Geographic Threads: Kembla Sewing Machine

Silovac 1954 Geoff Nowak Flickr edit

Advert for Silovac, ‘the silent servant’, and Domsew products, 1954. Original image courtesy of Geoff Nowak on Flickr.

Members of the Illawarra Museum page on Facebook, the Smith-Hendersons, have sent in images enquiring about this delightful item with its elaborately patterned moulded guard, and gilded Gothic text. Its weave-inspired decorations and borders hark back to the Arts and Crafts movement, but in reality the item dates quite a bit later than that period, probably being from the 1930s.

kembla sewing machine images courtesy smith-henderson edit 2

The ‘Kembla’ electric sewing machine, image courtesy of and © Smith-Henderson collection.

It’s a ‘Kembla’ brand sewing machine made by ‘Silovac’. There is very little information on this brand and company, but I was able to find out that they were established around 1928 by Aris Jan Albert Metzelaar, who had emigrated from the Netherlands to New South Wales with his wife Stella.
The business made household appliances, starting off with electric floor scrubbers, sweepers and polishers, and vacuum cleaners.

kembla sewing machine images courtesy smith-henderson edit 1

The ‘Kembla’ electric sewing machine, image courtesy of and © Smith-Henderson collection.

They really had their heyday in the 1940s and 50s; in the latter decade they had a contract to manufacture commercial milkshake makers for milk bars for the Nestlé brand. By this time the company name had been shortened to Metzel. By the 1970s they were making automatic sewing machines, polishers, arc welders and home welding kits, and spray painting units and also had models under the ‘Domsew’ and ‘Consort’ brands. During this decade they were based on the Hume Highway, Yagoona, NSW.

kembla sewing machine images courtesy smith-henderson edit 4

The ‘Kembla’ electric sewing machine, showing plate with brand and manufacturers details. Image courtesy of and © Smith-Henderson collection.

It wasn’t Silovac, however, that registered the trademark for the ’Kembla’ brand. This appears to have been done by Metal Manufactures Ltd (MM) of NSW.
MM was a business founded in 1916 with Sydney and Wollongong offices. To begin with, their enterprise centred on manufacturing various items with a basis in steel and copper. They made electrical wires for telephones, trams and aerials. They also made small moulded metal components like pipes, rods and tubes.

kembla sewing machine images courtesy smith-henderson edit 23

The ‘Kembla’ electric sewing machine, image courtesy of and © Smith-Henderson collection.

So what is the relationship to Kembla – Mount, Grange or Port?
One can assume the connection is metal coming out of the latter, which inspired the name, and indeed MM had the main manufacturing arm of the firm there. As the decades went on they added aluminium but ultimately focused more on copper products.

SILOVAC ERDA Electrical & radio exhibition 1934 souvenir Town Hall Sydney February 28th - March 10th 1938 NLA call no Npf 2010-252 EDIT

Advert for Silovac electric vacuums, from the 1938 souvenir catalogue, for the ERDA Electrical & Radio Exhibition held at the Town Hall Sydney. Image courtesy of National Library of Australia (NLA) collection, ref Npf 2010-252.

Searches turn up nothing on sewing machines for the Silovac company earlier than the 1960s and no mention of ’Kembla’ , so one can assume this item is quite rare and was perhaps a business arrangement with MM, a brief foray into this area of appliances in the late 1920s to early thirties, which didn’t really take off.

114137 Kembla Metal Manufacturers Ltd 1953 wire etc edit copy

‘Kembla’ products logo, Kembla Metal Manufacturers Ltd, 1953. Original image courtesy of IP Australia, ref 114137.

There’s no mention of appliances in relation to MM at all until 1970 when they registered the Kembla brand for classes of manufacture including hand-operated electrical equipment, tools, and apparatus and instruments for science industries. About this time they were also manufacturing tube-bending machinery.

SILOVAC Nestle and Anglo-Swiss Milk Co (Australasia) milkshake maker mfd by Silovac Ltd 1950s MAAS ref 91 FS 64 EDIT

Silovac commercial milkshake maker, manufactured for Nestlé and Anglo-Swiss Milk Co (Australasia)Ltd.Used at Keary’s Milkbar in Strathfield after 1945, likely from the 1950s. Image courtesy of the MAAS (Powerhouse Museum) collection, ref 91/64.

There seem to be some parallels and I can only assume that the two companies had a business relationship of sorts and MM likely made molded metal components for Silovac/Metzel products.  Another possibility is that, having registered the brand name, MM pretty quickly put the kibosh on Metzelaar using it and this indicates the lack of information available on ‘Kembla’ appliances.

Silovac The Australian Women's Weekly (1933 - 1982) Wed 13 May 1964 Page 27 Advertising 2 edit copy

Advert for the Silovac automatic sewing machine, The Australian Women’s Weekly, May 1964. Image courtesy of National Library of Australia (NLA) collection.

Kembla/MM were taken over in 2001 by Marsh Electrical Ltd, but is actually still operating today in Gloucester Boulevard, Port Kembla.
Silovac, on the other hand, had probably wound down in the 1970s and became a shell company to hold the Metzelaar family’s property investments. Aris Metzelaar died in 1982 and Silovac Properties Pty Ltd was liquidated in 1984.

An Eggsact History? Not So Much

Object 400006 Dr Maldon’s Emu Egg 1888  edit copy

The decorative emu egg known as ‘Doctor Maldon’s Egg’, object 400006, Image courtesy of Illawarra Historical Society. 


Usually I am hurrying on my way somewhere down the museum hall followed by running up or down the very steep stairs (it’s wise to concentrate) so I don’t pay much attention to my surroundings. I’ve become accustomed to things I pass all the time and barely glance at them. However last week some rather large eggs caught my eye and I paused to examine them. I just never know if something is going to have a good tale behind it – but it has so far turned out to be a rare occurrence that there isn’t enough for a story of some kind.

The collection holds two examples of decorative objects made from emu eggs; like many things in the collection, with several different curators entering data over time, the information between the two objects has been mixed up, as well as an information plaque in the display was placed with the wrong object. One egg is mounted on silver (object 400006) which we will call ‘Doctor Maldon’s Egg’, and one on wood (object 400073) which we will call the ‘Torch Legacy Egg.’

Doctor Maldon’s Egg is a plain one without any surface decoration. It’s set into a silver mount both above and below, which flares out at the top and bottom. This gives it the appearance that is has been converted to a vase for small flowers. However upon examination, the mounts are enclosed inside with what looks like some kind of capped bolt that obviously runs through the centre of the egg holding it into the two parts. It seems to have been made with intention purely of decoration.

It apparently dates from 1888 and was made as part of a wedding present. This hints at two things; it was commissioned, and was part of a set of some kind. Another recorded comment regarding the object is the egg “was given to the (Illawarra Historical) Society separately and set in (the) silver holder by the donor Dr. H. Maldon of Crown Street, Wollongong, donated 13/9/1969.”

This doesn’t make a lot of sense because if it was ‘made’ as part of a present by adding only a mount, you can’t ‘make’ a plain egg (unless you’re actually an emu). It was either donated as is, or Maldon must have been associated with the museum in order to be allowed to do such a bizarre thing as take a donated object and modify it and then return it to the collection (things are different these days; this practice is something that would never be allowed now). This doesn’t stack up; but if not a true statement, then why was it made record of? It’s illogical to note down details about an acquisition that are complete fiction. The information came from somewhere.

Object 400073 Victorian Country Fire Brigades Emu Egg edit copy

The decorative emu egg known as ‘Torch Legacy Egg’, object 400073, Image courtesy of Illawarra Historical Society.


