Yes, we’ve been on a bit of a Hurstville bender recently, but it’s all been leading up to this. This is arguably the defining story of a suburb intrinsically linked to its biggest resident. The story of Hurstville cannot be told without Westfield, and vice versa. It’s a long story spanning 150 years and a lot of parking spaces. Get comfy – it’s one of those ones. And away we go…
I was dreaming of the past…
Our story begins in the 1870s, at which time the St George area was home to a grand total of 2038 happy people. Suburbs such as Lugarno, Oatley, Bexley and Kingsgrove had been growing steadily for a few decades. In the midst of all this action was a large, heavily timbered area scandalously known as Lord’s Bush (after its longtime owner, Simeon Lord).
Purchased by a Michael Gannon in 1850, the area was renamed Gannon’s Forest, and the road running through the forest from Lugarno to Tempe was renamed Gannon’s Forest Road. See where this is going? The area got its first frothy taste of the commercial life in the early 1850s when – wait for this – a PUB was built. Turns out pubs and the seedy goings-on within attract people, and soon the people came. By 1864 a post office had arisen beside the Blue Post Inn, and was later joined by another pub (the Currency Lass, later the Free and Easy), a bakery (but not that bakery), and some other exciting retail outlets. A growing population means breeding, and that means kids, and kids means education (most of the time), so in 1876 a decision was made to erect a school for dem kidz wat cudnt spel ore reed no gud. A forward thinking inspector suggested the school be named Hurstville, and because it’s undeniably catchy, it stuck. Soon the post office was renamed thusly, and the population continued to grow.
Until the mid-1880s, the development of the town had centred around that original pub, the Blue Post Inn, which had become an unofficial meeting place for town development discussions and the like. It was during one of those meetings that a railway station was proposed, and if those walls could talk, I feel certain they would have uttered “Well, shit.”
Hurstville Station was built in 1884, one kilometre away from the pub. Businesses changed tack accordingly, and suddenly no one cared about the Blue Post. Perhaps it would have preferred being instantly euthanised like the Free and Easy, which was resumed to make way for the train station. Instead, the Blue Post had its licence transferred to the nearby White Horse Hotel – the greatest dishonour a pub can experience. More like the White Flag Inn, right?
The advent of the public transport hub was like the shot from a starting gun. Hurstville just couldn’t, wouldn’t, be stopped. It became a municipality in 1887, a local newspaper started up (the St George Observer, NOT The Leader, although you could be forgiven for thinking it had been around that long), those big expensive looking mansions were being built all over the place. Even a bank crash/mini depression in 1893 was made less severe by the commercial area that had prospered in the area surrounding the train station.
The land opposite Hurstville Station was swampy marsh named ‘Frog Hollow’. Originally one of the sources of Bardwell Creek, it had been further softened by runoff from both the station and the increasingly busy Forest Road. But Hurstville’s insatiable need for retail saw the swamps drained in 1907 to make suitable foundations for an all new concept in shopping – Croft’s, a two-storey building with four shops within. Why…that means I could get FOUR times the shopping done AT ONCE!
One of these shops was occupied by a mercer named Bert Jolley, who would later describe himself as “a young man with more confidence than money”. Success wasn’t instant; three months after opening, Jolley’s ledger recorded this lacklustre return: ‘Total Customers, 1; Total Sales, 1’, despite being open from 7am to 8pm.
The story goes that Jolley, despondent and faced with bankruptcy, found himself moping around the city looking for a cup of coffee. He ended up at the Black Cat Cafe beneath Her Majesty’s Theatre, and as he drank his black coffee he was transfixed by the walls of the cafe, which were plastered in pictures of black cats. In his crazed desperation, Jolley became convinced the black cat was his spirit animal and good luck charm, and immediately devised a ‘Lucky Black Cat Sale’ for his store. Amazingly, the gamble paid off: by 1910 he’d bought the whole building, leaving both he and his variety-starved customers very jolly indeed.
Jolley’s success as a suburban department store inspired plenty of copycats (heh); in 1917 local trader Diments, a hardware and produce store, expanded in size to rival Jolley, while 1921 saw the advent of Barter’s, a rival department store.
