might of the Famous Original Olde Doll Hospital, here’s your chance. You can’t do any worse than the last one…
From what I could discover, rash daredevils Peter and Mary threw caution to the wind a few decades back and tried to democratise doll rehabilitation.
“We repair, we care” says the card, bold in its implication. It’s not hard to imagine a time when raw, violent rivalry spanned the gap between the two surgeries, and I believe that may have bubbled over in 1992:
They couldn’t even bear to follow on from each other in the dot points! That the Doll Hospital placed a full three spots above the Doll Repair Centre tells you everything you need to know about the hierarchy.
Ultimately, Peter and Mary couldn’t hack the cutthroat world of doll repairing. The state of this shopfront was a sorry sight in the last few years; a battered old pram stood outside, attracting the wrong kind of attention. It was far from the lush doll dioramas of the Doll Hospital.
A look inside gives nothing away. They had a cupboard.
The signage above suggests this corner belonged to someone in a time before the divine feud. I can’t make out what it says, so if you know (or it was your corner), get in touch.
Ultimately, I was left unsatisfied by my as-exhaustive-as-I-was-bothered research, so, fascinated by the mysterious Doll Repair Centre, I went deeper. I found an old website, long since defunct. But thanks to our friends at the Wayback Machine, I was able to jump back in time. I had no idea what lay in wait.
What I found left me scandalised. Check out the layout of the Doll Repair Centre’s website.
Maybe it’ll seem familiar to you.
And maybe you’ll recall that old saying about staring into the abyss for too long.
So…any web designers in the house?
Kingsgrove Pharmacy/For Lease – Kingsgrove, NSW
I’m sick and tired of the flood of emails I get week after week from people desperate to convince me that Kingsgrove Pharmacy wasn’t always Kingsgrove Pharmacy. Today, we set the record straight.
I can’t really think of a more (over the counter) pharmaceutical suburb than Kingsgrove. You’ve got the surgery, the theatre-turned-huge Blue Cross Medical Centre, the Kingsgrove Medical Centre that relocated to Beverly Hills but didn’t change the name, the Kingsgrove Health Professional Centre…the list goes on.
What’s with that? I mean yeah, Kingsgrove makes us all sick at times, but this is ridiculous.
And on top of all that, up until recently you had Kingsgrove Pharmacy. When they left, they took their awning signage with them, giving the rest of us a glimpse into a less digital past.
Remember back when you had to get photos developed? How you couldn’t really take photos of anything risqué because your friendly local pharmacist might spot it and call the authorities? Uh, because I…er, certainly don’t.
Unless you’re a hipster, you’re not shooting on film anymore, and the pharmacies of the world that tried to branch out and give even more back to the community that took so much lost that revenue stream and were sent packing, just like Kingsgrove Pharmacy was.
Does every little bit count? Did I inadvertently and indirectly contribute to the fall of Kingsgrove Pharmacy simply by taking this article’s pictures on my phone?
Could an argument then be made that I’m running businesses out on purpose just for blog material?
I think that’s just about all we’ve got time for today, but here’s one last pill to swallow: did the Kingsgrove Pharmacist take their awning signage away to use again?
As you can see in this shot from our old buddies realestate.com.au, Kingsgrove Pharmacy let people know what it was from all conceivable angles. Rumour has it the roof’s sign can be seen from orbit.
After the last prescription had been filled, they tore it all down…except for the sign above the footpath. They didn’t even do that thing where they put it back in upside down and reversed.
I think they left it up so we’d remember them. They exposed the old sign to remind us how long we’d had them in our lives, and to appeal to that sense of retro we’re unable to shake. “Take a photo of this,” they’re saying. And we do.
We live in a world where, thanks to the ubiquity of digital photography, memories are fleeting. The way I see it, Kingsgrove Pharmacy has made a statement about that in their own subtle way.
Surgery/Residential – Kingsgrove, NSW
Beware: no in-depth, lengthy history lessons today, no no. Today, we’re talking about leftovers.
Kingsgrove: a short distance from the eternal struggle between gridlock and bustle that is Stoney Creek Road lies the Kingsway. Or is it just Kingsway?
Breathe that in and savour it for a moment. It’s the Kingsway, as if once upon a time the tiny street in the middle of suburban nowheresville was intended as a way for a king. Not too far away is the majestic King Georges Road itself, so it’s not a stretch.
Sometime prior to 1948, powers that be (though I’m assuming not a king) decided that the Kingsway was suitably epic to receive a strip of shops, with the prime side facing Stoney Creek Road. The occupants have varied over the years, but are invariably interesting: a dodgy pizza place, a spy shop, the mysterious Rassan Trading, that damn doll hospital. But around the back, along the Kingsway, the shops aren’t as commercial…although they’re just as interesting.
A place specialising in large print books. An antique glass shop. I’m gonna say that one more time: an antique glass shop. And further along, this.
When I was a kid, these surgery signs instilled a feeling of dread. Surgery happened at these places, I thought. Surgery, a word that to this five-year-old’s mind meant that seedy doctor’s surgery in Batman where Jack Nicholson asks for the mirror. In any of these otherwise nondescript buildings, bad dudes could be having bullets pulled from their faces by shady GPs.
But the reality was a lot less interesting. British English dictates that the workplace of a doctor is a surgery (or a practice, but if the streets were peppered with little red boxes bearing the word practice, society would never get anything done), and since British English also dictated what we Australians did for a long time, surgery it was.
Whoever the current tenants are, I’d like to thank you. Thank you for leaving this little sign up in what passes for your front yard, either through laziness or a twisted sense of style. As soon as you see it, you’re forced to imagine all the sick people who would have attended this place in its heyday, the relief and sorrow that came with each pronouncement from the GP. The lives that ended, and the foretelling of new life.
I personally wouldn’t want to live there (too creepy), but it’s nice to know that the experience is possible.
Beach Fashion of Australia/Mitsubishi Heavy Industries – Kingsgrove, NSW
Many summers ago, this Kingsgrove location sold beach fashion to anyone who wanted to spend their summer catching rays and swimming in the sea. You can of course tell by the moronic tags and terrible Family Guy flavoured graffiti that that’s no longer the case.
It’s very telling and very sad that modern society has chosen the insular alternative of an air conditioner over cooling off at the beach in summertime. Which would you rather do?
Kids Clothes/Ladies Clothing/The Shoe Depot – Kingsgrove, NSW
The third time’s a charm for this place. It’s more entertaining if you imagine the history like this:
EXT. KIDS CLOTHES WAREHOUSE – DAY
A bold, shiny new sign gleams from the top corner of the warehouse. The owner stands outside, waiting for the delivery of his first shipment of stock. His assistant emerges from inside.
ASSISTANT: The supplier just called to say the shipment should be here any minute!
OWNER: Great! We’re gonna make a killing!
The truck chugs up the road and pulls in. As the assistant signs for the order, the stock is unloaded. The owner notices it’s nothing but ladies clothing. He holds it up for the assistant to see.
OWNER: You idiot!
EXT. LADIES CLOTHES WAREHOUSE – DAY
A bold, shiny NEWER sign gleams above the doorway of the warehouse. The owner finishes tossing the last of the Kids Clothes sign into the skip as the truck drives up the street towards the warehouse. The assistant gingerly emerges from inside, holding an order slip.
ASSISTANT: Uh, boss…the shipment…I’m sorry…
The owner shuts his eyes and sighs.
The truck pulls up. The driver opens the back door, and hundreds of shoes pour out.
EXT. THE SHOE DEPOT WAREHOUSE – DAY
The biggest, boldest sign yet sits above the doorway. The Ladies Clothing sign has been halfheartedly spraypainted over. A sign sits in the front window – it reads ‘ASSISTANT WANTED’.