What: A pioneering designer and businesswoman who contributed to the image of Surfers Paradise as a sophisticated resort destination through her fashion and beauty boutiques.
Where: Hassard operated several businesses in Surfers Paradise. Her first, the Exclusive Salon, was located on the Gold Coast Highway. During a hiatus from fashion, she opened beauty salon Jolie Madame, in Surfers Paradise’s Blue Arcade. She later re-opened a fashion boutique under her own name on the Pacific Highway.
When: Hassard’s career in fashion spanned a time of immense change. She began working in 1946, just as Dior’s ‘New Look’ was about to set the international fashion world alight. Hassard continued to design until at least the late 1970s, when women’s wardrobes were decidedly less structured and overtly feminine. She constantly refined and adapted her aesthetic throughout this three decade period in order to create clothes women wanted to wear.
Why:Gold Coast fashion in the mid-20th century was dominated by two figures: Ivy Hassard and Paula Stafford. However, unlike her contemporary Paula Stafford, Ivy Hassard is no longer a household name. Yet in her day she greatly influenced the Queensland fashion scene with her trend-setting boutiques and stylish designs.
But before she made her mark on the fashion world as an accomplished entrepreneur and designer, Hassard had already lived life to the full as a formidable aviatrix and talented musical performer.
Growing up in Ipswich, Ivy Pearce got a taste for running a business from a young age by observing her parents success as hard-working hoteliers. When she was only sixteen, she began taking plane lessons, and showed prodigious talent for aerobatic flying. Pearce obtained her pilot’s licence at age eighteen and went on to be a well-known Australian aviatrix, noted for her abilities as well as her stylish appearance.
In those days she often flew over Surfers Paradise, and holidayed there with friends. In 1937, she married a fellow pilot, Jason Hassard, and they had three children, Jason, Darryl, and Laurene. During this time, Ivy Hassard utilised her talents as a musician, working as a concert pianist.
In 1946, they moved to Surfers Paradise, and by 1947 Ivy Hassard began her first fashion business—the Exclusive Frock Salon—and in doing so paved the way for Surfers Paradise as a fashion destination. It was two years before Paula Stafford would make her own mark on the local fashion scene with her bikini designs. But while Stafford was a savvy operator who understood the power of a good product, Hassard developed a sophisticated aesthetic across daywear and eveningwear, and soon counted many Sydney and Melbourne women among her clients. Word of her elegant designs spread quickly and she became an integral part of the increasingly cosmopolitan Surfers Paradise scene. In 1954, she staged the first ever fashion show on the Gold Coast, held at the Surfers Paradise hotel.
The Courier Mail covered the parade, recognising its importance for the development of the local fashion industry. Their article made the claim that Hassard, along with collaborating designer, John Dolby, “will make a bid to establish Surfers Paradise as the beach fashion centre for Australia — as Capri is for the Mediterranean”1. Hassard’s glamorous designs were shown on a group of young Sydney models, including iconic Australian model June Dally-Watkins. Success was rapid for Hassard; in less than ten years she had become a fixture, not only on the Gold Coast, but within the Australian fashion field.
Hassard continued to host fashion parades. In 1958, one extravaganza held at the Surfers Paradise Hotel was aptly called ‘Evening in Capri.’ For the parade, Hassard designed a large suite of outfits, including beachwear, daywear, and eveningwear. Her new venture, Jolie Madame beauty salon, is also mentioned in coverage of the parade as being responsible for the models’ hair and make-up.
Always an astute businesswoman, by late 1958 Hassard turned her full attention to the Jolie Madame salon and the growing beauty industry. She trained as a hairdresser and researched the best beauty products. She sold the Exclusive Salon to another Gold Coast businesswoman known simply as ‘Helene’. But while Hassard may have put fashion on the backburner to start her beauty business, she understood the importance of carrying on the stylish brand image she had cultivated during her years in fashion. Jolie Madame was elegantly fitted out with contemporary ‘atomic’ furniture, floor-to-ceiling mirrors, and striking wallpaper.
A photograph of Ivy Hassard at Jolie Madame with internationally-renowned Parisian beautician, Madame Payot, shows off the charming interior design. Hassard, in a chic floral dress and white pumps, cuts a very fashionable figure, likely wearing her own designs.
Ivy Hassard returned to fashion in the 1960s, opening a new eponymous boutique in 1964 on the Gold Coast Highway. Her glamorous daughter, Laurene, became her most regular model, appearing in numerous newspaper and magazine spreads. Laurene remembers that her mother “employed a staff of around 20 female seamstresses” and that many of her garments featured labour-intensive handwork techniques.2
In the 1960s and 70s, Ivy Hassard won two coveted ‘Supreme Awards’ at the Chevron Hotel’s prestigious fashion event ‘Concours d’Elegance’, which showcased garments designed to match the style and colour of a luxury car.
Hassard’s designs evolved with the times. Clippings held in the John Oxley Library from the 1960s and 70s reveal that Hassard’s work continued to look modern, with sleek monochromatic dresses, capes, and pants reflecting the influence of a younger market on the fashion industry. Hassard kept designing until at least her mid-sixties, assisted by her daughter Laurene. After retiring, she remained an active member of the community, turning her attention to fundraising for charities.
In 1997, Ivy Hassard’s contribution to the Gold Coast was commemorated with the naming of Hassard Place. When she passed away the following year, floral tributes adorned the prime corner of real estate in central Surfers Paradise.
1927 – 1998. Ivy Pearce Hassard Photographs and Papers (28860). John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
Ponds catalogue, 1937, Fortitude Valley. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives
High Street Histories is a new online series that uncovers the history of Queensland fashion business. Original research revisits lost and forgotten people and places: the designers, dressmakers, tailors, factory workers, shop assistants, managers, window dressers, and the boutiques, department stores, warehouses, arcades, and emporiums. Read more…
Who: James Stewart & Co., known locally as ‘Stewarts’. Established by Scotsman James Stewart (1837–1923), managed by generations of the Macfarlane family, and currently owned by the Woods family.
What: A beloved regional department store and one of Queensland’s longest running businesses.
Where: Stewarts has occupied the same prominent position in central Rockhampton since 1864, still trading there today. Its substantial building on the corner of East and Denham Streets has undergone several updates and rebuilds since its establishment, but has remained at the heart of Central Queensland retail. In addition to its flagship store, Stewarts also operated smaller outpost branches in Mount Morgan, Longreach, Blackall, and Barcaldine.
When: Stewarts has operated for over 150 years. Established in 1862, it is one of the few Australian-owned department stores still trading.
James Stewart arrived in Australia in 1862 to join his brother Alexander, a fellow draper, who had set up a business in Brisbane with partner William Hemmant. James Stewart was sent by the partners to launch another drapery in the growing port-town of Rockhampton. The business quickly expanded and by 1864 they had built their own premises on prime land at the corner of East and Denham Streets. James Stewart began running the business independently, but eventually took on another partner, E. S. Lucas. They operated as Stewart & Lucas until Lucas went out on his own in 1880, and James Stewart & Co. was named.
Why: Stewarts’ longevity in Australian retail is second only to David Jones. It is the only independent, Australian-owned department store with its origins in the 19th century still operating.
The history of Stewarts is closely tied to the history of Rockhampton and the broader development of the Central Queenslandregion. James Stewart arrived in Rockhampton just four years after it was proclaimed a town and a port. The population grew quickly. In 1871, it was 5,064. By 1891, it was 13,380. As a result, Stewarts’ development was rapid and impressive. Their business model combined manufacturing and importing across a swathe of departments, from clothing and drapery to furniture. By 1900, Stewarts had a large clothing factory, a tailoring factory, and a furniture factory. The business became a major local employer.
