Tag Archives: Parramatta Road

Past/Lives Flashback #7: Rick Damelian – Leichhardt, NSW

Original article: Rick Damelian/For Sale – Leichhardt, NSW

IMG_0009

Over the last year, you’re likely (I would hope) to have enjoyed a healthy bank balance, a good credit rating, a roof over your head. Simple stuff that the people of Sydney take for granted. Rick Damelian on the other hand…

IMG_0012

When we last left the epic tragedy that is the Rick Damelian saga, things weren’t looking too good for both Rick and his former dealerships. Despite their desirable location along Parramatta Road at Leichhardt, the caryards, weren’t attracting any offers, and Rick himself was staring down the barrel of a pretty severe bankruptcy.

But hold on. Look there, in the window…is that what I think it is? Let’s take a closer look.

IMG_0013

Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. In November 2012, these showrooms finally sold, and since then have returned to doing what they did so well at the peak of Rick’s success – selling cars.

IMG_0008

Even on the roof, Rick’s private helipad has been obscured by a legion of cars. The staff might want to check to make sure Rick isn’t living in one of them.

IMG_0028

Remember Ric’s Cafe, the on-site licenced restaurant that was the jewel in the crown of Rick’s decadence? It’s since been replaced by even more cars! It’s funny, Rick might not be in the situation he’s in today if he’d just thought to sell a few more cars instead of food and helicopter rides. Live and learn, I guess.

IMG_0032

Further down the road, a modestly priced used car dealership has set up shop on Rick’s old turf. So toxic was the land, so tarnished was the site’s reputation as a car seller that the signs feel the need to be as explicit as possible: “WE BUY CARS! WE SELL CARS!”. It’s a trick Rick didn’t seem to be able to employ in his last years: speaking the language of the customer. Having cars onsite helps too, I’d imagine.

IMG_0014

Rick’s old bedfellow, Honda, has returned as well. Formerly the core of Rick’s sales strategy, Honda left Rick holding the bag when the Japanese tsunami decimated their inventory, and some speculate that this marked the beginning of the end of the Damelian empire.

Yet here they are.

Fancy that: it’s easier to come back from the ravages of a tsunami than it is to survive Rick’s management.

IMG_0027

One thing Honda has held onto are Rick’s ‘Dealer of the Year’ awards. I can see what Honda’s trying to do…but Honda – you issued these awards. It’d be like me giving myself the ‘Blog called Past/Lives of the Year’ award.

IMG_0031

Over the road, Morris has set up shop at the old Rick Damelian Prestige lot. A few examples of Rick’s flamboyance remain: the floodlights, the pointless sign on the far left, the Hollywood-style palm trees. But the cold, impersonal MG style sits heavily at odds with these elements, further highlighting their uselessness.IMG_0010But fortune hasn’t been so kind to the man himself. As Rick Damelian and his wife sit together in their $3.3m McMahons Point townhouses, arguing over whose turn it is to heat up the beans tonight, the banks and other creditors hover over him like a hawk. Should he decide to sell his two townhouses – thereby leaving himself, his wife and his mother homeless – he’s so in debt that he’s likely to receive nothing. It’s reported that Rick has just $73 left in his bank account, and can’t even afford to buy a car. You really have to feel for his wife at a time like this…with no car, she may never get off her Ls.

After nearly 40 years in car sales, Rick’s biggest accomplishment was establishing his own name. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – take Dick Smith for instance – but it meant that Rick’s triumphs and tragedies didn’t stick to Honda, or Fiat or whatever brand of car he was flogging at the time, they stuck to him.

$200m-a-year sales? “Damelian’s business savvy creates sales juggernaut.”

Your new car sucks? “I wouldn’t buy from Rick Damelian again.”

While it’s true that the financial crisis hit everyone hard, Rick’s lavish showrooms didn’t help him weather the storm. And since he put himself forward so often, it was his name that thousands daily saw stagnating as they passed his high-visibility caryards at the top of Taverner’s Hill.

No matter what should happen in the future, the name Rick Damelian will forever be tied to car sales, and there are plenty of dealers who would kill for that kind of association. At least in his downfall, Rick has provided a cautionary tale for the next generation hungry to make an impact as the world’s financial situation improves.IMG_0019Fitting then, that it appears it’s harder to expunge Rick’s name from his old dealerships than it is from bankruptcy court.

Past/Lives Flashback #8: Sydney Olympic Park – Homebush, NSW

Original article: NSW State Abattoirs/Sydney Olympic Park – Homebush, NSW 

IMG_9505It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since I last visited this place. The blood-soaked history of Sydney Olympic Park is perhaps the most heavily researched article on Past/Lives, yet all that knowledge is quick to fall away when you’re actually standing on site, inhabiting the space where it all went down. The post-Easter Show cleanup only serves to strip back the gaudy decorations designed to distract from the past, leaving today’s visitors with one of two visions: the glorious Olympics, or the violent abattoirs.

