Remember when Michael Jordan went from dominating basketball to embarrassing baseball? Today’s subject is a little bit like that, only without the Bugs Bunny team-up to make it palatable (I asked, he’s a busy rabbit). Still sports-related, mind you.
WHOA! Are you into top gear yet? Back in 1994, the clamorous Tony D’Allura was the managing director of Fleets, a sports gear warehouse. At 154 Parramatta Road, Ashfield, D’Allura broadcast this entreaty to those in the market for day-glo boogie boards and flippers…and woe to any piece of cardboard with a dollar value written on it that got in his way.
It was this arresting commercial that gave me pause, first to check my hearing, and second to find out what had happened to that location. I didn’t have high hopes – after all, how long can you last when you’re selling flippers at “unbelievable” prices?
But before we get to the ultimate fate of Fleets, let’s go back a bit further. Even back in its residential days, someone was trying to flog stuff at crazy prices:
Glorious tone and volume, eh? Now, who does that remind you of…
The site’s sportswear days date back to at least 1976, when it was home to Ski-Ace Pty Ltd, owners of the BLACK MAX trademark. I don’t know about you, but the idea of Tony D’Allura screaming about bargain marital aids during The Simpsons back in 1996 appeals, it really does.
In 1978, Ski-Ace became Fleets Sports World, specialising in winter gear, and by 1990, they were a known brand with ONE LOCATION ONLY. As we already know, by 1994 they’d expanded into surfing gear and general sports equipment, and two years later they expanded into Brookvale. As with our old mate Toyworld, country towns followed.
Here’s where things become preposterous…
Fleet Flyers was a small courier company founded in Sydney in 1921. 40 years later, it was bought out by Australian National Couriers, which is still active today.
In 2000, Fleets Sports World vacated the Ashfield location, and was replaced by Canova Interiors. Ok, I hear you say, who cares?
Well, Fleets Flyers began to use that same address, and apparently adopted the extra ‘s’ along the way. Neither the mostly defunct Fleets website or the still-active ANC site (which the Fleets site redirects to) mention Fleets Sports World in their history or about pages, nor do they mention any sporting history whatsoever.
So what happened? Did they move in simply because the name was already on the sign? Unless Tony D’Allura resurfaces to tell us the story via podcasts Cheez TV-style, we may never know.
What we do know is that neither Fleet, Fleets, ANC, or even Canova Interiors operate outta Ashfield anymore:
The old Fleets, along with Brescia Furniture and some other relics have been razed to make way for WestConnex. The sun has set on Parramatta Road’s commercial viability. No longer can you plan a day of shopping for soccer balls, leather lounges or ribs along this soon-to-be-habitrail, and frankly it boggles the mind that it was ever possible.
But should an ANC driver ever feel a chill as they pass this stretch of the motorway in years to come, well, now we’ll know why.
And don’t mourn for Fleets – against all odds they’re kicking on in regional NSW, where it’s appropriate to appear in your own ads. Have a look if you don’t believe me:
Dry your eyes.
Special shoutout to my homie Flemishdog for uploading these and many other old ads. Love your work, Mr Marshall.
Further to the recent F4 update (to the article, not to the actual road, what were you thinking? that’s just laughable), here’s another snippet from the same pamphlet giving us a rundown of the history of “the oldest road in Australia”, Parramatta Road, as seen from the vantage point of 1982.
For me, the highlights (emphasis mine) include:
“By 1806 the road was in such poor condition it was declared to be a danger to horses.”
Right, and by 2015, those horses still aren’t getting anywhere near it.
“For those evading the tolls penalties were severe, up to 3 years hard labour and public whipping!”
Any chance we could bring that back?
“The first Judge of the Supreme Court, Jeffrey Bent, was fined 40 shillings and recalled to England after repeatedly refusing to pay the toll and threatening to jail the tollkeeper.”
He was a judge, so no hard labour there of course, but where was his public whipping?
“In 1925…the section from Ashfield to Parramatta was noted as being far too narrow for the traffic using it.”
No need to update those notes, then.
“With the road physically incapable of being widened without enormous cost and commercial upheaval…”
There’s plenty more good stuff in here, so have a gander, perhaps when you’re sitting around for long stretches of time, not going anywhere, maybe in the late afternoon. You know, one of those times.
Thanks to Burwood Library for the pamphlet.
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: