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March 10, 2015

McWhirters

Facade of McWhirters department store in Fortitude Valley, ca. 1960 Facade of McWhirters department store in Fortitude Valley, ca. 1960

Who: McWhirters Limited, founded by James McWhirter (1848–1925), a Scottish emigrant. His son, James McWhirter junior, was a partner until his sudden death in 1919.

McWhirters printed promotional fan
McWhirters printed promotional fan, undated. Malcolm Enright Collection. Photograph by The Fashion Archives

What: The self-titled ‘vast emporium’ was possibly Brisbane’s grandest department store.

McWhirters shop window, ca. 1909
McWhirters shop window, ca. 1909. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 52156

Where: McWhirters is synonymous with the ‘Valley corner’—the intersection of Brunswick, Wickham and Warner Streets in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley—surrounded for much of the late 19th and 20th centuries by competing department stores.

McWhirter & Son Drapery warehouse in Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley, ca. 1900
McWhirter & Son Drapery warehouse in Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley, ca. 1900. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 177780

McWhirters’ large and prominent block of prime commercial real estate comprised four adjoining buildings developed over four decades, which housed multiple levels of retail space and warehouses for both manufacture and mail order. McWhirters also established a London office in 1909, creating a direct line for imports, which were a mainstay of the business.

Proposed new premises for McWhirter and Son, corner of Brunswick and Wickham Streets, Fortitude Valley, 1900
Proposed new premises for McWhirter and Son, corner of Brunswick and Wickham Streets, Fortitude Valley, 1900. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 177769

When: The firm opened as ‘McWhirter & Son’ in 1898, and was later listed as public company ‘McWhirters Limited’ in 1920. It was purchased by Melbourne department store giant Myer in 1955, but for nearly a decade thereafter it continued to trade as McWhirters, until Myer finally rebadged it in 1963. The building, which still stands in Brisbane as an apartment and retail precinct, resurrected the McWhirters name in 1989.

Myer signage on the McWhirters Building, Fortitude Valley, ca. 1970
Myer signage on the McWhirters Building, Fortitude Valley, ca. 1970. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Photograph by D. Finlay, Neg: 261481

Why: McWhirters was established at a time of strong competition for department store traders in Fortitude Valley. Though it offered a very similar product to nearby stores such as T. C. Bierne and Overells, it was unmatched in scale and grandeur. It traded for close to six decades, and at the time of sale to Myer Emporium in 1955, it was one of the biggest retailers in Brisbane.

Group portrait of McWhirters staff, ca. 1932
Group portrait of McWhirters staff, ca. 1932. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 191290

Such was the business prowess of James McWhirter that almost all of the major drapery firms in Brisbane of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were touched by him in some way. He formed his first drapery business in South Brisbane in ca. 1883 in a short-lived partnership with Duncan Sinclair, who would later go on to run the successful drapery Sinclair & Co. Following this, he worked with draper T. C. Beirne as manager and later partner, selling his share of the Fortitude Valley business back to Beirne after three years in 1898—a store that would become and remain a major competitor to McWhirters until the late 1960s.

Mrs James McWhirter in costume at the Brisbane Poster Ball, 1900
Mrs James McWhirter in costume at the Brisbane Poster Ball, 1900. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 177779

Immediately thereafter, he bought the Fortitude Valley drapery firm of M. D. Pigott, who was wanting to abandon his Brunswick Street store in order to focus on his successful Toowoomba branch. It was the site of Pigott’s former Brunswick Street premises that McWhirter established his own business.

McWhirters department store in Fortitude Valley, ca. 1919
McWhirters department store in Fortitude Valley, ca. 1919. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 257745

Scale was a key part of McWhirters’ strategy right from the beginning. He bought up property in Brunswick, Wickham and Warner Streets well before they were developed upon. And it paid off: McWhirters’ prominence on two major Fortitude Valley street corners had unbeatable impact.

Renovations to McWhirters department store, Ann Street,  Fortitude Valley, undated CORRECT CAPTION
Renovations to McWhirters department store at corner of Brunswick and Wickham Streets, Fortitude Valley, ca. 1930. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 407501

Warehouse extensions on the site occurred in the early 20th century, followed shortly by the expansion of retail space and a remodelled façade with the first arcade front seen in Brisbane. In 1912, McWhirters expanded dramatically, with a new five-storey building on the corner of Warner and Brunswick Streets designed by local architects Atkinson and McLay. In the latter part of this decade, Warner Street was further developed with a four-storey bulk store.

Window display in McWhirter & Sons department store, ca. 1911
Window display in McWhirter & Sons department store, ca. 1911. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 52148

The early 1920s saw some impressive Art Deco updates, with a four-storey building in the latest style. This was extended from 1930 to 1931 with an extravagant deco-style four and five-story development on the corner of Wickham and Brunswick Streets designed by Brisbane City Hall architects T. R. Hall and L. B. Phillips.