In a tale so similar to Jolley’s that these days copyright lawyers would be involved, Charles Barter bought a single-storey shop at the approximate location of the former ANZ Bank on Forest Road. Before long it wasn’t enough, so Barter very shrewdly bought a piece of land beside the entrance to the railway station with the intention of building the greatest department store the suburbs had ever known.
Can I just interrupt the narrative for a moment to ask where Hurstvillians were getting all this money to spend with these guys? Like maybe you wouldn’t have had to live on a swamp filled with frogs if you’d invested in making your town nice instead of buying hats and black armbands or whatever it was they bought back in those days.
Anyway, during excavation for his wonderful new three-storey building, Barter unearthed an old horseshoe, which he hung in his office for luck. Yes, Barter was such a plagiarist he even swiped Jolley’s good luck charm concept. But Barter would get a taste of his own medicine in 1922 when the Allen brothers opened their own department store (with an emphasis on menswear) further up Forest Road.
Now, do you think that’s enough department stores? Let’s review – at this point, there’s Barter’s, Diments, Jolley’s and Allen Bros., all on Forest Road, all creepily surrounding the station like vultures. Spoiled for choice much, Hurstville? Wouldn’t it be more convenient if, oh, I dunno, they were able to combine many stores and even department stores into one giant superstore?
Jolley was somehow able to stave off these attacks, maintaining a healthy profit throughout. Healthy enough to – you guessed it – expand yet again in 1933. Jolley had grown tired of paying council rates for his ever-expanding shop frontage on Forest Road, so in an ingenious move, he dug out an arcade of shops beneath his existing building, allowing for several new businesses without having to pay any excess rates. The move opened Hurstville’s eyes to the idea of an even greater shopping experience at the expense of cutting into the heart of Hurstville itself. But you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs, right?
Jolley’s clever tactic paid off so well that he was able to retire in 1937, selling his 24-shop building and arcade to Woolworths. While at the time it was seen as a ‘local boy done good’ success story, today it’s easier to see the development as the beginning of a pattern; local businesses nurtured by the community being taken over by the big boys and allowed to rot. And oh, how the big boys were beginning to sit up and take notice of Hurstville successes.
Ashleys, a big city clothing store, swallowed its pride and expanded to the sticks of Hurstville in 1940 (the 1926 electrification of the Hurstville train line meant it was easier than ever to get to the retail paradise from the city should Mark Foy not satisfy your desires). When eponymous owner Ashley Buckingham died in 1962, Woolworths were there to buy up his stores. Uh-oh.
Diments had done its dash by 1961, and the 40-year-old business was liquidated that year. The empty store, on the corner of Forest Road and what is now Diments Way, was bought by Coles. Double uh-oh.
Perhaps the biggest boy to observe what was happening in Hurstville was Grace Bros., which was arguably the biggest department store chain in Sydney at that time. In a show of true spite, and indicative of just how worried they were by this commercial boom they weren’t getting a piece of, Grace Bros. schemed to sap Hurstville’s custom by buying up a disused golf course in a nearby suburb. It was far enough away to appear innocuous, but the intent was clear.
When Roselands Shopping Centre opened on the site in October 1965, it was only the biggest shopping centre in the southern hemisphere. To top things off, the beating heart of this beast was – yep – a giant Grace Bros. department store. You hear that, Hurstville? Oh, does Barter’s have a rain-themed water feature? Does Jolley’s Arcade have a cinema? I didn’t think so. Roselands has parking space for 3500 cars, what have you got?
Ooh, I’m shaking!
Hurstville’s commercial sector was starting to feel the heat. No, Roselands didn’t have a train station nearby, but who cared when it had that much parking space? Could Barter’s three storeys really compare to the 30 acres occupied by Roselands’ 80 stores? No. No, they couldn’t. With Miranda Fair having opened the year before, Hurstville found itself besieged on two fronts, and immediately began taking stock of its assets and liabilities. Coles Variety and Woolworths just weren’t cutting the mustard. The train station was no longer pulling its weight…weight…wait a minute…
In 1956, a cake shop owner at Wynyard Station lodged an unusual application with Hurstville Council. Inspired by the way shops sat above Wynyard’s train line, he proposed an five-storey development above Hurstville Station. Flush with cash from years of financial prosperity, council approved the plan. The Railways Department approved the plan. Kogarah Council, which had jurisdiction over the Ormonde Parade side of the train station, approved the plan. With all this approval, what could go wrong?