In the early years of Rockhampton’s settlement, men outnumbered women significantly. Within two decades, however, this position had begun to equalise, and women became important consumers. As such, women’s fashion evolved into a central focus for Stewarts.
While the clothing and tailoring factories produced large volumes of good quality men’s and women’s wear, it was the gown factory, located above James Stewart’s office, where exclusive fashionable garments were created. Following international trends in couture—delivered through fashion illustrations from Paris and London in the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin and Northern Argus newspapers—gowns were tailor-made using more expensive fabrics, imported from Brisbane, interstate, or overseas. Here, highly skilled dressmakers were employed to produce exquisite gowns that featured more and more prominently in Stewarts’ advertising.
During the early 20th century, Stewarts opened locations in other Central and North Queensland towns, also experiencing a population inundation: Mount Morgan, Barcaldine, Blackall, and Longreach. In addition, Stewarts infiltrated other remote regions of Queensland with extensive routes serviced by their travelling salesmen. Eventually, the establishment of a large mail order department met the shopping demands of thousands of country customers.
In 1916, James Stewart & Co. became a limited company, with founder James Stewart appointed as governing and managing director. By his side was Robert John Macfarlane, his brother-in-law, who had been with the business since the 1880s. Following James Stewart’s death in 1923, Robert John Macfarlane became chairman and managing director of Stewarts. Sadly, he also passed away in 1923. His son, John Macfarlace took on the role, where he stayed until his death in 1948. Four generations of Macfarlanes oversaw the management of Stewarts between 1923 and 1986.
One of James Stewart’s final wishes was the expansion and modernisation of Stewarts through the creation of a new flagship store. In 1926, plans were publically announced to erect a building to accommodate Stewarts’ increasing scale, and to make better use of their corner position. In 1927, Stewarts’ Blackall and Longreach stores were sold to allow greater focus on the Rockhampton project. The modern store opened in 1928 to much acclaim. The Morning Bulletin reported:
The inspiring effort made by Messrs. James Stewart and Company, to erect a building worthy of the city, can now be thoroughly appreciated. The… windows are 262 ft. long, broken only by the entrances to the different departments on the main selling ground floor. Full advantage has been taken of modern advancement in electric lighting equipment. At night both street facades are illuminated by flood lights and the show windows glow with holophane lamps. This feature accentuates the hopeful view of Rockhampton’s future, to which, the whole building, situated in the corner of East and Denham streets, is a standing monument3.
The new premises showed an even larger dedication to fashion, with clothing and accessories occupying the most space internally, and externally, as the dominant feature of Stewarts’ window displays. A café was a novel introduction to Stewarts, and quickly became a popular meeting place in Rockhampton. It was also the location for Stewarts’ fashion parades, introducing the latest seasonal styles to an avid audience of local women. Held over two days, these parades were elaborate productions and highly attended social events.
But not long after settling into their new corner store, the Depression took its toll. Stewarts’ directors and managers, rather than firing staff, decided to cut their own wages. In his history of Stewarts, By Any Criterion, ex-Managing Director Robert Macfarlane describes this period, revealing the surprising fact that Stewarts had only posted one loss to this date: the financial year ending July 31, 19334. Following this exceptional period, profits returned.
In 1939, a glamorous guest arrived at Stewarts: Madame Stella Rubenstein, sister to the famous beauty business pioneer, Helena Rubenstein. Stella’s in-store events were world renowned, and a major success for the Rockhampton department store.
But such events were curbed as the Second World War slowed trade and rationing took its toll. Some of Stewarts’ factory and office space was taken over for various purposes by the American Army. But after the War, new Managing Director Bob Macfarlane turned his attention to expanding and renovating the menswear department, as well as remodelling the womenswear showroom.
By 1949, the women’s fashion department had been modernised with new signage, counters, and lighting. The work done to the menswear department was more substantial, and not completed until late 1950. A full-page advertisement in the Morning Bulletin to announce the new menswear store claimed it to be “the most modern of its kind in Queensland”5.
In 1962, Stewarts celebrated its centenary, producing a substantial souvenir publication, a copy of which is held in the John Oxley Library. The 1960s was a period of great change for many department stores in Queensland, as once independent businesses were sold to interstate rivals like Myer and David Jones, and new shopping centres opened in the suburbs. Surprisingly, while its competitors were struggling with this new shopping paradigm, Stewarts continued to expand. They opened another new building, on the Denham Street side, to house a ‘Homemaker Centre’ and a number of small shopfronts to be leased to other tenants. On top was a large rooftop carpark with ‘Skywalk’ access to the second level of the main Stewarts building.
In 1980, a new shopping centre—Kmart Plaza—arrived to challenge Stewarts, bringing new national retailers into the mix. Despite their initial concern, this centre had little impact on Stewarts. However, five years later, a much more ambitious shopping precinct arrived: the Rockhampton Shopping Fair. Within six months of the centre opening, Stewarts received an offer from McDonnell & East to purchase the business. The offer was refused. It wasn’t the first time Stewarts had been coveted by a rival firm. Discount retailer Retail Investments, run by Bernard Buckley, had also been courting Stewarts’ management to sell to his company. They persisted, and made an attractive offer. Stewarts was sold, but by 1990 it was in receivership. Staff had been cut from 100 to 40, but those who remained managed to keep the store going.
Stewarts’ prospects were not looking good. In late 1992, Stewarts was given a new lease on life. The department store part of the business (not comprising other factory buildings) was purchased by a local family, the Woods. The company name ‘James Stewart & Co.’ was re-registered. Since this time, Bruce, Mark, Denise, and Peter Woods have remained directors of the company, continuing the (briefly interrupted) tradition of family management championed by the Stewarts store for over 150 years.
Macfarlane, R. I. J. 2007. By Any Criterion, James Stewart & Co. Sydney, self-published through Cremorne 1. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
1926. ‘James Stewart & Co. : old Rockhampton firm, drapers and manufacturers, C.Q. pioneer mail-order house’, Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), 9 March 1926. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
Paula Stafford and a model wearing a bikini ca. 1955, Surfers Paradise. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 151506
One of the biggest names in Queensland fashion in the 20th century is bikini designer Paula Stafford. We wrote about her in Issue 11 of The Fashion Archives. When we started the High Street Histories project, we made a fascinating discovery that linked her with photographer Henry Talbot and comedian Spike Milligan, but we never thought we’d have an opportunity to interview this incredible designer in person. Now in her 90s and still living on the Gold Coast, we spoke with Paula about how she got her start, what defines a bikini and how the Gold Coast became the centre for mid-century fashion in Queensland. Click here for the interview.
McDonnell & East department store, Brisbane, ca. 1950
Who: McDonnell & East, established by Irish drapers Frank McDonnell (1863–1928) and Hubert East (1862–1928). Their sons, Jack McDonnell and H. Frazer East joined the business as teenagers, and later became joint managing directors following the deaths of both founders in 1928. In the late-20th century, McDonnell & East was taken over by external investors.
What: For over seven decades, McDonnell & East was a family-run department store with a central Brisbane location on George Street. It was one of Brisbane’s most prominent fashion retailers, setting itself apart from the major shopping precinct of Queen Street in Brisbane’s CBD, and resisting the advances of Sydney and Melbourne department store chains. Late in life, after the retirement of the last McDonnell family director, it was transformed into a chain itself, taken over by a larger corporation who opened McDonnell & East stores in suburban and regional shopping centres.