Haberdashery department in McWhirters department store, Fortitude Valley, ca. 1911
Haberdashery department in McWhirters department store, Fortitude Valley, ca. 1911. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 52153

Signage on the 1930s building extensions used the tagline “Brisbane’s vast emporium and Queensland’s great mail order house” to signal both their size and extensive regional reach. In the context of depression-era Brisbane, this substantial building project made a dramatic statement.

Crowd gathered for free food outside the McWhirters building, Christmas Day 1933
Crowd gathered for free food outside the McWhirters building, Christmas Day 1933. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 60658
Artist's impression of proposed additions to McWhirters, on the corner of Brunswick and Wickham Streets, 1930
Artist’s impression of proposed additions to McWhirters, on the corner of Brunswick and Wickham Streets, 1930. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 204016

Architecture was key not only to branding and image, but also to the modern shopping experience offered by McWhirters. His 1912 building featured the industrial conveniences of elevators and Queensland’s biggest pneumatic cash system at that time, as well as product display innovations such as large silky oak tables that allowed customers to peruse merchandise without staff assistance. These features were enhanced in the 1930s development and updated with a modern open plan design.

Fashions from McWhirters modelled on a Qantas Empire Airways plane, Brisbane, 1936
Fashions from McWhirters modelled on a Qantas Empire Airways plane, Brisbane, 1936. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 191290

McWhirters’ strategy of scale only accelerated in the mid-century. Advertising from the 1950s boasts the firm’s ability to aggressively drive down prices through big-scale buying and fast selling. This was the prevailing strategy of the modern department store, and those former drapers with an established buying power, strong customer base, prominence and reputation, had a major advantage over newcomers.

Customers using the escalators at McWhirters store, Brisbane, 1950
Customers using the escalators at McWhirters store, Brisbane, 1950.John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 204017

In the mid-1950s, McWhirters expanded their trade by opening a food hall containing a grocer, butcher, dining room, cake bar and milk bar. Like many department stores, it seems their product was arranged on each level according to price, with a ‘Thrift Gift Centre’ on the lower ground floor and ‘budget priced frocks’ on the second floor, presumably leading up to top-shelf products on the top floor.

McWhirters mail order catalogues, 1947-1952. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.
McWhirters mail order catalogues, 1947-1952. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

In a bid to create the aura of a serious fashion retailer, McWhirters hosted fashion parades featuring big names in European couture. In 1954, it was French and British fashion from Pierre Balmain, Jacques Fath, Ronald Paterson, Hardy Amies, and John Cavanagh.

McWhirters didn’t need to stock haute couture in order to profit from its spectacle, and interestingly, fabric identical to the paraded gowns, rather than the gowns themselves, was available for purchase in store. The following year’s fashion event focused on the very new, and very exciting, fashion centre of Italy.

Italian fashion parade featured in Australian Women's Weekly, 4 May 1955
Italian fashion parade featured in Australian Women’s Weekly, 4 May 1955. National Library of Australia

Along with other leading department stores around Australia, McWhirters staged an Australia Women’s Weekly Italian fashion parade with collections drawn from a handful of shows held in Florence, authentically paraded by visiting Italian models. When the show hit Brisbane, it was promoted as ‘Italy at McWhirters’, and featured a number of the hot new names in Italian fashion, including the fashion house that would later be known as Emilio Pucci (at that time billed as both ‘Emilio of Capri’ and ‘Emilio Florence’).

Italy at McWhirters parade catalogue, 1955
Italy at McWhirters parade catalogue, 1955. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

Myer Emporium took over McWhirters in 1955 through a combination of shares and cash, staggeringly valued at £3,400,000 (equivalent to around $10,664,000 today). The offer came some months after David Jones had defeated Myer in a bid to purchase Finney Isles & Co. At this point, McWhirters was one of the biggest and most successful retailers in Brisbane, and it appears as though it was sold at its peak. In 1953, profits were up after a period of less successful years. In 1954, McWhirters recorded—along with T. C. Beirne and Overells—its biggest trading day on record during the summer sales of the new year, with 7000 to 8000 people in the store at the day’s peak.

(left) McWhirters a Myer Emporium ad, The Courier Mail, 3 Jan 1956; (right) McWhirters name no longer used in Myer ad, The Courier Mail, 14 Jan 1970
(left) the McWhirters name continues to be used after Myer purchases it, as seen in this Myer Emporium ad, The Courier Mail, 3 Jan 1956; (right) by 1979 the McWhirters name is no longer used in Myer ads, instead it’s referred to as their Valley location, The Courier Mail, 14 Jan 1970. State Library of Queensland Microfilm Collection

While it seemed like a good deal at the time for Myer, it wasn’t to last. The purchase coincided with what was the beginning of the end for Fortitude Valley’s century-long reign as the major retail destination of Brisbane. With great speed and intensity, shoppers embraced the idea of suburban shopping with the arrival of the new ‘drive-in shopping centre’, the first of which opened in the outer suburb of Chermside in 1957. Myer kept the Fortitude Valley premises until 1988, by which time Fortitude Valley had traded its retail reputation for one of nightclubs and sleaze.