Anyway, maybe looking into Maldon will give us a clue. As it turns out I was right about the association. Dr. Henry Cleveland Maldon, known as Harry, was born in 1902 in Bombala, New South Wales, Australia, although there seems to be no birth record. (In a weird coincidence it turns out I’m very distantly related to him through my second great aunt Isabella Streeter). He had part of his education at Sydney Grammar School before becoming a dentist. He had resided in the north-east of the state in the thirties, in the electoral area known as New England, bounded by Walgett, Dubbo, Armidale and adjoining the border with Queensland. He was living in Scone, in the Upper Hunter Shire of NSW in the late 1930s. He makes his first appearance residing in Wollongong in 1943, the same year he married Lorna Isabel Maldon née Greenslade in Sydney. His wife was much younger than him being born in Queensland in 1913 to Percy George and Agnes Christine née Zerk. the couple had two children; Sally Ann and Michael David Felix.

He was involved with several organizations over time including the Hunter Ambulance Service (life member), and the Wollongong Camera Club which was formed in early 1944. As an insight into his persona and standing in the community after just a year or so of living in the city, In October 1946  Maldon “who is well known in Wollongong for the interest he takes in cultural advancement” was requisitioned to open the ‘International Photographic Display’ show which was part of the Centenary Celebrations. It was the first of its kind to be held in Wollongong and only the second to be held in Australia at that time.

As it turns out, his major involvement was with the Illawarra Historical Society; he and Lorna were both founding and life members. He was elected as the very first patron of the IHS in 1945. For many years during the 1940s and 1950s, IHS council meetings were held in Dr Maldon’s rooms at his dental surgery in Crown Street. Once a year, the IHS were invited to the Maldon home in New Mount Pleasant Road.

Towards the end of his life the couple had retired to Norfolk Island, where he befell a tragic demise in 1986, when knocked down by a car and killed instantly. He had remained patron of the IHS until not long before his death, the longest serving one in the organization’s history. The IHS Bulletin obituary stated that “his community services were such that it was a matter of some wonder he never received any public honour in recognition. A move to this belated end was actually in progress, supported by the Society, when the sad news arrived that he had been killed.” After he died, Lorna returned to Australia, and passed away in Bowral in 2001.

The fact he had the professional skills to mount and set things in a dentistry capacity does give some credence to the statement that he added the sliver parts to the egg. If so, it would have been performed during the 1960s. The cast metal components are relatively unfussy however the design does entail some Art Nouveau-style elements so looks much older than that, which is not helping unravel the misinformation. I do wonder if it was perhaps a belonging of his parents; there was only one couple named Maldon who married in NSW in 1889 and had a number of children. Since Harry’s birth is unrecorded, I’m unable to prove they are his relatives.

Object 400073 Victorian Country Fire Brigades Emu Egg stokes button  copy

The Victorian Country Fire Brigades uniform button on top of the decorative emu egg known as ‘Torch Legacy Egg’, object 400073, Image courtesy of Illawarra Historical Society.


Generally, these sort of decorative items made with emu eggs were popular in Victorian times. The Powerhouse Museum’s collection holds several examples made between the 1860s and 1900s. They were popular carved or etched with designs (see these later examples from the 1920s ), mounted in decorative metal elements and given as  gifts or trophy presentations, but also made into teapots, cups, or inkstands, to be even more novel.

Not only is the emu, the second largest bird in the world, a significant Australian icon for indigenous as well as non-indigenous peoples – but also the large, dark green  eggs (anywhere between 5 and 7 inches long) are extremely tough with a shell of over 1mm thickness.

The second one, the ‘Torch Legacy Egg’ is a lot fancier than Maldon’s, and is carefully engraved with a kangaroo and foliage in an oval shaped cartouche. The egg is mounted on wood of an unknown type, and secured to the mount with an embossed brass button through the top of the egg.

The button has the slogan “Country Fire Brigades Victoria’, as well as a shield and a fire helmet insignia embossed into it and is highly likely a uniform button. I was able to find three more examples  proving my theory right but this does not enlighten us further except giving a Melbourne manufacturer ‘Stokes & Sons.’

Thomas Stokes was a medal, coin and button maker in Victoria and, later New South Wales. The business  was established in1856 as Stokes and Martin until the partnership was dissolved in the 1890s, and around 1911 it became Stokes & Sons. It is still going today as Stokes Badges.

The Victorian Country Fire Brigade was originally established way back in the 1850s, and became the CFA (Country Fire Authority) in 1945. From its inception it has had many versions of uniform through the decades. So all we know is that the button probably dates from between 1911-1944. Without actually finding an Australian fire brigade uniform historian and/or uniform button expert, there’s really no way of narrowing down a date further. Plus, the button could have been added later, but this is unlikely; it had some kind of significance to the piece.

reg no A6436 Presentation cup silver emu egg by William Edwards presented Christopher Pond to Mrs Stephenson (mother of cricketer H H Stephenson)Melb Vic c186

Presentation cup made of an emu egg mounted in silver, by William Edwards, presented by Christopher Pond to Mrs Stephenson, the mother of cricketer H. H. Stephenson, in Melbourne, Victoria, circa 1861. Image courtesy of the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, reg no A6436. 


Extra information not included in the accession form is attached to the object via a label and string, stating it originated in Cowes, the main township on Phillip Island in the Gippsland region of Victoria, Australia which is rife with all kinds of wildlife including emus. It also states “Donated 15/6/83. Was given to Wollongong Torch Bearers for Legacy.” However there is plenty of information on the history of this organization and its offshoot.

Torch Bearers for Legacy was not formed until 1945 to aid war widows and their children so the actual gifting of the egg dates from on or after this time; but not necessarily the creation of it. It would have been quite an old-fashioned item by then, and I have to wonder what the significance of it was. Why an egg? What did it mean?  And what’s the connection?

I’m guessing that there’s some correlation between the end of the Victorian Country Fire Brigade, and the establishment of Torch Bearers, both in the same year – it seems obvious.

Overall, both of the eggs appear to be much older than when they’re assumed to have been – or said to have been – created around or after the second half of the C20th. I guess it’s just another thing we will never know for sure.

Borgo: A Taste of the Continent


Illawarra Museum collection -  Mario Borgo wine flagons signage  edit sml

Object 300689: M. Borgo & Sons painted metal shop sign, (185cm x 29.5cm), with painted  Masonite attached (4cm x 22cm) advertising their economy wine flagons. Image courtesy Illawarra Historical Society.


This week I’ve explored some items which I started looking into for the upcoming virtual museum project, being undertaken by Museums and Galleries NSW.
The topic has also been previously touched on by Carol Herben in her ‘Timeless Wollongong’ column in 2012, but hers was more of a passing mention in an overview of various local drink containers in the Museum’s collection.

The museum holds a few items from the Borgo wines business, including a ceramic crock (Object 700176), a retail sign (Object 300689), and a glass flagon (the latter mysteriously can’t be found at this point in time).

People won’t be surprised to learn that, like many Illawarra immigrants, the patriarch of this business hailed from Italy. However they may be surprised to learn that in his background in Australia was the mining industry, before he became a successful retailer.

P18296 Mario and Giulia Borgo with children in Centrale, Italy 1928

 Mario and Giulia with children Gina, Frank and Derek, in Centrale, Italy, 1928. The Borgos must have taken a trip back to visit family. Image courtesy Wollongong City Council’s Illawarra Images, ref P18/P18296. 


Illawarra Museum collection -  Mario Borgo wine flagons signage edit sml

Object 300689: M. Borgo & Sons painted metal shop sign, (185cm x 29.5cm), with painted  Masonite attached (4cm x 22cm) advertising their economy wine flagons. Image courtesy Illawarra Historical Society.


Mario Borgo (born in 1897 to Francisca and Angela) migrated to Australia back in 1922; the previous year he had married his sweetheart Giulia née Lievore, a textile worker, at Centrale (presumably this means Italia centrale or just centro, referring to  the area of Central Italy). Their daughter Angelina, or Gina as she was known, was born shortly after – and his wife and daughter followed him via sea to the new country later that year.

They moved straight to the Illawarra, and by 1925 they had taken up a cottage at Bellambi Street in Tarrawanna. The couple also had two boys; Frank Sergio was one son born IN 1924. The other son was Dario (known as Derek), who likely came along around 1926.

Mario Borgo in Clifton 1929 P18 fs P18298 edit

Mario Borgo washing clothes at a shack in Clifton, 1929. Image courtesy Wollongong City Council’s Illawarra Images, ref P18/P18298.


Mario and Giulia Borgo in their liquor store c1950  P18 fs P18301

The Borgos In their liquor store circa 1950, likely Crown Street. From left: Gina, Mario, Giulia, and unknown. Image courtesy Wollongong City Council’s Illawarra Images, ref P18/P18301.


However there are no birth records and a picture purported to have been taken in Italy in 1928 shows the couple with their three young children.  Did they go back to Italy for a time and have children there? Group photos taken in Tarrawanna in 1925 and 1926 show  Gina and Frank present, so it seems the answer is no.

Mario began work in Mount Pleasant and Coal Cliff Collieries. A photo of 1929 shows him in Clifton washing clothes on a scrubbing board at a shack, so it is quite likely he also worked at the mine there too. As well as taking up mining, he also had previously worked as a carpenter and cabinetmaker. It was common practice for Italian immigrants who needed work to go into mining on the South Coast during that period, and there was already quite a community in the area by that time.

Mario’s career as a merchant and retailer began by purchasing a wholesale shop that dealt wines and spirits, on Crown Street in 1931. In 1931 he also applied to re-enter Australia having seemingly been in Europe for a short time. I’m unsure why – since he had already made his move to become naturalized in 1929.

Shops Offices and Stores M Borgo & Sons 1956 Cnr Kenny & Burelli Streets P17 fs P17778 edit

Borgo & Sons’ new store and offices, 1956, at the corner of Kenny & Burelli Streets, Wollongong, where Liquorland is today. Image courtesy Wollongong City Council’s Illawarra Images, ref P17/P17778.


From 1936 the family lived at 228 Princes Highway, Fairy Meadow in a typical cosy brick bungalow of that period.

With the advent of WWII Mario enlisted and served as a sergeant-major with the Italian Alpine Troop. Making it back in one piece, he continued with his retail business and went on to become Wollongong’s best-known wine merchant. Financial success meant that by the early 1940s he was purchasing property – first in Fairy Meadow in 1941, then Fairlfield NSW in 1943, and another in Wollongong in 1946 from an A. J. Mitchell.

In 1955 he opened a brand new store in Keira Street which was considered the most modern of its kind. Later he also built Wollongong’s first drive-in liquor store, at corner of Burelli and Kenny Street. This is now the site of Liquorland , it was for some time Tosti Cellars’ ‘Cellarbrations’ store.  By this time sons Frank and Derek were working with him and the company became ‘M. Borgio and Sons.’  There was still time for leisure activities, and enjoying a few games of bowls, Mario, with Otto Fuimini founded the Fraternity Bowling and Recreation Club in Fairy Meadow in 1953.

Illawarra Museum collection - Mario Borgo wine flagons edit sml

Object 700176: M. Borgo ceramic wine crock, probably circa 1930s. Image courtesy Illawarra Historical Society.


Illawarra Museum collection - Mario Borgo wine 4flagons edit sml copy

Object 700176: M. Borgo ceramic wine crock, probably circa 1930s. Image courtesy Illawarra Historical Society.


In 1968 his departure on a months-long European tour of wine tasting and Australian wine promotion was a newsworthy event. In 1970, not long before his death, Mario was notified by the Italian Government that he had been awarded an Italian Cavalier Award for bravery and war service.

Mario died 1972, an innovative and respected member of the Wollongong community known as ‘Doc’ Borgio (the reason for this nickname is unknown). The same year son Derek Borgo gave Wollongong a new continental dining experience when he open the city’s first bistro in Market Street; another first for the family. A marketing point was the building’s history; it was the site of Wollongong’s first blacksmith shop H. E. Castle & Sons; the brickwork of some of the walls was original, already 117 years old at the time.

Mario Borgo with flagons 1956  first wine & spirit merchant in Wollongong migrated to Australia in 1920 P17 fs P1777 edit copy

Mario Borgo with flagons of his wine, 1956. He was said to be Wollongong’s first specialist wine and spirit merchant, and its most successful. Image courtesy Wollongong City Council’s Illawarra Images, ref P17/P17779.


Borgo family home from 1936 to 1983 228 Princes Highway P18 fs P18307 edit

This brick house at 228 Princes Highway, Fairy Meadow, was the Borgo family home from 1936 through to 1983.  Image courtesy Wollongong City Council’s Illawarra Images, ref P18/P18307.


Around 1978 the family sold the business for half a million dollars, and the following year Derek Borgo branched out into the hotel industry when he purchased The Harp. He also had involvement in Lake Illawarra and Balgownie Hotels. He was later, in the 1990s, president of the Balgownie Businessmen’s Club. Frank moved away from the area; and Giulia stayed a local for the remainder of her life, passing away in 1984.

People can say what they like about immigrants, but the Borgo wine story is an exemplary tale of a successful business brand built by foreigners who came to this country with a couple of suitcases, a strong work ethic, dreams of a better life – and succeeded in making a contribution.



A Story In A Nutshell

Walnut with miniature Sydney Postcards inside edit

This week I unwrapped this curious item; a souvenir which isn’t local – but showcases sights of note in the city of Sydney (object M100227).

It must have some kind of connection to the local area; presumably the significance is a persona. There’s absolutely no acquisition information in the database, or on hard copy forms at all (something I’m starting to realize isn’t that unusual an occurrence around here).

Walnut with miniature Sydney Postcards inside edit copy

So as to whom it was that donated the item, or what its significance – or more pertinently – their significance – is to the Illawarra Historical Society collection (or the greater Illawarra), I’m unfortunately unable to tell you what exactly what that is, and it’s unlikely anyone will now ever know. The solitary piece of information accompanying was that it apparently dates from circa 1920.

The Fair in a Nutshell 1904  copy

St. Louis Exposition souvenir of 1904 by the Novelty Nutshell Co. Original images clockwise from top L courtesy of the Pandoras Box Milford store, via Ruby Lane collectables at; St Louis Magazine at; University of Virginia Magazine at; and  L. I. Silverman. 


It is made from a real walnut shell, the two halves delicately tied with a fine ribbon; inside is a strip of miniature postcard-style images that are folded up in a concertina manner, showcasing significant landmarks and sights (the post office, the harbour, the courthouse).

It’s true, that the term ‘novelty’ and ‘tourism’ do inevitably go hand in hand and this is far from the only tourism-inspired curiosity in the collection with fold out images (there’s a ‘handbag’ showcasing Austinmer, Illawarra and pictorial folders of Canberra, ACT and other locations featuring decorative representations of native Australian fauna such as Kangaroos and Kookaburras).  However, surely the walnut is one of the more unusual.

A Bagful of Sublime Point - Kangaroo foldout  copy

Top: ‘A Bagful of Sublime Point’, a novelty photographic souvenir from Austinmer (object  900361a). Bottom: A fold-out pictorial souvenir of Canberra (WTH293MAGOd). both from the Illawarra Historical Society collection. The latter is also available in the Wollongong Town Hall collection in WCC’s Local Studies Library. Both probably date from the 1950s. 


So unusual in fact, that after quite a bit of searching, I was only able to find two other examples; walnuts with a strip of paper photographs inside that both had something in common – they were both made for world fair events in the same USA city.

