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.
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.
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 washing clothes at a shack in Clifton, 1929. Image courtesy Wollongong City Council’s Illawarra Images, ref P18/P18298.
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.
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.
Object 700176: M. Borgo ceramic wine crock, probably circa 1930s. Image courtesy Illawarra Historical Society.
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 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.
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.
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).
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.
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 rubylane.com; St Louis Magazine at stlmag.com; University of Virginia Magazine at uvamagazine.org; 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.
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’).
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 onekingslane.com. The bottom one courtesy of S.S. Moore Antiques via rubylane.com 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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Above: Various examples of lino. Below: A variety of coins found dating from the 1910s-1940s, including florins. a
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
Above: Newspaper advertisements dating from the 1950s. Below: A gardening magazine from 1939. a
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.
Above: A study of the spread from the ‘Weekend’ of October 20, 1956.
All original images courtesy of and © Rachelle Calder, 2015 .
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.