Construction of the Bowes Supercentre began in 1957 by Bowes Corporation, but was pipped at the post by that year’s opening of the Top Ryde Shopping Centre, the first American-style retail hub to open in Sydney. Plans for the Super Centre, already changed from five storeys to eight storeys during development, were altered again, with final plans blowing up to ten storeys. And parking? You’d better believe it:
But Bowes was more adept at making increasingly outlandish promises (‘LUXURY HOTEL TO STRADDLE RAIL LINES’ read one headline) than he was at construction, which ground to a halt in 1959, the same year two former delicatessen owners opened a small shopping centre, ‘Westfield Place’, at Blacktown.
In 1961, the project, now known as the Hurstville Super Centre, was taken over by W H Duffy, who projected a completion date of late 1962. The Supercentre became the object of special interest of both Hurstville Mayor G W “Snowy” Hill and the Federal Transport Minister John McMahon, even as setback after setback stalled construction.
By the time of the Hurstville Super Centre’s grand opening in September 1965, only the first stage had been completed and Roselands was only a month from opening. Even worse, attendees who could get a park then had to endure an appearance by Premier Robert “Don’t call me Robin” Askin among others:
In the same year, Transport Minister McMahon lost his position following election defeat, and was criticised by the Opposition for a “lack of vision in providing transport infrastructure”. Even Snowy Hill was no longer mayor by the time it opened. Am I calling the Super Centre a total failure that stained the character and reputation of all involved? Yes.
Throughout the late 60s and early 70s, empty promises were made to finish the Centre and bring it up to speed with the original vision, as if anyone was hanging out for that to happen. It was the modern age, no one relied on trains anymore. Department stores and giant shopping centres were a thing of the past in the city, and Roselands and Miranda (purchased by Westfield in 1969) were only quick drives away.
Away…from Hurstville. It seemed that despite that initial promise, no one had the vision to truly exploit Hurstville to the full extent of its commercial potential. Of the giants of the 20s, only Barter’s was still around (I guess that horseshoe worked), and even it had been overshadowed (literally) by the disastrous Super Centre. With no money coming in, council was sweating. Retailers were coasting on fumes. The swamp suddenly seemed thicker than ever.
If you allow your mind to drift back to the heyday of American-style consumerism this country indulged in between 1970 and 1999, you’ll no doubt remember Tandy Electronics. Born in 1973 as a local subsidiary of an American parent company of the same name, Tandy’s cutting edge product line and futuristic promise found a niche market that didn’t even know it was there. By 1980, Tandy had expanded past its modest Rydalmere headquarters, sprouting up in shopping plazas, arcades and strip malls like this one all around the country.
As a 90s kid, there were no words fit to print with which to express the disappointment of entering a Tandy and expecting video games. It was an electronics shop, wasn’t it? I didn’t want to have to build my own IBM compatible (or CB radio, more likely given Tandy’s field of expertise). They were still kid-friendlier than Radio Shack, but hell, even Dick Smith at least had a SNES game or two.
The paradigm shifted with the arrival of Electronics Boutique in 1997 – an ‘electronics’ shop without the transistors, bulbs and sockets we found so off-putting. At the same time, the limits of home-made technology were becoming apparent as the advances of the tech world left Tandy choking on its dust. In 2001, Woolworths added Tandy to its family, which by then also included Dick Smith.
Sadly for Tandy, it was far too niche to receive a generic relaunching as a consumer electronics and electrical giant as did Dick Smith. By 2009, the Tandy brand was put out to pasture, suddenly the perfect example of an “Oh, where’s that shop gone? I’m sure it was over in this corner…oh well.” moment. The final nail in the coffin was the closure of the tandy.com.au website (it redirects to the Dick Smith site). It’s almost biblical: the final betrayal for Tandy came from the realm of technology itself.
All that remains today are examples like the above. Hair of Istanblue can probably thank Tandy for its awesome homemade security system, or its radio that competes with the permanent-part time apprentice hairdresser for the coveted title of ‘loudest in the room’ on any given business day…but it’s likely these technological legacies go unnoticed.
Not so the old sign outside, the 80s ‘hi tech’ font of which catches the eye much better than the weirdly-incomplete Istanblue awning. But beware its siren call, tech-heads – you won’t find DIY lie detector kits and oscilloscopes here. C’mon, even the defunct Tandy website had to have been better than Hair of Istanblue’s spartan effort.