One was made as a memento from the Missouri World’s Fair in 1904 – ‘St. Louis Exposition in a Nutshell’ by the Nutshell Novelty Co (‘fanfold views and text of fifty of the World’s Fair sights’). The other by Gale Specialty Co for the same event, but in 1933 (‘a pull-out accordion booklet of pictures and descriptions of important architectural works from the fair’).

The World's Fair In A Nutshell 1933  copy

Two novelty  walnuts made for the 1933 St. Louis World’s Fair in Missouri, USA by Gale Specialty Co. The top version courtesy of  Kings Lane at The bottom one courtesy of S.S. Moore Antiques via collectables. 


Is it fairly rare? Going by lack of references, I’d have to say yes. But a dearth of information also means it’s actually hard to make a judgement call. However I suspect that our one may have been made as a souvenir for a major event such as the Royal Agricultural Society Show (The Royal Show), which happened to be held in Sydney in the same year this object is said to have been made – 1920.

Digging Some History

Parkinson Codd bottle Illawarra Museum collection item 600dot174 edit copy


Recently on local history group Kembla Jottings, a mention was made of some rare ‘Codd’ patents that had been discovered in the local area intact; and this reminded me of some I ran across recently that are held in the collection (objects 600161 and 600174, above).

Evidence of these older bottles, pre 1920s, by local brand Parkinson’s, is often found – attesting they were undoubtedly a popular drink in their time. However, many have not often made it in one piece to the present day,  usually due to the propensity of children to add the round glass ball (which acted as a stopper to prevent the carbonation of the refreshment from escaping), to their marble collection. Thus, a complete bottle is unusual and they are now highly collectable.

Simpson House JP Parkinsons Wollongong Ulodpho Wolfe Chamberlains Winslows Koko edit

Above: A variety of bottles recovered including a Parkinson’s soft drink Codd, whisky, gin, cologne, cough syrup, ink, eucalyptus oil, culinary essence and sauces. Below: a photo of ‘Simpson’s Cottage’ which appears to have been taken in the mid-1920s to mid-1930s. People in the image, as well as provenance, unknown.  a

simpson house 14 James Rd edit


It eventuated during the discussion about the history of the house and property that along with the aerated water containers, quite a number of other interesting items had been recovered. My curiosity piqued, I contacted the owners and asked if I could have a look at what they’d found, thinking it may help shed some light on the history of the property. Discarded objects can tell you a great deal about the occupants and it’s one of my favourite things to examine.

Simpson House Small handheld pick knife razor copy

Above: A pick, a knife, and a men’s ‘cut throat’ razor. Below: examples of footwear found; a mens’ workboot on L, and a womens’ dress shoe on R. a

Simpson House boot 2 edit copy


The current owners, who have been in residence for several years now, are in the middle of major renovation and extension, with an interesting multi-coloured floor installed which has been created of re-purposed boards from the recently demolished Ocean View guesthouse  (built 1886, it was one of the last two temperance hotels left in Bulli).
During this process, items were found all over; buried in the yard, stashed in the walls, and under the floors. The majority of objects were found in a patch of the back yard where the owners had removed a mid-twentieth century laundry. However, the items came from a span of eras from the 1900s to the 1950s (some objects a little later, and some quite possibly even earlier).  I theorise that household rubbish was buried in the back yard at different times and then later the laundry was built over it; later items either were discarded into the foundations during construction, or thrown underneath it later on.

Simpson House lino layers edit copy

Above: Various examples of lino. Below: A variety of coins found dating from the 1910s-1940s, including florins. a

Simpson House Penny and half pennys 1943 1922 edit copy


The cottage no doubt dates from the late C19th and may have had many occupants over time. However the differences between Kembla Village, and Kembla Heights above it, nestled underneath the escarpment – were subtle yet numerous. One being that whilst the Heights were rentals  purpose-built by the colliery to house workers close by, the village properties were freehold, with owners more focussed on agricultural and dairying endeavours;  thus the homes may not have had such a high ‘turnover.’  That’s not to say there were no miners living in the village. Although Kembla village residents were generally considered ‘better off’ than their Heights counterparts, this family – or a number of them residing here – were by no means spendthrift.

Simpson House  root pills dolly  handmade implement! copy

Above: Clockwise from top L. A paper motorbike registration stuck to glass, dated 1948; a wood dolly style peg; a eucalyptus oil or pill bottle; a strainer for cooking, and a bottle of Morse’s Indian Root Pills, the most common quack medicine of the time. Below: A Chinese ginger jar; the root was packed in syrup. What was available in Western countries at the time was generally removed from jars or barrels, crystallized in sugar, and repacked in boxes by companies like ‘Rosella.’a

Simpson house finds GINGER JAR edit


Attesting to this, Kitchen implements found are seemingly hand crafted or repaired indicating the can-do attitude of the early working class when it came to creating low cost items or maintaining them. Also, pieces of crates from Golden crumpets and other products had been re-purposed into a new kitchen sometime in the 1950s in a manner I’ve seen many a time before in blue collar or rural areas.  The residents were definitely a budget-conscious lot.

The dwelling has been referred to locally as the ‘Simpson’s House’ or ‘Simpson Cottage’ which is a well-known local name (Harry Simpson Sr., 1875-1971, was significant as the last living survivor of the Mount Kembla Disaster). One time owners were his son Henry Thomas Simpson (Harry Jnr., born 1910), his wife Hilda Gladys Simpson (nee Page, 1909-1988), and their son Ross Simpson.  Harry and Hilda were married 1934, so they would have been residents after that date, to give you an idea of when they were in occupancy.  They were followed by a family named Lang.

Christmas Party Behind Mt Kembla Hotel edit

Above: A Simpson family Christmas party on land at the back of the Mount Kembla Hotel. ‘Simpson’s Cottage’ can be seen in the background. Provenance of image unknown. Below: The side of a wooden crumpets crate was used to line a 1950s era kitchen cupboard.a

Simpson House colden crumpets box edit copy


One interesting story may shed light on a quite unusual object which was recovered. The owners were told by an elderly local resident, whom during the period he had the job of delivering milk as a boy, recalled there was a woman of Chinese extraction living there at one time. I’ve personally never heard of any Asian residents in the local area back in the day; it’s about as ‘white bread’ a place as I’ve ever lived, I reckon, and has been for a long time. It was suggested that ‘Lang’ could be Chinese in origin or a westernized version of a name like ‘Ling’ (I think this is probably a stretch; the Langs were a well-known local family including one-time mayor). However to add some credence to this story – an item which was recovered, I thought of particular interest, was a Chinese ginger jar. It is unusual as I have never seen sherds in the local area of any sort of Chinese ware whatsoever.a

Simpson House magazine

Above: A spread from the ‘Weekend’ of October 20, 1956. The all important, life defining skill of bailing up a member of the male sex. Below: A variety of bottles recovered including cough cure, salad oil, gin, cologne, and sauce.a

Simpson House Holbrook's Sauce AND OTHERS


Another curious find was a pair of shoes tucked away under the flooring . The owners thought there was a possibility this may have been ritual and deliberately placed. The secreting of shoes in buildings has quite a history, going back centuries in Europe; but was a very popular practice in the nineteenth century that died out by the following. This was a superstition thought to ward off evil entities, or encourage fertility. What are often referred to by archaeologists as ‘spiritual middens’ also had a particular history in Australia.

My assessment is that the workman’s boots, which may date from the 1920s or 1930s, long after the practice lost popularity, likely just ended up there by accident when forgotten about. I have previously encountered pairs tucked under houses and left. Maybe they were forgotten about or unwanted when another room was built on to the dwelling.