McWhirters Marketplace brochure, ca. 1989. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives
McWhirters Marketplace brochure, ca. 1989. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives

References

This article was written as part of the Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame Fellowship. A partnership between QUT Business School and State Library of Queensland.
March 9, 2015

Nissens

Sales assistants at Nissen's c. 1950 Sales assistants at Nissen's c. 1950

Who: Nissens jewellery store, established by Frederick William Nissen (1862–1925). Subsequently run by younger generations of the Nissen family.

Nissens catalogue, 1910s
Nissens catalogue, 1910s. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

What: A family owned and run manufacturing and retail jewellery business who designed and made many of their products. Nissens was in direct (but friendly) competition with another local firm, Wallace Bishop. Comparing advertising material from both businesses reveals how similarly they positioned themselves in the market. Wallace Bishop referred to themselves as ‘Queensland’s largest manufacturing jewellers’, while Nissens were ‘the Leading Jeweller’, ‘the Famous Jewellers’ and ‘the only jeweller who manufactures the latest styles’. Both F. W. Nissen and C. W. Bishop were vice presidents of the Queensland Retail Jewellers’ Association.

28209, F.W. Nissen Pty Ltd Records and Photographs, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
Nissens, Queen Street, ca.1950. 28209, F.W. Nissen Pty Ltd Records and Photographs, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Where: Nissens were primarily situated in central Brisbane, with multiple Queen Street locations1 across their nine decades of trade. They also had a presence in Fortitude Valley and Bundaberg.

John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 85142
Workroom of the Brisbane jeweller F. W. Nissen (pictured, standing with moustache) ca. 1912. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 85142

When: F. W. Nissen got his start as an apprentice in 1876 with another Queen Street jeweller, Henry L. Davis. In 1892, Nissen established his own business, which ran until 1984.

John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.
Nissens jewellery box, undated. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

Why: Nissens was a multi-faceted Queensland enterprise, comprising both retail and manufacture. F. W. Nissen began as a manufacturer who supplied other jewellers. His first workshop was above his previous employer, Henry L. Davis. It wasn’t long before Nissen took over the entire premises and began retailing. He grew the company rapidly, making his mark locally as a jeweller of precision with a talented staff, selling only jewellery they had made in-house.

John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 204018
Display at the Brisbane exhibition featuring F. W. Nissen jewellery specialist ca. 1905. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 204018.

Each year Nissen had a large stand at the Brisbane Exhibition, winning awards for his impressive displays of jewellery and precious stones. Nissen’s displays were listed yearly on The Brisbane Courier’s round up of the ‘must see exhibitions’.

28209, F.W. Nissen Pty Ltd Records and Photographs, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
Leslie William Robert Nissen, c. 1950. 28209, F.W. Nissen Pty Ltd Records and Photographs, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

In the 1910s and 20s, F. W.’s son, Leslie William Robert, and two daughters, Vida Irene and Wilhimina Ivy, joined the business. During these decades Nissens began to cultivate a strong country customer base with large catalogue distribution and agreements with rural stores throughout Queensland who acted as ‘agents for Nissens Jewellers.’

John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.
Nissens Catalogue, 1934. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

Nissens’ catalogues branded them ‘Queensland’s Great Mail Order Jewellers’, and contained assurances to their country customers that: “Every order or enquiry receives the personal attention of an Executive who thoroughly understand the needs and wishes of country residents and who will devote every energy to fulfilling these requirements”2. A variation of this promise and a focus on regional clients remained a cornerstone of their business.

John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.
Nissens Catalogue, 1936. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

While Nissens sold a variety of jewellery, accessories, and homewares including clocks, crystal, and silverware, the centrepiece of their brand was diamonds and watches. The majority of catalogue space and newspaper advertising was dedicated to their trademarked watches, such as the ‘Exacta’, as well as a vast array of diamond ring designs, all manufactured by Nissens.

John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.
Master Watchmaker’s Association certificate awarded to F. W. Nissen Pty Ltd, undated. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

In 1924, large premises at 216 Queen Street were purchased. The following year, founder Frederick William Nissen passed away. His children Leslie, Vida, and Wilhimina ran the business together and continued to expand its scale. In 1939, Leslie’s son, Colin Edgar Nissen, also came on board.

John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.
Nissens Catalogue ca.1940. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

From the 1930s, Nissens developed a sophisticated advertising strategy, employing glamorous Hollywood imagery designed to appeal to a fashionable female customer base. Catalogue covers often featured images taken directly from the latest Hollywood film. Inside, the serene faces of Hollywood actresses such as Hedy Lamarr and Bette Davis appeared next to glittering illustrations of new Nissens designs. But this wasn’t as tangential a connection as it might seem. Nissens jewellers looked directly to the stars for design inspiration, developing ‘Exclusive Hollywood Styles’: copies of the engagement rings worn on the slender fingers of the most popular actresses of the day.