Also worth mentioning is the integral part Tandy Electronics played in the early 90s Australian childrens TV series Finders Keepers.
In the show, based on Emily Rodda’s books, a Tandy outlet in Prospect (a northern suburb of Adelaide) acts as a gateway to another world, one separated from ours by a ‘time barrier’. As the Gladesville Tandy has shown us, it wouldn’t be the last time Tandy would act as a time warp.
Once upon a time, this shop would have served the hamburger and hot chip needs of as many residents of Eastwood as could be bothered walking to it. These days, it’s easier to just go to the Macquarie Centre.
Situated along Balaclava Road (bal-A-KLAAAAR-VA, or buh-LACK-luvuh for our SA readers), it’s clear that this was one of those corner shops of yore, the kind that would require a visit every few days to stock up on such olden days essentials like sugar, lard and chicken feed. But as times changed, so did the shop’s offerings.
Above the roller-door of the former loading dock is a telltale sign boasting of hamburgers and hot chips, cunningly repurposed as…some kind of reverse sign. You can bet that when it opened, hamburgers and hot chips were probably just gleams in Fred Hamburger and Glenn ‘Hot’ Chipps’ eyes, but to stay alive in the corner shop game, you’ve gotta diversify.
By what looks like the late 90s or, at a stretch, early 2000s, the place was even supplementing its bread-and-butter milk supply with Ski yoghurt. With a Woolworths within 5km in every direction by this point, it was a desperate time calling for desperate measures. But even the combined deliciousness of Fruits of the Forest weren’t enough to reverse the fortunes of this store.
In the end, the big boys won, and this dangerous threat to their dominance and manhood was eliminated. Do you think Coles and Woolworths shared a beer over this death? Do you think they even noticed? Undeniably aware of the building’s deep-fried past, the current owners have decided to take it in a different direction – residential. Won’t Coles and Woolworths be pleased?
When I was a kid, growing up in a house that was developing rapidly from a tiny shag-carpeted fibre nightmare into a two-storey McMansion with cheese, the worst thing that could happen to you on a Saturday morning was being told “Get in the car, we’re going to HomeBase.” Suddenly, the Saturday that had held so much promise, that you’d worked all week at school to enjoy, was taken away from you, and replaced by a seemingly endless death march through IKEA.
Prospect’s HomeBase homemaker centre had been around since before 1982, when the IKEA opened. After that, the mindless rush to be a part of the Swedish furniture revolution put HomeBase on the map, and countless kids had their Saturday mornings ruined by the long drive out to the middle of nowhere just because the study would look better with a walnut bookshelf named ASCOT. The HomeBase centre’s other stores (yes, there were a few) surrounded IKEA, occasionally catching the eye of a customer as they left the furniture giant, but as a rule, IKEA was what you were there for. Clark Rubber wasn’t exactly a hot destination on weekends.
For the first few years, it wasn’t so bad. I was short enough to be allowed access to the ball room. Anyone who was a kid in the era of ball rooms will instantly know the thrills, the mayhem and the excitement of a ball room in a shopping centre. It was everywhere you wanted to be, because no matter how boring the prospect of a day traipsing around a shop looking for stuff you didn’t care about seemed, if there were facilities for kids you could instantly dump all your disappointment prep work from your internal cache and get stupid in the ball room.
Tragedy struck the Saturday I was suddenly too tall. The clown on the height restriction sign, my close friend for so many years, granting me private access to a wonderland, was instantly my enemy. His eyes, once alive with mischief at letting me into that private club, had turned cold and distant. “We don’t want you here,” his perma-smile seemed to say.
At this point I was faced with two options: brave the boredom of IKEA, or go to the entertainment room for older kids. It was a tough choice, but one easily made. I still wasn’t quite old enough to appreciate the challenge of a DIY entertainment unit, and as amusing as fake PROP brand computer screens were, they got old after the 1000000th bedroom mockup, so I was off to the big kids room. IKEA’s idea of entertainment for big kids involved a bunch of too-small stools stuffed into a tiny room. In the corner of the room was a mini-TV showing Superman: the Movie on a loop. Every single time I went to this room (and it was often – we had a lot of books to shelve), I was treated to either the Marlon Brando bit at the start, or the farm bit where Superman’s dad dies. Once, I even got to see the bit where Lex Luthor crushes the guy under the train – shockingly violent for a kid my height. Not once did I get to see Superman in action. This did nothing but affirm the film’s reputation as ‘a long one’ for me, because even though I knew how long a trip to IKEA could take, it was never as long as the buildup to Superman’s first appearance in the film. The movie and I have settled our differences since, but to this day I can’t watch it on a tiny TV.