IMG_9503

Apart from the hubbub surrounding the Easter Show, change visits the Olympic zone about as often as I do (read: not much). The stadium seems to have settled on ANZ as its name for the time being, just as the arena’s heart still belongs to Allphones. During my refresher course on the ins and outs of the Olympic era of the site’s history, I laughed when I learned the arena’s actual name is the ‘Sydney Super Dome’. For the first time ever, Allphones sounds comparatively low-key.

IMG_9504

So since change is such a stranger here, it’s going to be more beneficial to take a look at some of the landmarks around the Olympic site that betray its brutal past. We didn’t touch on too many last time, with the Abattoir Heritage Precinct being the natural focus. First up is Olympic Park station, the last stop of the train line which delivers thousands of Easter Show-goers to the park each year…

abattoirs01

Abattoir platform, 1982. Image courtesy Graeme Skeet/NSWrail.net

…just as it delivered hundreds of thousands of animals to their deaths each year for decades, some as recently as 25 years ago. Granted, it isn’t the exact same station (although if it was, abattoir workers would have enjoyed the most stylish station in Sydney), but its location is approximate to the original. A complete train line (with stations opening from 1915) served the abattoir and the nearby brickworks, with country trains deviating from the existing rail network at Lidcombe and Flemington to deposit country animals to the abattoir. Employees could catch their own trains from a small platform at the end of Pippita Street, Lidcombe.

As the abattoir declined, the need for employees did so as well, and in 1984 the abattoir line was closed, with the facility itself closing in 1988. The entire Homebush Salesyard Loop, on which the Olympic Park line is based, was closed in 1991. In 1996, the Pippita Street station became the last of the abattoir stations to be demolished, and interestingly, the street itself was absorbed into the huge Dairy Farmers site nearby (now, why do you think that’s there?). The brand-spanking-new Olympic Park loop line opened in 1998, with most of the Homebush Salesyard Loop repurposed to be a part of it.

Now, since that was a little…dry, let’s get wet.

IMG_9509

The Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre was the first part of Olympic Park to be constructed following the closure of the abattoir, unless you count Bicentennial Park, which opened in 1988. The Aquatic Centre opened in 1994, with the rest of the park completed by 1996. As such, the Aquatic Centre is the ‘middle child’ of the Olympic Park, with a design sensibility halfway between Bicentennial Park and the stadiums that followed. It’s a strange beast, and one made even stranger by my near-absolute certainty that when it first opened, its entrance was in fact this:

IMG_9507Sometime in 1995, I attended a birthday party at the exciting new Aquatic Centre, which was rumoured on the playground to have a whirlpool and slides. I don’t remember any slides, but I do have a distinct memory of our posse leaving behind a rubber WWF wrestler toy, tossed high up in those bushes on the left in a fit of excitement…while we were hanging around the entrance. Does the Iron Sheik still reside in those bushes today, subsisting on a diet of ants, rainwater and the occasional small bird? Nearly 20 years later, I still wasn’t game enough to climb up and find out. But I did go in for a closer look…

IMG_9508

The appearance of those bolt marks, where the original entry sign was probably attached, seems to validate my memory of this being the main entrance. The doors underneath now serve as an emergency exit. If anyone can shed some light on this mystery, drop a line in the comments below. My theory is that when the Aquatic Centre opened, the entrance was here because it faced away from the abattoir site (and at the time, a huge construction site), but when the rest of the park was completed, the entrance was moved around to the opposite end of the facility, a spot which pretty much faces the Abattoir Heritage Precinct (and everything else, in keeping with the Olympic spirit of inclusion and togetherness). Today’s entrance looks a lot more ‘Olympic’ anyway, so it was probably a change for the best. Still…

IMG_9502Our last stop is just down the road from the Aquatic Centre. Back in the 70s and 80s, Swire (then Woodmasons Cold Storage) would have been one of the places to store the freshly processed animal carcasses on ice before being shipped to the nearby butcheries and markets. For a cold storage facility (and for Dairy Farmers), this was the perfect location…when the abattoir was there. How it’s still able to do business is a stone cold mystery, but I guess that’s why they’re no longer Woodmasons.

See you next time, when we’ll attempt to go for a drive

F4 Expressway/SWR Western Motorway/M4 Freeway – Concord, NSW

swr

Image courtesy RTA Magazine/OzRoads

As promised, we’re now going to plunge into the half-assed history of the M4 freeway’s eastern terminus. I’m imagining you’re already as joyful and excited as those people on the bridge above, but don’t peak early – we’ll dig up some good stuff. If I do a half-assed job, consider it an homage.