John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.
Nissens catalogue featuring ‘Exclusive Hollywood Styles’, 1936. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.
John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.
Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr features in a Nissens catalogue, 1930s. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

A series of photographs of the Nissens Queen Street building from about 1950 reveal an impressive and vast showroom, full of fashionably dressed women perusing jewellery, homewares, and watches at glass cabinets, or seated in booths with one of Nissens’ jewellers. Outside, large windows are artfully stocked, perhaps recalling F. W.’s famous Exhibition displays.

28209, F.W. Nissen Pty Ltd Records and Photographs, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
Nissens Showroom ca. 1950. 28209, F.W. Nissen Pty Ltd Records and Photographs, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
28209, F.W. Nissen Pty Ltd Records and Photographs, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
Nissens Showroom ca. 1950. 28209, F.W. Nissen Pty Ltd Records and Photographs, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
Section of the main showroom inside F. W. Nissen jewellery store in Brisbane, Queensland, ca. 1950
Section of the main showroom inside F. W. Nissen jewellery store in Brisbane, Queensland, ca. 1950. 28209, F.W. Nissen Pty Ltd Records and Photographs, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Vida Irene continued to work at Nissens until she passed away in 1956. In 1966, Colin Edgar became managing director. Leslie retired in 1975, and the 216 Queen Street building was sold for $1.35 million to Penneys. Nissens continued as a smaller enterprise, run by Wilhimina and Colin at 177 Queen Street. They retired in 1984, and Nissens jewellers finished trading. Fellow Queensland jewellery firm Wallace Bishop fared much better, opening more stores in suburban shopping centres and continuing to expand their presence throughout the state.

References

  • 1900 – 1984. F.W. Nissen Pty Ltd Records and Photographs (28209). John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
  • 1901 ‘F. W. NISSEN.’, The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), 18 December, p. 7, accessed 13 January, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article19137002
  • 1909 ‘MR. F. W. NISSEN’S EXHIBIT.’, The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), 9 August, p. 10, accessed 16 January, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article19603068
  • 1934-1954. F. W. Nissen Pty Ltd. Catalogue, Christmas 1934-1940 and Gift book cover, 1950-1954. Brisbane, Queensland. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
  • 1936 ‘Advertising.’, Sunday Mail (Brisbane) (Qld. : 1926 – 1954), 8 March, p. 5, accessed 16 January, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article97969351
  • 1942 ‘Advertising.’, The Longreach Leader (Qld. : 1923 – 1954), 30 May, p. 3, accessed 16 January, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article125069807
  • 1951 ‘Advertising.’, The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), 7 February, p. 3, accessed 16 January, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article50094840
  • Cocks G. and J. Grace, 1991. ‘F. W. Nissen Queensland Manufacturing Jeweller and Watchmaker.’ Australiana 13 (3): 69-77.
This article was written as part of the Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame Fellowship. A partnership between QUT Business School and State Library of Queensland.
February 23, 2015

Allan & Stark

Window shopping at Chermside Shopping Centre, ca.1957 Window shopping at Chermside Shopping Centre, ca.1957

Who: James Allan (1856–1938) and Robert Stark (1857–1934), two drapers who worked in partnership as Allan & Stark to establish some very successful fashion retailing around Brisbane. They continued as managing directors and primary shareholders for some time after the family business became a limited company in 1893.

Advertisement for evening gowns from Allan and Stark, 1900
Advertisement for evening gowns from Allan and Stark, 1900. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 170837

What: The drapery-cum-department store established their trade from the late-19th century on a comprehensive range of moderately-priced fashion goods and services, including imported dress fabrics, men’s and women’s clothing, dressmaking, tailoring, and millinery. Their business later expanded to include a travel bureau and an in-store art gallery that featured the works of prominent local artists such as Melville Haysom. In the mid-20th century, they became the department store that, for better of worse, would change retail in Australia forever.

Allan and Stark drapery store, Queen Street, ca. 1910
Allan and Stark drapery store, Queen Street, ca. 1910. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 82929

Where: Allan & Stark opened their first drapery business in South Brisbane in 1882. They quickly grew after they re-established in Queen Street in 1895—a location they operated into the late-20th century, branded as ‘the smarter end of Queen Street’. For a short time (1898–1901) they had a second business in Toowoomba purchased from fellow drapers, Alexander & Munro, but they sold their share to focus on their Queen Street store. It wasn’t until 1957 that they ventured outside of the CBD once more, when they became the first Queensland department store to take on the suburban market, with their ‘Drive-in Shopping Centre’ opening in Brisbane’s Chermside.

Allan and Stark in Queen Street illuminated for the Warana Festival, 1963. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 260804. http://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/28558
Allan and Stark in Queen Street illuminated for the Warana Festival, 1963. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 260804.

When: The Allan & Stark brand was well-known in Queensland for close to ninety years, from 1882 until 1970, when they were rebadged as Myer. The company had sold to Myer decades previous in 1959. Up until 1988, Myer’s flagship Queensland department store continued to trade on the original Allan & Stark city site.