Where: McDonnell & East’s first and last address was George Street, Brisbane, where it grew to occupy a large corner block connecting with Turbot and Tank Streets. This store operated for ninety-three years. In the 1920s and 30s, McDonnell & East operated small country branches in Pittsworth and Mount Larcom to supply their regional customers.
During the 1970s and 80s, McDonnell & East stores became anchors in shopping centre developments in Ipswich, Rockhampton, Surfers Paradise, Garden City, and Pacific Fair. McDonnell & East also took over Toowoomba and Warwick department store Pigott & Co.
Why: The story of McDonnell & East is one of great contrasts. Established by young, hard-working immigrants, the business thrived in its prime location for three-quarters of the 20th century. In the last quarter of the century, its fate changed quickly as over-zealous external investors pushed for rapid expansion, and suffered the consequences.
McDonnell & East founders Frank McDonnell and Hubert East arrived in Australia in 1886, and found work at Brisbane drapery firms. They became colleagues, and friends, and made the decision to open their own business. In 1901, McDonnell and East—with financial backing from a Brisbane businessman, and fellow Irishman, Peter Murphy—established their own store. Their lease on their first location, at 402-408 George Street, Brisbane, was purchased from John Reid, a fellow draper. When they opened, they had thirty-seven staff, thanks to strong early investment and high demand6.
The young McDonnell had already made a name for himself as an emerging political player in the Labour Party by 1888, when he began advocating for employment condition reform for retail and factory workers, particularly the abolishment of long working hours for retail assistants and drapers (some of whom worked twelve hour days, six days a week). By 1900, McDonnell’s aspirations were realised with the passing of the Factories and Shops Act.
Frank McDonnell’s decision to open his own business with Hubert East in 1901 was as much a political decision as it was a personal ambition. He was determined to prove that a successful retail business could operate without the need for extended trading at the expense of workers’ conditions. The rapid success of the store proved his point.
Luckily for McDonnell, he had found a hard-working and loyal partner, happy to accommodate McDonnell’s political commitments. East contributed to the development of the business, while McDonnell divided his time between the store and his dedication to social change. He was particularly passionate about the rights of teachers and the police, and made significant contributions to education reform. Improving conditions for young girls and women was central to McDonnell’s cause. He did this through the introduction of secondary school scholarships to encourage girls to further their study. As a member of the first senate of the University of Queensland, he supported the right for women to be admitted there7. And he continued to help reform the industries that were major employers of women, such as the clothing and textiles sector. McDonnell’s social conscience was the result of personal experience. As a young boy in Ireland, he had been forced to work in a factory, so had a firsthand understanding of the poor conditions workers faced.
The partners Frank McDonnell and Hubert East escalated their business rapidly. By 1908, they had expanded the store and acquired adjoining premises. Their teenage sons came to work for the store and staff numbers also flourished. In 1913, after acquiring more space on the corner of George and Tank Streets, McDonnell & East opened a new building, called ‘The White Store’8. This new location enabled McDonnell & East to double their profits within a year9. From 1914 to 1928, McDonnell & East secured more real estate and added more extensions and new buildings to their growing footprint. Their presence as one of Brisbane’s chief retailers was repeatedly confirmed by these physical improvements.
McDonnell & East’s location on Upper George Street was an unlikely spot for a major department store. In the late-19th and early-20th centuries, this part of town was not known as a retail precinct, with trade tending to cluster around Queen Street. But as was reflected in their ongoing expansion, McDonnell & East were on to something. Transport and other shopping conveniences nearby helped to support McDonnell & East’s position. In 1915, the Brisbane Markets relocated to Roma Street. The store was close to Roma Street railway station, and well serviced by tram stops on George Street that delivered customers from Brisbane’s western suburbs directly to McDonnell & East’s front door.
In 1920, McDonnell & East was listed on the Brisbane Stock Exchange as a public company. Both founders passed away in 1928, but handed over a strong business to their sons, F. J. “Jack” McDonnell, and Frazer East.
The new managing directors introduced more reasons to shop at McDonnell & East. In 1929, they opened their own café. The opening announcement promised that: “it will be scientifically ventilated with real, cool mountain air and furnished in a most up-to-date manner. Light luncheons and delicacies of every description will be available at the lowest cost”10. Another assured, “the purest of drinks will be concocted from one of the most hygienic fountains”11. In 1931, an agreement was made between Post Office authorities and McDonnell & East to house a post office in the store. It remained there until the 1990s.
In the 1920s and 30s, regional outposts of McDonnell & East were opened in Pittsworth and Mount Larcom, but these were closed after the Great Depression and World War II took their toll. Mail order was strengthened to supplement their closure. These challenges were short-lived. By the late 1940s and 50s, McDonnell & East was buoyant again, and in 1951 they celebrated their golden jubilee. Frazer East died in 1959, after which time Jack McDonnell became sole chairman and managing director. He stayed with the business until his retirement in 1972.
The George Street building received a major refurbishment in 1964 to modernise the interior. Escalators were installed, and interior dividing walls were removed to conform to open plan trends in shop design. In 1965, the Queensland Room Coffee Lounge and Gallery opened, designed as a major attraction for city shoppers to extend their stay in the McDonnell & East store.
Despite these improvements, a major source of McDonnell & East’s customer base was lost in 1969, with the dismantling of the Brisbane tram network. To offset this loss, they significantly extended their carpark, which had first been built in 1957. With more additions, in 1969 it became the largest multi-storey carpark in the CBD. Parking was a key concern for city shoppers, who could easily find a park in suburban shopping centres. McDonnell & East sought to retain customers by providing ample parking.
It was a time of significant change. While for seven decades McDonnell & East had relied almost solely on the success of the George Street store, a new wave of suburban shopping centres began to open up, shifting retail away from the city. The trams had once delivered shoppers from the Western suburbs straight to McDonnell & East’s door, but in 1970 those shoppers welcomed one of the largest malls ever opened in Australia, Westfield’s Indooroopilly Shopping Centre. McDonnell & East could no longer count on the buoyancy of the George Street premises, and opted to expand in new directions.
Another new shopping centre, Garden City, opened in the Brisbane suburb of Mt. Gravatt in October 1970, and McDonnell & East were at the forefront of the development. Together with David Jones, they were Garden City’s major anchor. Diversifying their interests, McDonnell & East purchased successful menswear chain Pikes in 1975. In 1977, they opened a third major McDonnell & East store at another new shopping centre, Pacific Fair, on the Gold Coast.
In 1982, Grace Brothers made an offer to purchase McDonnell & East, but the offer was declined. Following this, McDonnell & East purchased long-running Toowoomba and Warwick department store Pigott & Co in 1983. 1984 saw the opening of a McDonnell & East at Toombul Shopping Centre, and one at Rockhampton Shopping Fair in 1985. The following year, McDonnell & East opened two large new stores on the Gold Coast, one in Southport and one in Surfers Paradise. They were also brought in to a controversial new development in Ipswich undertaken by the Kern Corporation. McDonnell & East became the central department store of the new Ipswich City Centre, which opened in 1987.
These later changes were driven by McDonnell & East’s aggressive take-over by an external stakeholder. After attempting to do so since 1982, in 1984 Pine Vale Investments Group (who invested in retail, communication, and mining companies) became the majority shareholder of McDonnell & East. They spent huge sums refurbishing and rebranding McDonnell & East in an attempt to shift their position in the retail market, from the middle—where they had always been successful—to the upper-end, putting them in direct competition with much bigger national players like David Jones.