The reason for this long anecdote is this: when it was deemed that our house contained enough IKEA furniture, the drive to Prospect suddenly seemed a bit too long, and further homemaker sorties were redirected to the much more local Christies Centre, on Canterbury Road at Bankstown. Long known as Dunlop Corner to locals (it was formerly the site of a Dunlop factory), the Christies homemaker centre had moved in sometime in the 80s or early 90s, and provided a bunch of lesser IKEA wannabes like Fantastic Furniture, a pottery barn, plenty of bedding shops, and my new enemy: Freedom Furniture. The Christies Centre became a new level of weekend hell, because unlike IKEA there was no kids play centre. No consideration for bored children was given anywhere on the grounds of the Christies Centre, and my attention was left to fall upon the dying, decrepit businesses that lined Canterbury Road.
Matters improved when the pottery barn was replaced by Hungry Jacks, but that can only hold one’s attention for so long. In 1996, Dick Smith Powerhouse made it to the Christies Centre. It was a breath of fresh air – suddenly there was a place that sold video games, computers, CDs, the first DVDs…even Superman: the Movie was available to buy here. Dick Smith had only recently moved away from being an electronic hobby shop to establishing a retail chain for consumer electronics, and the Powerhouse was a bold example. For many, it was the first place they were able to use the internet. The trial computers were all set up with dialup accounts, allowing customers to get a taste of the ‘information superhighway’ for the first time before making a purchase of a brand new Pentium. Suddenly, it didn’t matter how long the furniture pilgrimage was going to take, Dick Smith was the place to hang out and relieve that boredom. It was even better when I eventually had money.
These days, the Christies Centre name is long gone. It’s now Home Focus. Hungry Jacks is still enslaving teenagers, Freedom Furniture is still committing hate crimes against entertainment, bedding shops are still putting people to sleep for all the wrong reasons. There’s a new homemaker centre, Home Central, at the back of the place with a completely separate lineup of shops including a Toys R Us, which I’d’ve killed for on those initial endless Saturday mornings.
Dick Smith is gone. Only recently too, by the look of it. I went there yesterday hoping to buy a fuse, only to find the shop completely gone. When did this happen? I’d only gone there a few…months ago? Was it that long? The Dick Smith Powerhouse branding was apparently discontinued in 2009, immediately numbering the Bankstown store’s days. At the same time, Tandy electronic stores, acquired by Dick Smith, were phased out also. Remember Tandy? Everywhere when you weren’t looking for them, nowhere when you were. In January 2012, Dick Smith owner Woolworths closed 100 or so Dick Smith stores, apparently including the Bankstown Powerhouse, and announced that they were selling the chain. What a bunch of dicks.
So now, bored kids stuck at the Home Focus on an endless Saturday morning have only Hungry Jacks (or the distant Toys R Us) to entertain them. No wonder childhood obesity is such a problem. Of course, these days 4-year-olds have iPhones, so my heart isn’t exactly bleeding for them. It’s just a safe bet they didn’t get their iPhones or Nintendo DS from Dick Smith Powerhouse.
If you visit the suburb of Bexley North, you’ll find a supermarket with an identity crisis. Flemings, or in this case, Flemings Fabulous Food Store, opened as a chain of supermarkets in 1930, but in 1960 sold up to Woolworths. This particular Flemings is one of only two left in New South Wales, the other being in Jannali. Inside, it’s all Woolworths branded, but the name and the building itself (and some of the items on the shelves) are all vintage Flemings.
Why Woolies is prolonging the death of this particular Flemings should become obvious when you look to the right of the picture. When the new block of units (built on a former petrol station) opens, they’ll want a bigger supermarket, and if Woolworths can buy up the other tiny shops on this strip, expect a big budget overhaul that’ll relegate Flemings to Supermarket Heaven alongside Clancy’s and Jewel. Nothing like a bit of competition.