Customers at the counter of Allan and Stark's menswear department, Brisbane, ca. 1956
Customers at the counter of Allan and Stark’s menswear department, Brisbane, ca. 1956. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 42962

Why: While Allan & Stark started out almost identically to Queensland department store competitors like McWhirters, Pigotts, Finneys, and T. C. Beirne, what they did in the 1950s set them apart. In fact, it’s fair to say they introduced a modern retail revolution to Queensland that would spell the beginning of the end for many of their rivals.

Workmen removing decorations from the Allan and Stark building after the Royal Tour in 1954
Workmen removing decorations from the Allan and Stark building after the Royal Tour in 1954. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 193583

Having successfully traded in Brisbane for seven decades with their CBD store at the forefront of their operation, the company made the decision to branch out into suburban retail. After abandoning plans to develop in Tingalpa, they purchased a large block of land in Chermside, another outer suburb of Brisbane that had recently been connected by tram. Where suburban shoppers had previously taken the tram to accessible inner city areas, like Fortitude Valley, Woolloongabba, or the CBD itself, they were now keen to make the most of an increasingly affordable, convenient, and fashionable form of transport: cars.

Publicity for the Chermside Shopping Centre, 1957
Publicity for the Chermside Shopping Centre, 1957. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 106012

Allan & Stark’s ‘Drive-In Shopping Centre’ in Chermside was an unprecedented hit, with police required to control the crowd of 15,000 at its opening, and much of Australia’s press declaring it a triumph of modern retailing and suburban town planning. It combined their own store with those of smaller retailers, following an American-style of mall development. It was the first of its kind not only in Queensland, but also Australia. Melbourne and Sydney had announced plans for similar drive-in shopping centres in the 1950s but were much slower to deliver.

Opening announcement for the Chermside Shopping Centre, 1957
Opening announcement for the Chermside Shopping Centre, 1957. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 108973

The centre was spacious, modern, and air-conditioned, and the parking was ample. With efficient self-service, a diversity of options under one roof, and goods delivered to the car, it’s not surprising that Brisbane shoppers—particularly women—embraced the concept of shopping in air-conditioned comfort and leisure. In the process, they abandoned once-thriving shopping districts such as Fortitude Valley.

Bus terminal at Drive-In Shopping Centre Chermside, ca. 1957
Bus terminal at Drive-In Shopping Centre Chermside, ca. 1957. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 119384

Such was the success of this new model that ‘drive-in shopping centres’ steadily sprung up in surrounding Brisbane suburbs, followed by the major regional centres. Toombul and Indooropilly were amongst some of the major centres that followed, and they continue to trade today. Though many drive-in shopping centres of this period around Australia have subsequently been resold and renovated, the essential layout and concept remains mostly intact. In fact, our current understanding of a department store shopping complex is quite faithful to this 1950s design.

Interior of Allan and Stark Chermside, ca. 1957
Interior of Allan and Stark Chermside, ca. 1957. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 119383

Though Allan & Stark were the progenitors of the modern drive-in centres, they weren’t the long-term benefactors of this model. Cashing in on its early success, they sold the Chermside centre, along with the entire Allan & Stark company, to Myer Emporium in 1959—only two years after the drive-in centre was built.

New Drive-In Shopping Centre at Chermside, 1957
New Drive-In Shopping Centre at Chermside, 1957. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 119386

Westfield later bought the Chermside store in 1996, and continue to operate it, along with a number of suburban shopping centres around Australia. Myer continued trading at Allan & Stark’s CBD premises, leaning on the former’s name and Queensland-owned reputation until it finally dropped the Allan & Stark brand in 1970, as it had done for its other Queensland department store conquest, McWhirters.

(left) Allan & Stark promoted as 'Your Myer Store in Queen St.', The Courier Mail, 16 Jan 1963; (centre) Myer advertises sales across its McWhirters and Allan & Stark stores, The Courier Mail, 31 Jan 1963; (right) Allan & Stark's Kenneth Pirrie ad in 1967 doesn't mention Myer, The Courier Mail, 28 Feb 1967
(left) Allan & Stark promoted as ‘Your Myer Store in Queen St.’, The Courier Mail, 16 Jan 1963; (centre) Myer advertises sales across its McWhirters and Allan & Stark stores, The Courier Mail, 31 Jan 1963; (right) Allan & Stark’s Kenneth Pirrie ad in 1967 doesn’t mention Myer, The Courier Mail, 28 Feb 1967. State Library of Queensland Microfilm collection.

References

This article was written as part of the Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame Fellowship. A partnership between QUT Business School and State Library of Queensland.
February 18, 2015

T. C. Beirne

T C Beirne building, Fortitude Valley, 1947. Brisbane Images, Brisbane City Council, BCC-CD23-27 https://library.brisbane.qld.gov.au/client/search/asset/39220 T C Beirne building, Fortitude Valley, 1947

Who: Thomas Charles Beirne (1860–1949), an Irishman, was the founder and director of the T. C. Beirne department stores, remaining active in the business right up until his death. What started as a modest drapery business made him one of Queensland’s most successful businessmen, and among the first Australian millionaires.