In 1988, McDonnell & East turned the tables on Pine Vale, regaining control of their own interests. Following this, the company name ‘McDonnell & East’ was changed to ‘North Quay Ltd’ in 1989. The McDonnell & East name continued to be used for the retail businesses.
But it was already too late for McDonnell & East. Pine Vale had overinvested, and Australia was facing a recession. In 1990, the Garden City, Southport, Toowoomba, Warwick, and Rockhampton stores closed. In 1993, Ipswich followed. And when the lease came up on their Pacific Fair store in 1994, it was not renewed. Staff, once so important to McDonnell & East, were not informed of these decisions. In a final sad blow, by this time McDonnell & East’s original city store was performing well again. Its fate, however, was tied to North Quay Ltd, who, with a debt of over $15 million to Citibank, were declared insolvent in 1994. The George Street store closed its doors in March 1994, with staff unsure whether they would receive superannuation payments owing to them. This final chapter in McDonnell & East’s story would have devastated Frank McDonnell and Hubert East, who had always held their workers in the highest regard.
c. 1889 – 1986. Frank McDonnell Papers (27453), John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
1900 – 1990. McDonnell & East Records (1094), John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
East, J. W. 2008. The East family in County Roscommon and Queensland : with a brief history of the Brisbane firm of McDonnell and East. John W. East: Greenslopes. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
Cribb & Foote Department Store, corner Brisbane and Bell Streets, Ipswich, 1959
Who: Cribb & Foote Ltd, Ipswich’s leading department store for over 125 years. Founded by Benjamin Cribb (1807–1874) and John Clark Foote (1822–1895), and subsequently operated by generations of Cribbs and Footes. Initially trading as the ‘London Stores’, Cribb was sole owner up to 1855, when he partnered with Foote. From 1925 to 1937, it was under Cribb family ownership until it became a public company in 1937.
What: A general merchant and draper that became a major department store and Ipswich landmark, specialising in fashion amongst a comprehensive range of goods.
Where: The store occupied a prime position on the corner of Brisbane and Bell Streets in the main shopping district of Ipswich’s CBD. The site is so well known that when the shop burnt down in 1985, a new central landmark, Ipswich City Square, was built in its place. Over the 19th and 20th centuries, Cribb & Foote developed franchise stores in Brisbane, Rockhampton, Warwick, and Gatton, but the Ipswich store was always the jewel in their crown.
When: The original Ipswich store was built in 1849 and stood until 1985. In 1972, the company was bought out by Walter Reid & Company—following an offer made in 1971—and was registered as ‘Cribb & Foote Pty Ltd’. In 1977, it was relaunched as ‘Reids’.
Why: Cribb & Foote was not just an icon of Ipswich, it was a major figure of Queensland’s shopping past, predating most of its competitors in Brisbane. In fact, it predated the independent colony of Queensland by ten years. The outpouring of public grief when it burnt down in 1985 is a testament to its shaping of Ipswich’s identity. It was an important local employer as well as the heart of the high street.
A merchant by trade, Cribb emigrated to Queensland from England in 1849, carrying goods to sell in Brisbane. He immediately purchased premises at the corner of Albert and Queen Streets in Brisbane, after which time he strategically relocated to Ipswich, where he was to establish the ‘London Stores’. His first newspaper adverts included ‘linen drapery’ and ‘slops clothing’ (inexpensive, ready-to-wear clothing), amongst general produce such as tea and liquor. After this first shipment, the London Stores steadily expanded the imported range of garments, footwear, and drapery.
His was the first general store set up in the newly named town of Ipswich, and so with limited competition, Cribb was an important source of supplies for the small, but growing, European settlement. His dominance over this market perhaps made up for the many complexities in getting imported goods to Ipswich—overseas imports were infrequent and often had to pass through Sydney and Brisbane first. 1852 advertising boasted better quality, lower prices and newer styles than Sydney, thanks to the firm’s direct connections with the largest exporters in England.
In mid-19th century Ipswich, there were many needs yet to be met, and therefore much opportunity for savvy businesspeople to take advantage of a burgeoning market. Cribb was at one point postmaster and a ship’s agent, and at another, Cribb & Foote acquired the Bank of New South Wales (Ipswich’s first bank). Similarly, opportunities in Brisbane abounded, and in 1853, Benjamin Cribb opened a second store called ‘Moreton House’ on the corner of Albert and Queen Streets, which he ran until it was sold in 1855. It was at this time that he went into partnership with John Clarke Foote, joined by Benjamin’s nephew Robert Cribb Jnr (Robert eventually sold his share back to his uncle, but continued on until 1866 as Cribb & Foote’s accountant).
By 1855, Cribb & Foote had a drapery department and a fuller range of imported ready-to-wear fashion, including hats and garments made up in fine fabrics and ‘new styles’. Expansion occurred in 1860, with a new showroom and footwear department, and in 1863 they introduced a tailoring department offering same-day made-to-measure suits, a men’s outfitting department, and a shawl department with a full range of embroidered, lace and printed shawls, capes, and coats. As business grew in the 1870s, fashion goods at times outweighed other imports. At this point, there were around one hundred employees across their many departments.
Cribb & Foote celebrated their golden jubilee in 1899, but no longer were Benjamin Cribb or John Clarke Foote with the business. Benjamin Cribb had died in 1874, leaving his widow Clarissa as senior partner. In 1891, John Clarke Foote and Clarissa Cribb transferred management to the next generation of Cribbs and Footes. Towards the end of the 19th century, the former corner shop looked like a substantial emporium with a strong architectural presence and attractive window displays, modelled on the grand department stores of London and Paris. Fashion was stocked in a more serious manner, with a staff dressmaker creating made-to-measure gowns.
In the early part of the 20th century, country customers were highly valued by Cribb & Foote. They were serviced by a large fleet of delivery vehicles and dense mail order catalogues, usually featuring seductive fashion images on the covers. Former Cribb & Foote Director Keith Jarrott believed that the mail order department was far too expensive to run in order to be profitable, but was nonetheless necessary to establishing brand awareness across Queensland.
The firm survived two World Wars and multiple economic downturns, typically choosing to retain staff where possible despite immediate financial challenges. Staff loyalty was important to their customers’ perception that the business had continued the family-style service, even after the Cribbs and Footes had departed the firm. Over their 128 years, Cribb & Foote boasted at least thirty-five employees who had given forty years or more service.
The 1960s saw some changes to the firm’s formerly steadfast nature. 1965 saw record sales followed by years of steady profits, allowing for costly additions to the menswear department in 1969.
Whereas Brisbane had experienced a sharp move towards suburban shopping in the 1950s and 1960s—catalysed by the success of Allan & Stark’s Drive-In Shopping Centre in Chermside—Ipswich retail retained its CBD focus throughout this period. The high street more or less resisted the influx of interstate chains, and was instead populated with a number of well-loved, established and local names, the best known being Cribb & Foote. This all changed dramatically in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when major commercial development hit the Ipswich CBD.
By 1971, profits at Cribb & Foote had dropped by six percent. A purchase offer was made by large retailer Reids and accepted in 1972. The name and staff of Cribb & Foote were kept for a period—until it was relaunched as Reids in 1977—though locals still referred to it as ‘Cribbs’. Cribb & Foote’s old-fashioned service continued at Reids, retaining personal touches not seen in competing department stores of that period, such as attended lifts.