Simpson House dolls head edit

Above: A Victorian era porcelain doll’s head. Below: Dr. Sheldon’s  Magnetic was a very popular liniment of the 1900s, rubbed on to soothe bodily aches and pains. The green version is rarer. These are often found, in an area that was populated with those who undertook physical labour for living, such as  miners and farmers. a

Simpson House Chamberlain's Cough Remedy and Dr Sheldon's Magnetic liniment edit copy

Other objects found were as follows:

  • A variety of coins, dating from the 1910s through to the 1940s.
  • A ‘cut throat’ style Razor. It is unusual to find these discarded.
  • Kitchen implements including a hand-held strainer, a prep knife and various pieces of cutlery.
  • Doll parts, and toy tea set items.
  • Men’s work boots and women’s dress shoes, probably from the 1930s.
  • Various patterned linos spanning a number of decades from the 1920s to the 1970s.
  • Newspapers, books and magazines dating from the 1930s to the 1970s.
  • Stoppers from sauce and whisky bottles, 1930s or earlier.
  • Children’s marbles, as well as marbles from Codds; these may have been broken ones, or those that had the marble removed deliberately to add to a play set; likely the latter.
  • A paper motorcycle registration sticker from 1948, attached to a piece of glass, likely from a rear view mirror. This probably belonged to a younger man and used as work transport – but unlikely to have been Ross Simpson as he would he been too young.
  • Bakelite jewelery probably dating from the 1930s
  • A hand-held pick.
  • Dolly pegs for hanging laundry.
  • Pieces of crates from foodstuffs and other products.
  • Bottles included whisky, gin, soft drinks, preserving jars, pills, culinary essence, eucalyptus oil, ink, various quack medicines, cologne, sauce, liquid brilliantine, salad oil, and pickles.  All fairly standard household brands of the time.

Simpson House corsets Merica  - Truck advert newspapers  copy

Above: Newspaper advertisements dating from the 1950s. Below: A gardening magazine from 1939. a

Simpson House Garden Lover magazine 1939 edit


I thought I could probably help unravel the mystery of some of the history of the home; but even though I was able to explain almost every object’s former use just by the huge amount of useless data I’ve accumulated in my head over the years about vintage junk – ultimately I wasn’t much help.

As it is, it gave a fractured view of the occupants and really, in the end it raised more questions than it answered. Nonetheless, all of these rescued objects are an interesting peek into  the lives of a series of people who lived here, that so many others would not have noticed – or alternately just have discarded in the trash.

Weekend Oct 20 1956 Australia Simpson Cottage

Above: A study of the spread from the ‘Weekend’ of October 20, 1956. 



All original images courtesy of and © Rachelle Calder, 2015 .

Here Today, Hair Tomorrow

Human hair fob chain and watch sml

This week I found these packed away in a box with several other seemingly unrelated items; here we have a fob watch (Object no 400010), with a fob chain (Object no 1100027) made from a rope of human hair.

Hair accessories made from the locks of loved ones who had passed on, were incredibly popular during the Victorian era, as were any kind of craft; but it was not a new phenomenon at all.  It dates back to at least the 1500s in Europe, but likely much further into the past than that. One can assume that it probably dates back as far as hair grew out of human heads. Hair jewelery was said to be a talisman of love in some cases, before they became a morbid – yet often beautiful reminder – of the deceased.

This sentimental pastime of hair fancywork, in its wearable form often called ‘Mourning Jewelery’ (although it wasn’t always), saw the locks of the dearly departed – or just fondly remembered – retained. It was then added to objects by being embroidered, plaited, inlaid, stitched, woven, even used as a covering – or a combination thereof.

It was made into feminine forms such as brooches, rings, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and hat pins. Scrapbooks, postcards and wreaths were other creations.  The popular masculine version was the fob chain, as seen in this week’s item. The keen crafter may have first experimented with horse or other animal hair. However hair fancywork and jewelery became a trend all of its own, separate to any references of death – although the fob chain I’m featuring would almost definitely have been a mourning item.

Bracelet containing three open work bands of plaited hair with two tassels and chased gold mount 1830-1850 Birminghamd Museums Trust

A bracelet containing three open work bands of plaited hair, with two hair-covered tassels and a chased gold mount, circa 1830-1850. Image courtesy of the  Birmingham Museums Trust. There are many amazing and intricate  examples of hairwork jewelery online.

The popularity for hairwork seems to have been a combination of different events which transpired. The trend is said to have had its origins in monarch Charles I’s death in 1649, whom after asking as his last words that his loyal followers ‘remember me’ – rings are said to have been created by his courtiers using locks of his hair.

Hairwork jewelery was also on the rise as demand for the intricate hairpieces of the 1700s were no longer à la mode. Some of the hairdos of the Rococo era were so extreme that they involved cages with live birds woven into them. However by the late 18th century, most extravagances fell from fashion to be replaced with the simplicity of Neoclassic stylings.

Craftsmen such as wigmakers found themselves having to turn to other methods to keep demand up and make a living. Indeed craft is the operative word; the artistry of some pieces is amazing, with examples mimicking leaves, shells and flowers amongst other genres.
As a professional industry it boomed with travelers combing (sorry!) the countryside to buy the hair of poor and desperate peasants. Subsequently items were churned out on masse in early industrial revolution-era workshops; Birmingham was a centre for manufacture.

Another obvious influence was the dedication to cultural practices and what was involved in the etiquette of mourning , which was a clearly defined process, particularly during the nineteenth century. It was also simply fashionable to mourn. Queen Victoria’s ‘all black’ style in her extended mourning of Prince Albert was also a very popular influence.

To begin with, this art form continued to be marketed to the wealthy; with top of the line pieces often using gold, jet, as well as pearls – which represented tears.  However like many products of the industrial revolution, which were notoriously diluted or substituted, people became untrustworthy and preferred to manufacture their own creations, being assured that the locks were the real deal and had not been replaced with something else when entrusted into the hands of another party. By the 1860s hairwork was at the height of its rage as records of publications attest.

There are voracious collectors of this craft and prices are now competitive for pieces. There are several organizations around the world dedicated to collecting the Art of hairwork as well as a museum  at the Victorian Hairwork Society headquarters in Missouri, USA.

Hair accessories started to lose traction after Victoria’s death in 1901; it began to be considered dated like all fashions,  and had well and truly fallen out of favour by the 1920s. And that was the status quo until a grassroots revival of craftspeople started to re-emerge in the 1970s, particularly focused on Våmhus in Sweden – which already had a lengthy tradition of the craft.

Hair as a keepsake may not be anywhere as near as popular as it once was, yet human nature dictates that sentimentality hasn’t gone out of ‘fashion’ and probably never will.
In contemporary times, memorial keepsakes are possibly even more weird and interesting; such as today’s trend of having a loved one’s ashes compressed into a diamonds to wear as accessories, known as ‘cremation jewelery.’ A person can be reduced to a gem of around 0.2 grams for somewhere between four and twenty thousand dollars US, depending on the ‘model’ chosen.
Human hair does not decay, which was one advantage of its use – but I’d say a diamond would probably last even longer.




Smithsonian Magazine: Victorian Human Hair Jewelery

Birmingham Museums: Remembering the Dearly Departed

Collector’s Weekly: Mourning Jewelery

How Cremation Diamonds Are Made

Victorian Hair Art and Mourning Traditions



Back in Black: Helen Bannerman’s Reprieve

Little Black Sambo book - Illawarra Museum collection 2015 edit copy sml

Continuing on the theme of a random item from the collection every week, here is one I ran across snuggled in tissue paper a few weeks back (object 100373). This is a much loved nursery classic  which will be familiar to many. The book was published internationally for decades with many different versions of covers and  artwork; but this one, which seems to have been issued in the mid 1960s, is the one familiar to most of a certain age in Australasia.

However as popular as the dramatic yet whimsical story of ‘Little Black Sambo’ is– it fell out of favour for a time; amongst reasoning was because of the insistence that ‘sambo’ was a slur with racial overtones,  and the book was said to have contributed to this negative stereotyping.