Thomas Charles Beirne with his nieces Doreen and Gwenneth Hooper, 1936. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 150016 http://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/112481
Thomas Charles Beirne with his nieces Doreen and Gwenneth Hooper, 1936. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 150016

What: T. C Beirne (known as ‘T. C. Beirnes’ or just ‘Beirnes’) was a long-running department store that established Fortitude Valley as the place to shop for fashion in Brisbane.  They catered to the middle of the market, offering a comprehensive range of women’s, men’s, and children’s clothing and footwear, as well as fabric, haberdashery, and other household goods. The early success and growth of Thomas Beirne’s drapery business demonstrates the opportunities Queensland held for immigrant fashion retailers.

Beirne Pty Ltd wrapping paper used in their department store, Ipswich, 1960s. Picture Ipswich, Ipswich City Council http://picture.ipswich.qld.gov.au/
Beirne Pty Ltd wrapping paper used in their department store, Ipswich, 1960s. Picture Ipswich, Ipswich City Council

Where: Beirne’s first store was established in Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley. He relocated to nearby Duncan Street (now the Chinatown mall). The building he had a constructed there in 1902, by architect Robin Dods, still stands as the T. C. Beirne ‘TCB’ centre.

He set up a major branch in Ipswich in 1892, which was soon relocated to Nicholas Street in 1895, where the building would stand until the mid 1980s. A Mackay branch called ‘Beirne Ltd’ was set up in 1902 and managed by Thomas’s brother Michael Beirne, who was made partner. Other regional ventures included Roma.

Beirne Limited, Sydney Street, Mackay, ca. 1940. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 289523 http://hdl.handle.net/10462/QMC/deriv/92
Beirne Limited, Sydney Street, Mackay, ca. 1940. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 289523

When: 1891–1974.

Why: T. C. Beirne provides a classic story of Queensland fashion retail. Beirne was amongst a wave of young Irish, Scottish, and English drapers who sought opportunities in the new colony of Queensland. They were greatly rewarded for their troubles.

Bill of sale from the Brisbane firm T. C. Beirne, 1894
Bill of sale from the Brisbane firm T. C. Beirne, 1894. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 202796

Beirne apprenticed as a draper in Ireland, and subsequently worked in sales and bookkeeping for other drapers. At one employer, Gallagher Bros, he became friends with an apprentice, Frank McDonnell, who would go on to operate McDonnell & East. In 1881, he befriended an employer, M. D. Pigott (later of Pigotts), who persuaded Beirne to immigrate to Australia. He arrived in 1884, and after a two-year stint working in some Melbourne drapery firms, including Foy & Gibson, Pigott invited Beirne to partner to form drapery ‘Pigott & Beirne’ in South Brisbane. The premises they had planned to set up in was snapped up by some other drapers, leaving Beirne to find a job. He went to work at Allan & Stark, forming a life-long friendship with James Allan.

Haberdashery and glove department at T.C. Beirnes, 1900
Haberdashery and glove department at T.C. Beirnes, 1900. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 177770

In 1886, when the South Brisbane premises became available again, Pigott & Beirne opened their firm. They were immediately profitable, though struggled initially to understand the particular needs of the Queensland market. Unfortunately, the store, along with the whole block of wooden shops in which it stood, was completely destroyed by fire in 1889. The pair were uninsured, but some very sympathetic suppliers helped them rebuild the business. The partnership ended profitably in 1891, providing Beirne the capital to set up his own business in Fortitude Valley.

Original T. C. Beirne Building, Fortitude Valley, 1898Brisbane City Council, Image Archives, BCC-CD23-25 https://library.brisbane.qld.gov.au/client/search/asset/39219
Original T. C. Beirne Building, Fortitude Valley, 1898. Brisbane Images, Brisbane City Council, BCC-CD23-25

Though the Valley was not yet an established retail precinct, having only one other major retailer, Overells, Beirne’s drapery was an instant success, with more customers than he could serve. He took on three leases to expand into neighbouring premises, and later bought the shops in order to connect the three buildings.

As a sign of his early profitability, he set up an Ipswich branch in 1892, just one year after establishing the Valley store. It struggled initially, under what Beirne describes pejoratively as the ‘super-salesmanship’ style of its manager3. However, a change in manager, and with it, a sensitivity to what Ipswich customers wanted, made the store extremely successful.

Both sides of postcard from T. C. Beirne advertising boot sale, Ipswich, 1904. Picture Ipswich, Ipswich City Council http://picture.ipswich.qld.gov.au/
Both sides of postcard from T. C. Beirne advertising boot sale, Ipswich, 1904. Picture Ipswich, Ipswich City Council

Beirne had a habit of finding luck in unfortunate circumstances. A relationship with a London supplier—with excellent credit terms—allowed Beirne to flourish while other businesses struggled, particularly after the 1893 flood which caused many of the banks to crash. In this same year, a health scare turned out to be a great business opportunity. Following doctor’s orders to relax in Dalby for three months, he conducted sales by horse in the regional town; a first step towards what would become an extensive regional mail order business.