The transformation of the once historical urban streetscape of Ipswich reached its climax in 1985, when a massive fire wiped out Reids. Tragically, the original ‘London Stores’, trading continuously since Benjamin Cribb had it built in 1849, was razed to the ground. For a long time the CBD struggled to recover from its devastated high street, just as Reids struggled to regain its trade after moving to a nearby premises. It closed not long after in 1987.
The Kern Corporation, who had undertaken complex and controversial negotiations with the Ipswich council prior to the fire to create a major shopping complex on the site, moved to develop in 1986. The loss of the heritage Cribb & Foote building helped to expedite their plans, and ‘Ipswich City Square’ was opened in 1987, with Brisbane department store McDonnell & East at its centre. The new development would face an immediate downturn in the early 1990s as a result of the national recession, the insolvency of the Kern Corporation, and the growing competition of suburban shopping centres in Ipswich. After McDonnell & East closed in 1993, the Ipswich city centre lost its link with its thriving department store past for good.
Inside the showrooms of the men's outfitters Pike Brothers of Brisbane, ca. 1920
Who: Two brothers, Edwin (1860–1933) and Walter Pike (1857–1931), created Pike Brothers in 1885. The brothers came to Brisbane from England in 1883 to pursue pastoral activities and chemistry respectively, but ended up forming a business together while Edwin was trying to save money for land. They were active managing directors for more or less the entirety of their adult lives. Their sons, Wyndham Pike (Walter’s son) and E. Dudley Pike (Edwin’s son) continued the Pike family business, taking up the mantle of governing directors from the late 1920s.
What: Pike Brothers was a long-running and successful menswear importer and tailor. Their business reputation was built on quality and exclusive menswear, targeted at a Queensland market of well-heeled graziers (possibly courted by Edwin due to his pastoral interests). Their lines of imported products from London were critical to their success, and they called themselves the ‘direct importers of every requisite for gentlemen’s wear’.
Where: The firm is strongly associated with the prominent Queen Street location they started in—a highly prized destination for shopping in Brisbane. In 1906, they shifted from 30–32 Queen Street up the road to a much bigger premises at 85–91 Queen Street. Though the Brisbane store was the focus of their trade, they were quick to identify the importance of the regional Queensland market, and promptly established a branch store at Townsville in 1898. This was the ‘Gentlemen’s Emporium’ on Flinders Street, which proved to be a successful and long-running arm of the company.
They made many other moves into the regional market over the late 19th and early-to-mid 20th centuries, with stores at Toowoomba, Charleville, Roma and Longreach, and extensive mail-order conducted from their Brisbane headquarters. But for the Englishmen, Brisbane was never really the symbolic centre of their business; it was their connection to the mother country that shaped the brand identity of the Pike Brothers. An address in London, of which they were forever reminding their customers, enabled them to conduct regular buying and imports, and provided the aura of international fashionability.
When: Pike Brothers operated as a family business from 1885 until 1956, when they were purchased by Leviathan, a rival Melbourne-based men’s outfitters. After this time, they continued to trade as Pike Brothers, and later just ‘Pikes’. Brisbane’s Myer Centre, which opened in 1988, was developed on the store’s city site, and involved the demolition of the original Pike Brothers store. Following this, Pikes was purchased by Brisbane department store firm McDonnell & East, who operated multiple Pikes stores in Queensland.
Why: Though menswear is experiencing a renaissance in Queensland in recent times, the state has long had a reputation for neglecting men’s fashion. But the example of Pike Brothers shows that quality, style, and practicality in menswear have not always been at odds.
Early advertising for the store set the tone for a sophisticated and urbane arrival to the men’s outfitter scene. Their newspaper ads were creative, and at times obscure, featuring surreal illustrations, esoteric prose and long flowery poems.
An ad from 1886 featured one of many rhymes:
IF a man is but wise, Likes hats, gloves, and ties, Watch the men who advertise— PIKE BROTHERS. Collars, shirts of every size, Don’t make fellows look like guys— PIKE BROTHERS.12
They emphasised quality and style, and proudly name-dropped the various sources of their English imports. Forever looking beyond Queensland for credibility, they boasted a ‘first class cutter from Melbourne’ and later one from the West of London. Goods that weren’t produced locally were made to their specifications in their ‘London House’. But this is not to say that the men’s outfitters weren’t highly attuned to the needs of their Queensland market. Quite the opposite. They advertised durable clothes for ‘bush and station’ wear, and frequently promoted the virtues of ‘tropical wear’.
It was, of course, a distinctly English view of tropical clothing, with imports from the colonies and pith helmets featuring prominently. The following ad promoted Indian-made fibres and garments as ideally suited to Queensland: “Pike Brothers have just landed a second shipment of Indian clothing for tropical wear. Assam (silk and flax fabric). A perfect clothing for Queensland summer wear, being very light, soft, and porous—not easily soiled, and will not fade or shrink”13.
The growing firm expanded their premises in 1894 to make room for two separate departments for mercery and hosiery, and clothing and tailoring. With this new space, they had four large windows for display. A cutting and fitting room were prominently positioned on the ground floor, and made room for a special ladies’ tailoring section in a separate building. Regional infiltration was undertaken through mail order, regional sales representatives, and regional branches in Townsville, Toowoomba, Charleville and Roma. Edwin or Walter would travel personally to other regional destinations they wanted to trade in, such as Warwick, showing samples and patterns to procure mail order custom.
The business was once again expanded in 1901, when they adjoined a neighbouring shop. They advertised a ‘single-suit system’, which promised that no one else could buy a tailored suit identical to yours; an important note of exclusivity for a small town.
In the early 20th century, Pike Brothers were the sole Queensland representatives of Burberry—not quite the luxury fashion empire they are today, but nonetheless a very respectable British brand producing practical and stylish waterproof gabardine coats. This was the type of product that epitomised the Pike Brother’s offering: elegant and high-quality garments, approved by the Empire, that could be worn whilst working the land.
Both Edwin and Walter would regularly go on buying trips abroad, personally sourcing their goods directly from manufacturers as far and wide as London, Manchester, Glasgow, Dublin, United States, Paris, and India. They would continue to tout their London style connection right into the 20th century, whilst also promoting the strengths of their on-site production: “We build our to-measure shirts on the premises—no outside factory engaged”.14
Having built a solid foundation for the business, they were registered as limited company, Pike Brothers Limited, in 1905, with majority shares held by Walter and Edwin Pike. Further growth followed, and by 1908, the firm had added a Toowoomba branch. Mail order was as important for developing country custom as these regional outposts. A long serving Pike Brothers employee from the correspondence department recalled some strange letters he’d received in his 45 years, including one that read: “For heavens sake, send me my trousers; I’m in the scrub, and I can’t get out till I get them”.15
The Queen Street store remained a focus of trade throughout, and struggles of maintaining the iconic presence of the flagship store was keenly felt by management. In annual meeting reports from the 1930s, it’s documented that the directors continually debated the pros and cons of expanding the Queen Street building. While the modernisation and expansion of shops was rife amongst the competition, Pike Brothers felt that expansion to their already very large and expensive premises would not necessarily lead to increased trade, due to the limited population in Brisbane.
In this and other ways, the big and brash approach of modern shopping was unsettling to the long-running firm’s old-fashioned values. A 1935 report has a managing director lamenting how difficult trading was given that “everything seems to be done on price, whereas years before it was very largely done on quality”. The firm predicted that shoppers would wisely return to a focus on quality after the effects of low-prices became clear. While they were sadly wrong on this front, they were surprisingly accurate in their predictions for other areas of change, and in particular, negotiating the imminent Second World War.