The pertinent fact that the ‘Sambo’ character was neither African, nor a ‘golliwog’, negates most of the drama which has been created around the tome, including a Supreme Court case – but this has seemingly been considered irrelevant, and conveniently ignored.

It was regularly published until the early 1970s, when it became most unpopular for a period and eventually  an ‘alternative’ version was produced with the names of the proponent of the story, and his parents Mumbo and Jumbo, changed completely.
The text and pictures are said to have undergone a number of revisions since it was first published in 1899 as part of a series called ‘Dumpy Books’ for English publisher Grant Richards. In the U.S. in the fifties the ‘black’ part was replaced with ‘brave’ and in the 1990s it was completely re-illustrated to be more ’racially sensitive’ featuring implausibly lightened skin and the name changed from ‘Sambo’ to ‘Babaji’ or just the completely innocuous ‘Sam.’
What does this really tell you? No matter what they do – it just won’t go away. Maybe it’s better just to leave it be – which seems to be the case today.

Historically, the development  of the golliwog has a number of different theories; one is that the golly was in fact based on the sidekick of ‘Sinterklaas’, the Dutch version of that jolly Xmas figurehead; and his sidekick ‘Zwarte Piet’ (‘Black Peter’) was originally a child chimney sweep of Italian extraction (hence the ‘wog’ part). Darkened with coal dust, he was seemingly not a person of African descent at all (this is also possibly how the lump of coal punishment ties in to the traditional ‘naughty or nice’ scenario). To others there’s no two ways about it – Peter was a negro slave servant of Saint Nicholas, who inexplicably happened to carry his sack of gifts from Spain.

Rob Waide suggests “a theory of the origin of the name ‘golliwogg’ is that while British soldiers held Egypt in the second half of the 19th century, they had Egyptian labourers who  worked for them. Workers purportedly wore insignia ‘W.O.G.S.’ on their armbands which meant ‘working on government service.’ British troops spoke of them as ‘ghouls’ – which is an Arabic word for a desert ghost.
Egyptian children played with black dolls which they would sometimes give to British soldiers – or they would buy dolls from children. The dolls were called ‘ghuliwogs’ and later, ‘golliwoggs.’ In the end, taking into account the golliwog’s lengthy and multifarious history – the ‘real ‘ story is probably part of all of these.

However whatever the basis is, this isn’t just a ‘hot topic’ for a moment and then everyone quickly moves on like they seem to on social media these days; the targeting of the humble golliwog as culturally insensitive started as far back as the early 1920s, and Bannerman’s book was already copping it by the 1930s.

helen bannerman books x 4

Image credits, clockwise from top L:, ‘Little Black Bobtail‘ courtesy of Jenny Wren Books via Abe, ‘Little White Squibba’ courtesy of Aleph-Bet, ‘Little Black Quibba’ courtesy of  Snipwiew, ‘Little Black Mingo’ courtesy of Lorne Bair rare books.


This consistent onslaught by the ‘politically correct brigade’ as they are sometimes dubbed, has tainted the humble golly to the point that British company Robertson, famous for ‘Golden Shred’ marmalade which had featured a golliwog since 1910, dropped their mascot after 91 years (interesting to note a connection between their celebrated use of Sevilles, the golliwog character, Zwarte Piet’s sack of Spanish gifts, and the traditional Xmas present of an orange).
Starting In 1983, the tide turned as the company’s product was boycotted; by 1988 the character was let go from television advertising. Their popular, collectable promotional collections of badges and figurines were then withdrawn, and in 2001 use of the golly was ceased completely. Another victim in the early 1980s was the golly character in Enid Blyton’s ‘Noddy’ books which also quietly disappeared.

Scottish-born Helen Brodie Cowan Watson was far better known by her pen name ‘Helen Bannerman.’ After she attained a degree in literature in 1887, she married an officer an officer in the Indian Medical Service and they moved to Madras, India. So her characters, settings and story lines are not so much racially motivated but genuinely inspired by the environment of which she was imbued at that time – and the Tamil people that surrounded her.
It was a book written for her children and was principally, maybe now ironically, regarding ethics – and little to do with skin colour. Even though ‘Little Black Sambo’ is still sometimes referred to as ‘controversial’ this term is technically incorrect as a descriptive for her original motivations since there was no attempt to provoke at the time of the story’s creation; but it is undeniable it has had a controversial history.

Because ‘Sambo’ is so famous, and has completely eclipsed the rest of her oeuvre, it’s probably not so well-known that Bannerman wrote many other ‘Little’ books like ‘Little Black Mingo’ (1901), ‘Little Black Quasha’ (1908), ‘Little Black Quibba’(1902), ‘Little Black Bobtail‘(1909)’ and finally  ‘Little White Squibba’ – just to even the score out a bit. The latter was actually not published until around 1966 long after Bannerman’s death (in 1946, Edinburgh) and was essentially the ‘Sambo’ story rewritten as a white character.  There was also the story of ‘Little Kettlehead’ (1903/4), a cautionary tale of sorts for ‘badly behaved babas’ as the byline went; a strangely morbid and bizarre book about a white girl living in India  – who has her head burned off in a fire and has it replaced with a pot.

The diplomatically-obsessed brigade would have us believe something is still amiss here, but apart from the book’s longevity and popularity to this day – this positing is long past the point of much validity. Perhaps just due to the passing of time ‘Sambo’ has well and truly segued into ‘quaint curiosity’ territory.  It simply ‘is what it is’ now. The fact is, that to most they were very different times and it was really quite innocent in the moment; the flipside was that for a long time there were few books that had a successful, black hero – a positive role model – again something that was conveniently dismissed about the book.

For many it simply brings back wonderful childhood memories. Every posting I’ve made on social media over the last few years attests to this; comments one after the other are simply those of fond recollections of individuals’ early years that come flooding back.  There is still a lot of love for the humble golly character in any form.
As a child I too loved this story of angry tigers running faster and faster around the tree until they turned into melted butter and that fondness continues to this day.
Also – I still want a pair of plimsolls.




Long Island Book Collectors: Banned From American Bookshelves

Herald Scotland: Curtains for the jam jar Golly

‘Golliwogg’ history History Always Repeats

Wikipedia : The Story of Little Black Sambo 

SAADA: The Complicated Racial Politics of Little Black Sambo 


Snowed Under

Q BAN jelly babies by Snow Confectionery Pty Ltd POS box and sticker EDIT copy crop further sml

Box from the Illawarra Museum being used to store a donation of various photographs and glass negative plates.


Yes, I’m very busy but there’s always time to research for a blog post!
I’ve been interested in packaging since I was young; and I started collecting stuff when I was about eight years old. In fact I remember when I was just three; my father was very excited on Christmas day to present me with a pedal-powered toy police car. This enormous package was carried out – and I had help unwrapping as the toy was lifted out. ‘’I love this BOX!” I exclaimed gleefully. Much to his gross disappointment.

So when I’m looking for things in the Illawarra Museum collection, I tend to get distracted by actual boxes while I’m rooting around in cupboards. The way the collection has been amassed and catalogued over the years, by several different curators with different ways of doing things – means there’s all kinds of weird and wonderful containers that items are squirreled away in, from tobacco tins to hat boxes – to items like this bulk packing box for smaller packets of Q Ban jelly babies which would have been delivered in a shop order. Often I think things probably just stayed in whatever they were delivered in and accessioned to the museum!

I also keep a keen eye on vintage Australian confectionery ephemera and I had not heard of this one before. So curiosity got the better of me and before I knew I realized, this humble sticker on an old cardboard packing box, probably dating from the 1950s, became the blog’s object of the week.