Delivery van of T.C. Beirne Ltd., Brisbane, 1952. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 43458 http://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/12391
Delivery van of T.C. Beirne Ltd, Brisbane, 1952. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 43458

He was joined by James McWhirter in 1894—a bright talent who was entrusted by Beirne as manager and later partner—under a set three-year term. With McWhirter competently managing the store, as well as a staff of around fifty, Beirne was able to travel and set up a London buying office in 1896, in order to get better prices from manufacturers. He acted as his own buyer initially, and then contracted representatives, who would stay with him for over forty years. By the mid-20th century, his fashion and fabric lines were still primarily imported from England. Curiously, the office was called—at least in the 1940s—Myer Emporium Ltd (London), despite no apparent connection with the rival Melbourne company of that name.

Hat being modelled for a T. C. Beirne advertisement, Brisbane, 1951. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 181583 http://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/98290
Hat being modelled for a T. C. Beirne advertisement, Brisbane, 1951. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 181583

In 1898, McWhirter left to open his own store directly opposite, precipitating a long-running, but friendly, business rivalry between the two. Their ongoing competition established the Valley as a thriving retail destination. Beirne commented that the competition between McWhirters and Beirnes was “so keen […] that, in the fancy haberdashery section of our stores, customers would buy perfumes, powders and the like for less than nothing—for less than the empty containers cost”.4

T. C. Beirnes department store in Fortitude Valley, 1919. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 257697 http://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/35010
T. C. Beirnes department store in Fortitude Valley, 1919. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 257697

In the years following, Beirne bought up neighbouring properties to create an immense emporium with frontages at Brunswick Street, Duncan Street and Ann Street. Growth followed and T. C. Beirne became a limited company in 1918 with £250,000 capital and £250,000 split between his five daughters as £50000 shares. The following year, the Ipswich store was transferred to Beirne Limited, the company that was set up for the Mackay branch as a partnership between Thomas and his brother Michael Beirne. Ipswich came under Michael’s management, and the store was renamed ‘Beirne Ltd’. This amalgamation was one of the biggest company transactions that Ipswich had ever seen.

Shop assistants in the mail order section of T. C. Beirnes shoe department, Fortitude Valley, ca. 1940. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 64341 http://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/139711
Shop assistants in the mail order section of T. C. Beirnes shoe department, Fortitude Valley, ca. 1940. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 64341

Throughout this growth, Beirne managed to enjoy a reputation as a fair, and possibly even benevolent, employer. He had many long-serving loyal staff, some of fifty years. Beirne himself had apprenticed under a bully of a boss in Ireland as a teenager, and had worked under some very poor conditions, and this experience seemed to stay with him. He tried to actively engage staff in the business through profit sharing and shareholding programs. These weren’t terribly successful schemes, however, and in some cases promoted division between staff. Beirne’s Irish Catholic background also created unfairness in employment. One worker recalled being knocked back for a job at the T. C. Beirne Ipswich branch for being Methodist. At that time, in the 1940s, you needed to be Catholic to work there.

Shoppers purchasing rationed goods at T.C. Beirnes during World War II, Fortitude Valley, ca. 1942. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 112044 http://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/108007
Shoppers purchasing rationed goods at T.C. Beirnes during World War II, Fortitude Valley, ca. 1942. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 112044

Economic depression and war didn’t adversely affect business, allowing T. C. Beirne to turn a profit each year. In fact, they made huge profits during the years of World War II, with figures reflecting a sustained growth of sales, not just a quick rise in profits due to the presence of soldiers, or inflated prices.

T.C. Beirnes Autumn Catalogue, page 22, 1948. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland
T.C. Beirnes Autumn Catalogue, page 22, 1948. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

In the John Oxley Library collection, a great stack of T. C. Beirne memos relating to World War II coupons provide fascinating insights into the tough conditions of clothing rationing in Queensland, and the extraordinarily complex system that had to be navigated by retailers. One memo relays the unusual circumstance of customers returning inferior raincoats that were bought before rationing commenced. The Rationing Commission’s ruling in response stated that nevertheless, “Customers must pay coupons. Rationing is to make things hard for the people not easy. These two people are receiving raincoats now, and they are obliged to surrender coupons for them”.

Advertisement in the Brisbane Telegraph newspaper from T. C. Beirne department store, 1941. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 158510 http://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/111449
Advertisement in the Brisbane Telegraph newspaper from T. C. Beirne department store, 1941. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 158510

In other correspondence with the Rationing Commission, T. C. Beirne made requests to have coupon ratings reduced on embroidered satin kimonos. They had great quantities of the luxury product that wouldn’t shift due to the high number of coupons required to purchase them. Other queries submitted included questions about whether wedding veils carried the same coupon ratings as ordinary hats, and whether ecclesiastical robes required coupons.