The 1939 report foresaw that a conservative business approach in the early years of the war would result in good steady profits throughout the period. They had accurately predicted that legislation would be put in place to prevent excessive price hikes. In the face of extreme challenges such as staff enlistment, difficulties obtaining imports, and profit caps, Pike Brothers managed to report profit growth. Business was so good that they discussed their wishes for supplying even better service to loyal civilian customers after the war was over.
In the annual meeting of 1945, Pike Brothers reported that the last three years had seen net profits jump up an astounding seven times their normal rate. Despite this extraordinary trading result, their conservative approach prevailed, and management rightly decided to proceed cautiously in case of sustained difficulties after the war, such as the impact of high taxes, and the turmoil created by shortages in stock and labour. They also worried that the profit spike misrepresented the actual success of the business through the war: it was mostly the result of selling their goods at up to three times the pre-war price, as opposed to real growth that would come from selling a greater volume of goods. Nonetheless, in the post-war years of 1948 and 1949, Pike Brothers made a record turnover at a quarter of a million pounds.
In 1950, the firm’s annual meeting reports complained of expenses created by increasingly fussy customers, who were making ‘unjustified’ complaints and returning goods to the tailoring department for alterations. In this pernickety fashion-conscious climate, their tailoring department were directed to produce their custom-made suits to a “very very high standard indeed”.
The good times were over by 1952, when the effects of the war caught up with the business, and meeting reports discussed their most difficult period on record. Though the business had built its reputation on importing exclusive products from overseas, price fixing regulations on imports meant these lines weren’t profitable. They also complained that the Retailer’s Association was controlled by drapers dealing in women’s clothing, and had adjusted regulations to allow imported womenswear to make 10% more profit than menswear.
It seemed Pike Brothers’ business model of ‘high class menswear’ was working against them. Regional trade was seen as a crucial area of focus to improve prospects, but it meant facing very tough competition from the local businesses of each town, many of whom were thriving thanks to the modernisation of regional high streets. These difficulties continued right through to 1955, and despite a good turnover, the combination of drought and fluctuating wool prices, sustained price controls on imports, and escalating expenses made the future of Pike Brothers uncertain. New competition from the recent arrival of David Jones and Myer, who had a capacity for group buying, made things even worse.
When Pike Brothers was purchased by Melbourne outfitter Leviathan in 1956, it was the third Brisbane merger with retailers from southern states since the previous year. This pattern of three signified a trend that would only accelerate in subsequent decades. Leviathan continued to trade as Pike Brothers, retaining management and staff, but eventually the connection to Walter, Edwin and their sons was lost. In 1975, Pikes, as it was then known, was taken over by Queensland retailer McDonnell & East, who expanded the brand into a chain of menswear outlets around Queensland. Pikes went under with the parent company in the early 1990s.
1887 ‘Shearing Episode.’, Queensland Figaro and Punch (Brisbane, Qld. : 1885 – 1889), 20 August, p. 7 Supplement: THE LADY SUPPLEMENT TO QUEENSLAND FIGARO, viewed 20 January, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article84112894
Who: George Arthur Bayard (1866–1933) was a drapery salesman who became a prominent businessman, creating the Bayards department store chain. In his later years, he was member of the Brisbane Chamber of Commerce and Queensland Chamber of Manufacturers, and at one stage, a Stephens Shire Councillor. His four sons were all involved in running the business, and took the reins of Bayards after George Bayard died in the 1930s. They passed on the responsibilities to the next generation of Bayards, with three grandsons of George Bayard carrying on the business up until it closed.
What: Like many department stores of its time, Bayards started as a combined drapers, tailors, milliners, and dressmakers. By the early 20th century, they had expanded into clothing manufacture, footwear and soft furnishings. With a strong metropolitan and regional foundation, Bayards grew into an expansive family-run department store that gave interstate competition a run for their money right up until the 1980s—surpassing the legacy of many Queensland family retailers.
Where: Bayards had a central business in Brisbane, but like most department stores in late-19th century Queensland, they knew that regional infiltration was key to their success. Bayards set about dominating the regions with great fervour, capturing custom in small and large towns—north, south, east and west—through a number of branch stores and extensive regional sales reps on horse-drawn buggies, armed with samples, and later, stock. Bayards branches existed as far and wide as Roma, Taroom, St George, Kingaroy, Murgon, Toogoolawah, and Lowood.
Though George Bayard had a wandering eye for state-wide business opportunities, he was loyal to the retail precinct of South Brisbane and helped to rebuild it as a centre of trade after it was devastated by floods in 1893. It was there he established ‘Bayard’s Corner’ at the prominent intersection of Melbourne and Grey Streets. The ‘Bayard’s Corner’ concept was replicated in Nambour decades later.
The 20th century saw the flagship Brisbane store relocate to Queen Street, as well as substantial new Bayards stores at Ipswich and Maryborough, and a string of suburban outlets around Brisbane.
Why: George Arthur Bayard started in a typical manner for a Queensland draper, working in sales for prominent local businesses. Arriving in Brisbane from Victoria as a young man in 1887, Bayard took up work as a salesman for M. D. Pigott & T. C. Beirne in their South Brisbane drapery, ‘Pigott & Beirne’. After Pigott & Beirne dissolved their partnership in 1891, Bayard followed Pigott into his next South Brisbane business. Floods badly damaged South Brisbane trade in 1893, causing Pigott to move into the flourishing retail precinct of Fortitude Valley, but by this time Bayard had ventured out on his own. In partnership with E. Harris, he established the ‘Harris & Bayard’ drapery firm in Melbourne Street, South Brisbane. They managed to endure the impact of the floods for a time, but ended the partnership in 1894. Harris went on to establish his own successful store in Rockhampton, while Bayard set up west of Brisbane in the rural town of Roma.
Most accounts of what happened next have Bayard abandoning Roma shortly thereafter to return to trade in South Brisbane, but it appears as though he may actually have traded in both locations simultaneously, with possibly a third branch at St George. Advertising suggests his Melbourne Street, South Brisbane business opens in 1898 at the latest. In 1899, George Bayard went into partnership with John Robert Bayard and Thomas Douglas Wright. The latter two had been clerks in Bayard’s stores. The arrangement didn’t seem entirely equitable, with the partnership agreement giving all control over buying goods and hiring to George Arthur Bayard. Wright managed and later bought the Roma business, and eventually John Bayard moved to Melbourne to start his own manufacturing business.
In 1903, Bayards promoted their new South Brisbane building, which featured inviting display windows, and a focus on womenswear: “The ladies’ showroom contains a tasty display of ladies’ and children’s summer goods, fancy umbrellas and all the other charming et ceteras that contribute to the comfort and adornment of the fair sex”.16
The next key moment of business expansion occurred in 1925, when Bayards became registered as a limited company. After twelve months of negotiation and one of the biggest cash transactions in Ipswich’s history, a large new branch was opened in Ipswich, taking up the premises, staff, and stock of a prominent local draper. It was a match for the scale of the Brisbane store. Women’s fashion was an important part of the store’s new identity, and it hosted fashion parades showing the latest styles from Paris and London, paraded by models from Melbourne. Their adverts assured the modern women of Ipswich that flappers were catered for.