The Snows Confectionery Pty Ltd business (it’s often quoted as Snow’s) was founded by a man named Harry Eli Walter James Hughes who was born 1892 in Elizabeth Street, Waratah, in the Newcastle area of NSW to Eli and Elizabeth Jane Hughes née Bacon. Harry’s father was also born in Waratah in the 1850s so there was quite a family history there.

Harry started off in the early 1920s making molded, hollow sugar animals in his inner-Sydney kitchen (a very similar story to Melbourne’s MacRobertson). I’ve no idea what his background was previous to going out on his own, or who he had worked for. Before long he moved to whipping up batches of toffee for the rapidly growing business in his back yard – and by 1929, the business was quickly becoming successful and a factory was opened at Alma Street in Darlington (the area between Redfern, Camperdown and upper Newtown) by 1930.

61-65 Johnson Street site of Snow or Snow's confectionery EDIT copy

Johnston Street, Annandale earlier this year showing the Snow building still standing; from left number 61, the Hughes’s factory at number 63, and at right, a one level house. Image courtesy of ‘1930s Annandale – A Short Walk’ by Marghanita da Cruz, 2015.


Sometime during this period he married Emily Florence (I was unable to find a marriage record) and they had their first child in 1927, Ralph John Hughes, who later succeeded his father as managing director. They also had one daughter Pamela Emily Hughes, but probably much later, towards the end of the 1930s. The Hughes family moved regularly during this time – from Coogee to Croydon, then to Bondi where they stayed for most of the 1930s.

With Harry’s slogan ‘I Cook With Glucose’ becoming well known, Snows made chocolates, nougats, fruit jellies, hand decorated and striped fudges, toffees, jelly babies, chocolate éclairs, butterscotch, caramels, liquorice, boiled lollies, and later on were proponents of sugar free confectionery. I wasn’t able to find any further references to the ‘Q Ban‘ brand and have no idea what inspired it, or what it means.

In the late 1940s the Hughes family had a spell in Kingsford before finally settling in Bellevue Hill through the 1950s and 1960s. It’s interesting that even though their factories were based in Western Sydney that the Hughes family lived in all the east/south-east beaches popular with Jewish people.

Generally it was common for people to live close to their place of work; but its likely that the Hughes family were well off and owned a motor car, which were becoming more accessible and popular at this time, rather than purely a luxury item, which was previously the domain of only the wealthy. Given Eli is also a Hebrew name it makes me wonder if there was a Jewish background. This is the same areas my relatives lived in, who all changed their names to quite Westernized, innocuous ones like Mann, Green, Meadows, Taylor and Morris.

After Darlington, Snows was based at 63 Johnson Street, Annandale by early 1934; council records of 1937 show renovations and expansions to premises. Subscribers of 1939 show the main shareholders were Harry, a Walter L. Wells, and another Hughes, Leslie M. I suspect this family member born in Gulgong just north of Mudgee, NSW, was a cousin. At this time they were also supplying sugar-milled and pastry products. They stayed at this location likely through to at least the early 1960s.

Life was fairly uneventful for Snows at their new location for the most part – except for an early 1940s court case, in which they were fined by the NSW Board of Health for “very neglected condition…floors thickly covered with black dirty material, sugar bins containing dirt, and boiling cans thickly covered with dirty wet material…an area covered with cobwebs.” Delectable!

Harry Hughes Managing Director of Snows Confectionery headlines copy

L: Hugheses in cars seems to be a theme; here’s a photo of Harry, still managing director of Snows at this time, from an unknown publication of the 1960s. R: Various headlines implicating the business over the years.


Harry’s son Ralph was the payroll clerk for Snows, when he became the subject of newspaper headlines Australia-wide in October 1954. Returning from the Parramatta Road branch of the Bank of NSW around 11 a.m. on that day, he pulled up outside the factory premises in Annandale with the cash to fill the weekly pay packets. As he alighted from the car he was confronted with a levelled pistol, when a grey sedan roared up beside him out of nowhere. He quickly threw the two leather satchels he was holding, in the back of his vehicle and locked it. However once he heard the click of the weapon being cocked, he decided not to stand in the robbers’ way. As one of the two thieves leaned in to retrieve the bags, Ralph threw a punch which didn’t connect – but knocked the hold-up man’s grey hat to the ground as he leaped in the getaway car. Within minutes, police radio had six patrol cars to the scene and had cordoned off the entire area, blocking escape routes. However the syndicate had employed an ingenious ruse of multiple getaway cars – the first was abandoned in Skelton Street, Leichardt, where they were joined by a third driver and changed to an old-model tourer. This was later swapped again for a high-powered American model car. Road blocks were established on all main exits from Sydney and there was a serious investigation with raids and many known criminals investigated. I’m not sure if the crime was ever actually solved, but the mysterious grey hat became the main clue in the investigation, and Ralph’s bravery was not unnoticed, to say the least.

Think you’ve never had Hughes in your gob? You probably have and you just didn’t know it. The bulk of their business in the last few decades was with Woolworths for the Home Brand, as well as for Franklins, Coles and Aldi. If you’ve ever nibbled on self brand products from any of those supermarket chains, you have indeed eaten a Snows product. They had also built up an international business in North and South America, Asia and New Zealand.

Harry passed away in 1970 and Ralph succeeded him as managing director. The company moved to Davis Road, Wetherill Park, NSW around 1990 and remained family owned; run by Harry’s grandson Colin L. Hughes and his great grandson Nathan Hughes. They acquired the 1958-established business of Kronos Fine Foods Pty Ltd  chocolates in 2004 and soon after were working on an entirely new environmentally efficient water system, so they were definitely making plans for the future.  Earlier in their history they had been the Australian instigator of the continuous vacuum cooker with the Baker Perkins Hi-Boil Depositor; so they were innovative and forward-thinking which accounted for their longevity in an industry that had seen many businesses come and go. Further to that they won the Alfred Stauder Award for Excellence in Confectionery Manufacturing in 2006; things seemed to be going exceedingly well.

So it was a surprise when everything suddenly fell apart.  It was one of Australia’s biggest confectionery manufacturers when the business collapsed at the end of 2010, due to cash flow problems leaving them unable to fulfil large orders. At the time Snows employed nearly 100 people and the annual turnover was more than 24 million dollars per annum. Snows was put into administration, and offered for sale. It was subsequently acquired by Sanchez Group Australia, owners of Pryde Confectionery Holdings.


‘1930s Annandale – A Short Walk’ by Marghanita da Cruz

Food Australia: The official journal of CAFTA and AIFST Council of Australian Food Technology Associations.

National Library of Australia’s Trove digitized newspapers  

Ancestry Australia 

Skulking and Sulking

CF356BDAZA iron hook - bullock team yoke hook

A strangely-shaped iron hook I picked up on Cordeaux Road, Mount Kembla, which started my adventure leading to the Benjamin sulky in the Illawarra Museum collection. It may possibly be part of a yoke system for hitching multiple bullocks into a team.


Not so long ago, while I was out walking, I found this odd iron item on the road after a heavy rain storm; I thought it was curious, so I picked it up and took it home for consideration. Someone eventually suggested that it may be off a sulky; so while I was at the museum this week – and knowing they have one on display – I decided to snoop around the agricultural, transport and industrial section housed in the courtyard (which could be thrown under the umbrella of ‘general farmy kind of stuff’)  to see if I could find a match. The answer was no, by the way – it doesn’t correlate with any part, so I’m none the wiser right now.

P13041 Mary Benjamin buggy edit

Mary Benjamin driving her sulky along what is now the Ring Track in South Kembla, 1922; the sulky was only a couple of years old then. Image courtesy of the Mount Kembla Mining Heritage collection, via WCC Local Studies’ Illawarra Images, ref P13/P13041.


Skulking around the various carts, cheese presses, and ploughs, I suddenly realised that this was the very sulky that Noel Murray, a well-known Wollongong identity, had described to me when I interviewed him a couple of years back as part of an oral history project. He is known to be incredibly passionate about his family history, with an amazing collection of photographs, and is quite a character with a trope of colloquial sayings, or, as he self-describes: “bush bunnyisms.”