After World War II it became clear that Parramatta Road wasn’t going to cut it anymore as a way of getting people to and from the western suburbs of Sydney, which had exploded in terms of population. Of course, in those days, Leichhardt was a western suburb, but you get the idea. In 1947, the newly created County of Cumberland Planning Scheme identified a possible route for an expressway which would connect Glebe to the Great Western Highway at Lapstone (of the treacherous Lapstone Incline fame). In reliably speedy NSW Government fashion, the corridor of land was reserved in 1951.

As an aside, I’d just like to shine the spotlight on my ignorance: I had no idea what Cumberland County was, and I was surprised to learn that not only was it created by Governor Arthur Phillip in 1789 and encompasses most of the Sydney metro area, but that there are 141 counties in New South Wales. A shadowy cabal of local government councillors would elect the Cumberland County Council, which then had a powerful influence over town planning in metro Sydney. Spooky stuff.

Anyway, the M4’s construction started backwards, with the first stage completed at Emu Plains in the late 60s. The late 60s. After the plan was formed in 1947. Yeah.

As the freeway crept closer and closer to Sydney, the pocket of land set aside to relieve the ever-building traffic pressure in the city waited patiently for its turn.

It’s still waiting.

IMG_9092

This is the start and end of the M4, and as close as the freeway gets to the city. Every day, traffic from the western suburbs and beyond is ripped from the (theoretically) 90km+ flow into the waiting 60km arms of Parramatta Road, Concord. Citybound motorists must then contend with the stop/start rhythm of Sydney’s oldest road and a new nightmare: traffic lights. If this sounds awkward, it’s because it is. And it looks even more awkward:

swrmap

Image courtesy Google Maps

In 1976, the F4 freeway (as it was then known) was all set to drill right through the inner west and end up at its intended starting point in the city, Glebe. But Glebians (?) had had over 20 years to prepare their outrage and protests, so the Department of Main Roads found itself staring down a pissed off neighbourhood that feared the freeway would shatter its layout and atmosphere. In what would be the first of many such moves for the NSW Government, it backed down. The Concord to Glebe section of the freeway was abandoned, and a backup plan was hastily slapped together.

1979m4

The F4 prepares to cross Silverwater Road, 1979. Courtesy Main Roads Journal/OzRoads

Also hastily slapped together were the physical components of the eventual fix, which was to spill the M4 onto Parramatta Road and hope that it all worked fine. In 1982, more than 30 years after planning had commenced, the section of the M4 between Concord and Auburn was opened to traffic, despite the next section between Auburn and Granville not being complete.

1985m4

Concord reforged: the F4 ends, 1985. Courtesy Main Roads Journal/OzRoads

What a shemozzle! Although the rest of the freeway west of Concord was eventually completed (pretty much), it’s the section between Concord and Auburn that remains the most interesting and telling of the struggles that went into constructing it. With the O’Farrell Government now gearing up to deliver on its promise to complete the M4 (via a tunnel system, natch), it’s as good a time as any to see what kind of stopgap measures we can look forward to.

IMG_9094

Where the M4 itself joins Parramatta Road, it LITERALLY joins Parramatta Road in a series of glued on slabs of cement. It’s easy to see the difference in road material here..

IMG_9098

…here…

IMG_9087

…and here. This is because the entrance to the M4 as it is today was originally part of Concord Road, which was relocated a block to the west. Why? Bear with me…

IMG_9078

When this section was completed in 1982, the one-way Sydney Street was the only way off the M4. Traffic would then spill into Concord Road, which at the time followed a different alignment…

IMG_9085

…being this, the current end of the M4. To accommodate more traffic, Concord Road was realigned to cross Parramatta Road instead of joining it.

IMG_9081

Concord Road was extended towards Leicester Street on the other side of Parramatta Road, and the former curve was filled in by parkland and a bus stop:

IMG_9083

So if you’ve ever wondered what this big bit of nothing was all about, that’s the story, although it could be argued that providing more access for buses adds to Parramatta Road’s problems, but that’s another story.

IMG_9074

A tunnel was dug here between the M4 and Concord Road to form the overpass that exists there today, and to direct the traffic flow onto Parramatta Road. What was the fruit of all of this effort? One set of traffic lights is bypassed by eastbound traffic.

IMG_9072

This restructure meant that Young Street, which in 1982 acted as the eastmost on-ramp for the M4, was cut in half by the new end of Concord Road. What was once one of the most important streets in Sydney now ends with a whimper:

IMG_9070

…where once it would have joined the M4 it now provides access to a unit block’s carpark.