In this decade, Bayards advertising boasted that 90% of their stock was purchased direct from Queensland factories. However, the company’s purchase books don’t necessarily support this claim. Or at least, the books show that manufacturers supplying the pretty printed cotton and rayon fabrics sold and used by Bayards were both locally sourced and imported, primarily from Manchester, the English city once known as ‘Cottonopolis’.
Indeed, the books represent the last gasp of Manchester’s reign as the international centre of textiles manufacture and cotton milling. Overseas imports were so frequent that Bayards contracted W. H. Milsted & Son Ltd (softgoods buyers and shippers) to act as buying agents in London. Bayards also purchased a great deal from Brisbane agents and distributors for larger English or Australian companies.
The connection to the south side of the river was dropped after George Bayard died in 1933. Eldest son Harry, who had started working for the company in 1907 at the Roma branch, was put in charge as managing director. Shortly thereafter, he purchased prime property in Queen Street in 1934. Here, he set up a new company, Hartleys Pty Ltd (managed by his brother Reginald Bayard), to construct a modern four-storey development, ‘Hartleys’ Buildings’, on the site. Prompted by the need for growth and an even more central location, Bayards made the big move into the newly built Queen Street store in 1939. It would become another landmark store seen in postcards of Brisbane.
The onset of World War II created great difficulties in obtaining overseas goods. In 1942, their London agents signalled a struggle to fulfil Bayard’s purchase orders, and informed that the “cotton position, as previously reported, is getting hopeless”. Order slips from a variety of manufacturers were riddled with disclaimers that goods were subject to change in price and quality. Some indicated the Commonwealth Price Commissioner’s approved maximum retail prices on fabrics and haberdashery.
Import issues weren’t the only difficulty Bayards faced during this period. The entire fleet of Bayards’ trucks went into WWII service, and coupled with stock shortages and pricing controls, the regional branches at Kingaroy, Murgon, and Lowood became unsustainable and were promptly closed. Immediately after the war, another regional branch, at Toogoolawah, was sold.
Though it took a while to recover from the upheaval of war, Bayards set about rebuilding its empire. In 1957, they opened a new store at the bayside Brisbane suburb of Wynnum, which had been relatively untapped for modern retail. In 1962, it relocated to a new building (the first air-conditioned building in Wynnum) on an adjoining block, reportedly modelled on the latest in Sydney retailing layouts.
By the early 1960s, Bayards had six stores, totalling a staff of 240: Brisbane, Wynnum, Sandgate, Maryborough, Ipswich, and Nambour. They were overseen by three Bayards cousins, all grandsons of George Arthur, with Jack Bayard as managing director. Their reputation as family-owned was important, and probably made the expansion of their franchise more palatable than that of their interstate rivals.
In 1967, Westfield, a growing Sydney-based retail developer that had its sights set on Queensland as part of its interstate strategy, opened a new drive-in shopping centre in the outer Brisbane suburb of Toombul. It was direct competition for the very successful drive-in shopping centre at Chermside—originally developed by Allan & Stark, but at this time owned by Myer Emporium. However, Toombul’s close proximity to the flourishing Chermside Shopping Centre made it difficult to choose a department store that could withstand competition from Chermside’s Myer. Bayards was selected to share the bill of department store anchor with Barry & Roberts. Ultimately, the Queensland-owned Bayards only lasted there until the early 1970s, making way for interstate rival, David Jones, to open at Toombul in 1972.
Less than a decade after the short-lived Toombul store had closed, Bayards’ major Queen Street store closed in 1981. It had been purchased by developers, Kern Corporation, who at the time claimed it wasn’t part of their proposed Wintergarden redevelopment. Ultimately, it was. Commenting on the closure of the long-running Queen Street Bayards store, the Shop Assistants Union surmised that it was another example of Queensland having too many retail outlets. Following the loss of the iconic Brisbane store, Bayards focussed on its suburban and regional branches in Wynnum and Sandgate (supplied by a warehouse at Spring Hill), and Ipswich and Nambour.
Despite having four strong stores, the closure of the Brisbane store effectively signalled the end of Bayards. After close to nine decades (though not ninety-nine years as was reported in some newspapers), and three generations as a family business, in 1982 the doors closed on all of the remaining Bayards stores. Principal Jack Bayard commented that although Bayards was still a profitable company, “business had become too frustrating”.17 Perhaps the frustration lay in the fact that the traditional, straightforward practice of retail that the Bayards had known so well had been lost in the rise of 1980s corporate culture.
Women's clothing receiving the final touches at Ponds clothing factory, ca. 1945-1955
Who: Augustine Sim and her daughter Edith Bygrave (née Sim), together with Edith’s husband, Percy Bygrave, launched a clothing manufacturing company called ‘Simco’, presumably named after the Sims.
The firm later adopted a more evocative and streamlined name, Ponds, but for a time traded under both. They were also known as ‘Ponds Dress Factory’ and ‘Ponds Frocks and Coats’. Percy and Edith Bygrave continued to run the business after Augustine died in 1928, with Percy as managing director.
What: Ponds promoted themselves as a unique ‘manufacturer to wearer’ dress factory, meaning that customers could buy direct from the factory via mail order or by visiting their on-site showroom. In doing so, they effectively cornered all aspects of the ready-to-wear clothing business, with imports, manufacture, wholesale, and retail operating from the same site. Their dress factory was a big employer of local seamstresses, and one of only a handful of companies operating large-scale fashion manufacture out of Brisbane.
Where: The business started out in South Brisbane, opening at 250 Stanley Street and in 1927 moved down the road into the Watson, Ferguson & Co. (book publishing) factory at the corner of Stanley and Glenelg Streets.
In the midst of World War II, their production and showroom moved to Fortitude Valley, occupying the third, fourth, and fifth floors of the Overells department store on Brunswick Street—it was clearly a sizeable operation. They remained at this location until at least the early 1950s.
When: Simco registered as a limited company in 1922, though it’s likely they traded before this. We know that they re-registered both company names Ponds and Simco in 1948, and that they were trading at least until the early 1950s, but there is little record of their activities after this time.
Why: Ponds is one of the best documented examples of clothing manufacture in Queensland, but even so, there are many gaps in their story. What we do know about their operations during World War II, however, paints a fascinating and important picture of both business and fashion during wartime.
The activities of the Sim ladies were sadly overlooked by the press of their time, as they were surely interesting studies as manufacturing businesswomen of the early 20th century. On the other hand, Percy Bygrave’s work at Ponds gave him prominence in the community as an officer of the Queensland Chamber of Manufacture. His experience at the company no doubt helped his subsequent high-profile career as a prize-winning smallholder.
Ponds appeared to be a fair employer in what was often an unscrupulous and exploitative industry. Their classified ads for sewing machinists and hand embroiderers promised the ‘highest wages’, ‘steady employment’ or permanent positions, and ‘no Saturday work’. Bygrave was reputed to be a benevolent manager, giving wedding and parting gifts to female staff who left the company to be married.
Ponds managed to survive the Great Depression, which took a considerable toll on the manufacturing industry. Brisbane Lord Mayor William Jolly had claimed in a 1930 meeting of the Chamber of Manufacture (at which Bygrave was present) that while the depression looked grim, it may in fact present new opportunities to the Queensland manufacturing industry because “we are being forced, as far as possible, to produce and manufacture what formerly we imported”.18 Unfortunately, despite the combination of this upbeat sentiment and the Queensland Government’s protectionist policies towards local industry, the depression saw a critical state of decline in the manufacturing industry.