Noel and his family lived on the south side of Mount Kembla for half a century. His grandparents moved there from Mount Kembla village in 1907, and starting off with a tiny slab hut, they eventually established a large, profitable farm and orchard. With the family housed in two homesteads on the side of the mountain, surrounded by lush landscaped gardens, it was well documented by his family’s various box brownies.

Murray- Benjamin Collection South Kembla 1975 old Sulky 1975 copy edit

L: Jack Carter gives Ivy Murray (née Benjamin) one last nostalgic ride, around the lawn of the Benjamin’s later home at Farmborough Road. Unanderra. R: Society member Fred Healy collects the sulky and tows it away to the museum with his station wagon. Both images taken 1975, courtesy of the Murray-Benjamin Collection.


Besides being known for their fruit and vegetables – Noel’s grandfather was John Benjamin – who is a renowned figure; well respected as part of South Coast mining history for his prospecting talents – which uncovered many local seams, and thus was founded a number of mines.  It was finally a landslide (which wasn’t entirely stopped by a plethora of Coral trees. planted particularly to prevent one) which was worrying enough to make them move on to Farmborough Heights in 1954. A few years on, the land was sold to BHP, razed, and eventually reverted to bush.

This sulky was purchased by the family in around 1920. It was already second-hand by that time and had already accrued some interesting history, having belonged to ‘Dad’ Commens (see Carol Herben’s article on him, ‘George Saw Fire and Rein’, for The Advertiser’s ‘Timeless Wollongong’ column, 21 Sept 2011).
Noel’s mother Ivy Murray and his grandmother Mary Benjamin drove to Wollongong from Mount Kembla and back, every Saturday morning, whatever the weather, for Ivy’s music lessons with a Miss Herd – who resided on the south-western corner of Kembla and Market Streets.

19-10-15 Illawarra Museum Murray-Benjamin sulky copy

The Benjamin sulky (collection item 200156) today, on display in the back courtyard of the Illawarra Museum; it’s coming up for a century old.


Can you imagine travelling down those incredibly steep roads in this, or even back up? The idea is terrifying.  Anyone who has driven to Kembla Heights knows that trip is daunting enough in a modern day car. The sulky looks delicate but it in reality it must have been made of very tough stuff.

It was donated to the Illawarra Historical Society for the museum collection by Ivy and her two siblings, under brother Albert Benjamin’s name. Ivy was an Illawarra Historical Society member at the time, and was a prolific story writer for their bulletin; and so was very connected to the organisation.

A photo above shows Fred Healy, another society member with the sulky hitched to his station wagon in order to take it to the Illawarra Museum in 1975. There’s also a picture of Ivy taking a last sentimental ride in it around the garden courtesy of her cousin Jack Carter, playing ‘horse.’

the Benjamin Family sulky in the Illawarra Museum 2001 with Grandson Mitchell Creagan edit

Noel Murray with his with grandson, Mitchell Creagan, sitting in the Benjamin sulky. during a school  excursion to the Illawarra Museum in 2001. Image courtesy Noel Murray collection. 


You can still visit the farm site which is almost exactly a half hour’s walk from the Windy Gully end into what’s now called the Ring Track; the spot is marked by the aforementioned Coral trees, which are still clustered there today (the turnstile marking the track down to the old historical site of the Southern Coal Tunnels is right there too).

It’s funny to think, as you walk along, of this very collection item traversing that rocky track through the various sclerophyll and gum forests that line it along the way.

Oh and by the way, if you have any idea what the metal object is that started this story, please leave a comment with your ideas!

Tickets Please: Regent Theatre Ephemera

Regent Theatre memorabilia tickets smaller edit copy

One day whilst perusing the myriad of assorted boxes haphazardly stacked to the ceiling in every nook and cranny of the Illawarra Historical Society’s offices, a strange recycled cardboard box, thoroughly enclosed with what looked like a couple of rolls of tape, and squished into a corner of some shelving, caught my eye.

I peeled some of the sticky off carefully, well – enough to get the box open – to find very densely packed printed ephemera including memorabilia from a movie house. The box also included items from the Crown Theatre, Wollongong R.S.L, and the Southern Cross Hall. Was it donated by a collector, or were they all venues that the same person, in a particular role, had been involved in somehow?

Most of it, as turns out, this was from the last days of the Regent.

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This well-known Art Deco building at 197 Keira St, Wollongong, by Reginald Magoffin, was originally designed in the mid-late 1930s although interestingly, it was not actually constructed until the 1950s. Reasons given for the delays were “industrial, financial and political conditions“ but WWII also played a major part. Building progress was incredibly slow and the theatre did not finally open until 1957, through 23 years of planning and negotiations to complete the project.

The building features interior design of state significance by Marion Hall Best (and also Janet Single); the former considered one of Australia’s leading modernists. The main auditorium has lower circle and mezzanine seating, and now has capacity of over 1200 seats.  It is one of the few intact grand cinemas with dress circle, original furnishings and equipment, and it retains its original Cinemascope screen and 70mm projection equipment (one of four remaining in NSW). The Regent showed its first Cinemascope movie in 1961.

Herbert Wyndham Jones was a local entertainment entrepreneur who pioneered film exhibition from around 1930, showing silent movies- and quickly segueing into ‘talkies’. Herbert had originally been a store keeper in Corrimal.

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It’s his son Maurice, however, that is remembered by most. He ran the ‘Civic Theatre’ in Wollongong, together with the ‘Princess Theatre’ in Corrimal. He also ran a picture show in Kembla Heights for a number of years.

Jack Miller recalls: “When I was at school the bloke that ran the movie shows in Kembla gave me a job working for him – I would switch the lights at beginning, end and intermission; then I would help in the projection room. Then on Saturday mornings I’d get the movies, put them on the bus, and send ’em back to Wollongong. I was hoping to get a job showing the movies in Wollongong but the bloke who was doing it told me it’s a dead-end job and not to take it. Maurice Jones was a nice bloke but drank too much. They’d come up here and get on the grog; he’d bring all his mates up.”

Herbert passed away in 1943, thus never got to see out his grand plans for the state-of-the-art venue he had envisaged.  His wife Emily Vaughan Jones, son Morry and daughter Rowena Milgrove carried on the business after he passed away and finally somehow got the theatre built through all kinds of trials and tribulations.

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Who knows if the name it ended up with was the original plan of his father’s. For in an interview with John Martin (who was working as a journalist at the time, later News Editor WIN TV) Morry disclosed his concern that he’d made an error with his intention for the name, for in English Royal hierarchy, a Crown is superior to the Regent.

The Regent Theatre was developed to be the ‘fancier’ venue in the CBD,  and as such the name should perhaps have better reflected that hierarchy.  A number of people recall their other busy venue the Civic Theatre being “a bit lower class”  where you went “to meet…girls… canoodling in the front rows.” and it was even sometimes referred to as ‘The Flea Pit.”

Charley Slater, a projectionist for Morry, recalls “Mrs Emily Jones, Morry’s mother, invariably stationed…selling tickets and… keeping young riff-raff in order. Unlike many theatre managers, he liked to be involved in the technical side of the business so we got on well. “

Rowena Milgrove ran The  Regent until her passing in January 2004. As the last surviving picture theatre of that golden age in the city of Wollongong – the building is now heritage listed as of 2005. It was listed for sale by Gateway City Church in 2009 (I’m not sure if they did actually end up selling it), and is still open today, but as a religious organization, and entertainment venue;  renowned Australian musician and singer Paul Kelly was a recent performer.

Some excerpts courtesy of the WCC’s Town Hall Project archive.

Regent Theatre History, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.