As mentioned, the other problem the M4 faced in 1982 was that it stopped at Silverwater. You could get on at Young Street, belt down the freeway at 90km/h in your Holden Monaro for about five minutes before being dumped back onto Parramatta Road, the defacto western expressway, at our old friend Melton Street.

IMG_9120

Yes, this is the sight you would have faced exiting the M4 between 1982 and 1984, when the next segment was completed. You would have zoomed up past the school and the Melton Hotel, and then back onto Parramatta Road for the next million years if you were trying to get to Springwood. If we look a bit closer, we can see where the exit ramp used to be:

IMG_9121

In the bushes between Adderley Street and the M4 you can see a clear path the motorists would have taken to rejoin Sydney traffic. I’m assuming the RTA has set this land aside for future widening of the freeway, as if that will ever happen, but in the meantime it gives us that vital link to the past. Once again, a seemingly insignificant little road like Melton Street actually did have a grander place in the scheme of things. Parramatta Road: where anything can happen.

Further up from Melton Street is the Silverwater mainstay Stubbs Street, as seen in the very first picture in this article. The M4 proceeds under the Stubbs Street overpass…

IMG_9104

…which was completed in 1981 to mark the end of this section of the freeway.

IMG_9105

Once the next section between here and Granville was completed in 1984, Melton Street was once again exclusive to pub patrons and parents dropping off their kids, while motorists were free to drive on to the west.

Or were they?

IMG_9107

By 1989 only a small section of the M4 as we know it today was missing, and a private consortium, StateWideRoads, was contracted by an exhausted NSW Government to finish the job. As we all know, a grand don’t come for free, so by the time this missing link (and some hastily approved widening) was completed in 1992, someone had to pay.

That someone was you.

SWR tollbooths, 2007. Image courtesy someone who isn't me.

SWR tollbooths, 2007. Image courtesy someone who isn’t me.

It was determined that the section between James Ruse Drive at Granville and Stubbs Street, Silverwater was the section through which the majority of cars would pass, thus ensuring the shortest possible time for a toll to be in place. In May 1992, $1.50 was required to continue out to the western suburbs. By the time the toll was removed in February 2010, over $970 million had been paid to pass these booths.

IMG_9113

Today, there’s little apart from the alignment of the lanes to suggest that the toll booths were ever there, but other remnants of the M4 project have left a more lasting mark all over Sydney. The freeway is back in the hands of the NSW Government, which is akin to returning an abused child to their abusive parent. As the battle to complete the M4’s route into the city rages on in state parliament, Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has even expressed support for the completion should he win government at the next election. Thousands of motorists a day are still inconvenienced by the half-finished freeway. One accident on the M4 causes traffic chaos all over the city. The Eastern Suburbs are still effectively isolated from the rest of Sydney due to a lack of motorways….so I guess there are always upsides. There’s been talk of reinstating the toll to pay for what would by now be a very expensive couple of kilometres. In 1977, the projected cost of completing the M4 from Concord to Glebe as intended would have been $287m.

The M4 is only 46km long.

Maybe if it ever gets finished, it’ll be linked up to the Western Distributor so that it can actually start distributing people to the west instead of, you know, nowhere.

TRAFFIC STOPPING UPDATE: Thanks to Burwood Library’s archive of interesting old stuff, you can now enjoy this old pamphlet detailing the opening of TWO new segments of the F4 back in 1982. Even better is that this article’s diagrams illustrate the progress of the F4 almost as well as the above article. You all thought I was mad when I wrote this one, but who’s mad now?

img099

img098

img100

img101

img104

img105

The Melton Hotel – Auburn, NSW

Get comfy, this’ll be a long one.

IMG_9019Sometimes, 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.

IMG_9018So 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.

Not pictured: Melton Street North

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.

newest

Courtesy 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 Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate 21 feb 1906

The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 21 February 1906

…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 Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate 16 mar 1918

The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 16 March 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?

IMG_9020Discounting 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:

IMG_9021Further encroachment into the lot reveals a flimsily constructed wall on the Melton Street side. Hmm

IMG_9022And a gap in the northern end of that wall. HMM

IMG_9023The gap leads out to Melton Street, whereupon you’re immediately facing a school. This sign:

IMG_9024…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.

IMG_9015The 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.

IMG_8995Even stranger is the choice to keep these former barriers, and simply cut them where the new fence intersects.

IMG_8981One 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:

IMG_8979Remarkably 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.

IMG_9008Let’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:

The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate  10 jul 1915

The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate,  10 July 1915

EPILOGUE

IMG_9035

Not pictured: Melton Street South

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.

swr

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.

Just in case we were confused.

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.

joyce_win_waysForever second, eh 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.

IMG_8585I bet there aren’t too many bubble baths in here.

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.

IMG_8584You are the .01%…

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.