Having weathered this difficult period, Ponds would later be hit with a second blow, in the form of WWII. At this time, clothing manufacturing was severely challenged by fabric shortages and rationing. Ponds warned of uncertain supply and kept customers informed via advertising and catalogues what product lines they could continue to purchase with coupons. In 1941, they advised customers that they could no longer buy from the company. The entire output of their factory had been taken over by the U.S. Army as part of a war contract to repair uniforms.
Mending military uniforms was important and necessary work that often gets overlooked in heroic wartime narratives. But salvaging clothing became critical to the war effort as shortages and mounting expenses of uniforms became crippling. With raw materials in short supply, every scrap of fabric was repurposed. Old singlets became rags for cleaning machinery and guns; irreparable uniforms were used to clothe prisoners of war and refugee children. Newspapers claimed that salvaging clothing in this way saved a staggering £500,000 a year. Director of Army Salvage Major H. C. Snell declared: “It should be fashionable to have a patch on one’s trousers… If this were done, manpower and raw materials would be saved because a new garment would not be necessary. That is the story of salvage in a nutshell”.19
British, American, and Australian armies required more clothing than the armies’ own factories were able to supply, and decentralising the production of uniforms was necessary given the challenges of wartime transport. So civilian clothing factories scattered throughout Australia were contracted to manufacture and repair uniforms, often at the expense of their normal production.
The staff of Ponds had long demonstrated charitable interests and during the war they made numerous contributions to a variety of war funds and charities, in one instance sacrificing their Christmas party to make a donation. But it was likely good business sense and government policy (namely Australia’s agreement to supply U.S.A armed forces), rather than charity, that made the factory comply with the U.S. Army uniform repairs contract.
Secretary of the Contracts Board and Deputy-Director of Contracts Mr. F. A. O’Conner made an official inspection of clothing factories throughout Queensland, and highly approved of their operations and quality product. He noted how well-established the Queensland factories were compared to their counterparts in other states, and observed that some had already assisted in the previous World War.
Some newspapers made out that the Army contracts were a boon to Queensland’s clothing and textiles manufacture industry, claiming that the war meant that for the first time Queensland could ‘clothe itself’: “Just as the First World War gave a fillip to the State’s primary industries, so did the Second World War help to firmly establish the textile industry in Queensland. The textile industry in the last war was asked to help clothe the Australian and American armies. It responded magnificently”.20
There were many downsides to the Army contracts, however. The biggest was civilian clothing and footwear shortages, including undergarments, children’s clothing, and work wear. Some suggested that the contracts should be temporarily relieved so that civilian clothing shortages could be addressed. These shortages also lead to the appearance of sweat-shops around Brisbane. The Secretary of the Clothing and Allied Trade Union Mr W. Sparks observed that war contracts had caused factories to sub-contract to clandestine suburban operations, who exploited and underpaid junior workers.
Another drawback to the contracts was that factory workers weren’t recognised for their war efforts, in the same way that their more ‘glamorous’ and well-paid counterparts in munitions factories, for example, were. One clothing factory worker complained of the public shame associated with not having a badge, uniform, or other signifier of this wartime effort: “I haven’t anything to show I’m a war worker”.21
It wasn’t until the final year of the war—1945—that Ponds was partially released from their responsibilities to the American Army. While still continuing some war production, they told their customers that they were once again able to make “a few of those frocks you know so well”.22 After years of clothing shortages, we can only imagine that Ponds’ colourful frocks were enthusiastically welcomed.
Marsh and Webster, 75 Years of Progress, 1875 - 1950, Souvenir booklet
Who: Marsh & Webster was founded by partners William Marsh (1837–1909) and Charles Webster (ca. 1840–1895).
What: General merchants and drapers who transformed their business into a major regional department store through close ties to local industry.
When: Marsh & Webster opened its doors in 1875, just fifteen years after the township of Mackay had been named. The business traded until 1963, when they were purchased by David Jones.
Where: Known aptly as ‘The Corner Store’, Marsh & Webster occupied the same prominent location on the corner of Sydney and Victoria Streets in downtown Mackay for the duration of their business.
Why: Marsh & Webster was Mackay’s first department store. Throughout its eighty-five years of trade, the retailer expanded alongside the major local industries of sugar cane farming and coal mining, and grew as Mackay progressed from a small town to one of Queensland’s largest.
The store had a reputation for supporting local farmers through financial hardships, allowing them to defer payments while waiting for their crops to yield. An article in The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser from 1895 states:
Messrs. Marsh and Webster carry on a very extensive local trade, and the support which they have generously extended to the selectors and farmers has conduced in no small degree to the progress and stability of the district. The usefulness of such a firm as M. and W. in an agricultural centre where it is imperative that farmers shall receive long credits and sustained assistance will readily be admitted, and their open handed support to the tillers of the soil is freely acknowledged on every side23.
Even as more and more department stores and general merchants opened in Mackay, Marsh & Webster retained its local loyalty due to the business’s community-mindedness and early establishment. Charles Webster and William Marsh were also pillars of their community; Marsh served as Mayor of Mackay, while Webster was Chairman of the Mackay Chamber of Commerce.
In 1900, after twenty-five years in business, Marsh & Webster was incorporated as a limited company, with sixty-three-year-old William Marsh named chairman (Webster had passed away in 1895). The store continued to expand, training more staff to provide high-level service in an ever-increasing number of departments, ranging from millinery to hardware. In 1907, the staff numbered thirty-two. By 1925, that number had increased to sixty-eight, and when Marsh & Webster celebrated their seventy-fifth year in 1950, the staff had ballooned to more than one hundred.
The largest team was devoted to servicing the grand central showroom where fashion and accessories were housed. Here female shoppers were attended to by an exclusively female cohort of staff, surrounded by mannequins displaying the latest styles in women’s clothing, numerous hatstands showing off millinery, and stacks of shoe boxes containing high quality and affordable footwear. While more and more city stores had begun to modernise their service techniques and store layouts by the 1950s to reflect the growing independence of shoppers, Marsh & Webster continued to pride themselves on their old-fashioned values.
Marsh & Webster’s building reflected their prominence and continued growth. A new two-storey building was erected in 1915 to make the best use of their high-profile corner position, including large plate glass windows across the complete length of their double-street frontage. The building was renovated and expanded extensively in the late 1920s to include more display space. By 1950, they occupied a second adjoining building devoted to their large grocery store.
Marsh & Webster’s main rival was Lamberts (1887–2000), another successful and long-running local department store in the centre of town. While established over a decade after M&W, Lamberts survived until the turn of the 21st century. Another competitor was Brisbane department store firm, Beirne Pty Ltd, who had Mackay premises located in Sydney Street.
Because of Marsh & Webster’s strong ties to the community, excellent location, and solid position in the market, the store was an attractive opportunity for Sydney retailer David Jones, who had recently begun buying out other retailers in Brisbane and regional Queensland. In July of 1963, it was announced that David Jones had gained control of Marsh & Webster through an exchange of shares amounting to £270,000. However, the store would continue trading for some time under their original name, and no staff would lose their jobs. From this point until at least the 1970s, the store was referred to as ‘Marsh & Webster, a David Jones store’.
David Jones ran Marsh & Webster successfully throughout the 1960s and for much of the 1970s, but new forms of shopping began to take their toll as drive-in shopping centres sprung up in Mackay, including Canelands and Mount Pleasant, both of which are still operating today. In 1981, David Jones closed their Mackay branch. In 1983, they accepted an offer from the National Australia Bank to purchase the prime corner land on which Marsh & Webster was built. NAB demolished the Marsh & Webster building, and continues to occupy the site.