Two women modelling belted dresses for a T. C. Beirne advertisement, Brisbane, ca. 1951. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 181590 http://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/98943
Two women modelling belted dresses for a T. C. Beirne advertisement, Brisbane, ca. 1951. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 181590

Letters from the complaints department from the end of the war tell a story of exceptional customer service delivered in what were still very difficult circumstances. One has General Manager J. B. Hooper sensitively attending to a customer’s ‘towel situation’, with towels being in 1948 “amongst the scarcest of today’s resources”.

In another letter, the manager advises than an ill-fitting tailored suit would be promptly altered for a customer, despite the fact the wearer might have “grown somewhat” in the six months since it was purchased. Topically, in a response to a complaint of rude shop assistants on a Saturday morning, the manager defends that his staff feel resentful for the Saturday trading following the introduction of the forty hour week, and outlines the Shop Assistants Union’s case against Saturday opening.

Phone orders section in T. C. Beirnes department store, 1952. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 43429 http://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/139694
Phone orders section in T. C. Beirnes department store, 1952. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 43429

Beirne died before seeing the effects of post-war change, with the impact of sustained price control and difficulty sourcing stock, along with a drop-off in country sales. He would also miss an even greater challenge, and what would ultimately signal the end for the store: the rise in suburban drive-in shopping centres.

T.C. Beirnes Autumn Catalogue, cover, 1948. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland
T.C. Beirnes Autumn Catalogue, cover, 1948. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

After T. C. Beirne became a public company in 1950, profits were in the decline. They had bounced back convincingly by the middle of the decade. Myer Emporium tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a merger in 1954. They subsequently succeeded with McWhirters the following year.

Young woman modelling a pair of denim jeans and a checked shirt for a T. C. Beirnes advertisement, 1952. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 181586 http://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/97982
Young woman modelling a pair of denim jeans and a checked shirt for a T. C. Beirnes advertisement, 1952. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 181586

Beirnes retained its independence from the southern invasion until David Jones bought it out in 1961. Valued at nearly £3,000,000 in shares, it was the second acquisition David Jones had made in Brisbane, after taking over Finney Isles & Co. in 1955. The deal included a 42% shareholding in Beirne Ltd, which covered the Ipswich and Mackay stores.

The Valley store continued to trade as T. C. Beirne until being rebadged as David Jones in 1966. The Mackay store burnt down in 1969, and though it reopened in 1971, it closed for good in this same decade. The Fortitude Valley store was closed in 1973, in a widespread move by David Jones to cut costs. Shortly thereafter, the final remnants of the Beirne family business were lost when the Ipswich store was taken over by interstate department store chain Waltons in 1974. The grand Ipswich building, with its original T. C. Beirne signage faintly visible, survived for another decade, until 1985, when it was demolished as part of an Ipswich CBD redevelopment.

T. C. Beirnes, Footwear Department, Fortitude Valley, 1947. Brisbane City Council, Image Archives, BCC-CD23-28 https://library.brisbane.qld.gov.au/client/search/asset/38015
T. C. Beirnes, Footwear Department, Fortitude Valley, 1947. Brisbane Images, Brisbane City Council, BCC-CD23-28

In Fortitude Valley, the former T. C. Beirne premises has ever since struggled to sustain a steady retail presence. The site became a mixed-use commercial complex that housed Target. It changed hands multiple times in the following three decades, and is currently used as retail and office space, with plans underway for a hotel development. The heritage-listed building is all that remains of the thriving department store, with a staff of around 900, that T. C. Beirne left behind in 1949.

T. C. Beirne building, Ipswich, 1966
T. C. Beirne building, Ipswich, 1966. Picture Ipswich, Ipswich City Council

References

 This article was written as part of the Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame Fellowship. A partnership between QUT Business School and State Library of Queensland.
February 16, 2015

Pigott & Co.

Interior of Pigotts Toowoomba, c. 1920s Interior of Pigotts Toowoomba, c. 1920s

Who: Pigott & Co Pty Ltd, known affectionately as ‘Pigotts’. The store was established by Michael Daniel ‘M. D.’ Pigott (1849–1929).

What: Department store and regional retail landmark.

Pigotts catalogues, 1930s to 1940s. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

Where: Originating as a drapery business at South Brisbane, Pigotts moved to Toowoomba in the late 19th century. Their main buildings were on Ruthven Street, in the centre of Toowoomba. Pigotts also had a store in Warwick, and for a time they operated small branches in Boonah, Beaudesert, Chinchilla, Pittsworth, and Dalby.

Floods in Melbourne Street, South Brisbane, 1893
Floods in Melbourne Street, South Brisbane, 1893. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 66106.

When: 1886–1983, when Pigotts was taken over by Brisbane department store McDonnell & East. They continued trading under the name of Pigotts in the same premises until 1990. Pigotts Warwick was established in 1905, and closed in 1990.

Pigott and Co in Warwick, 1908
Pigott and Co in Warwick, 1908. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 12214.

Why: Pigotts was one of Queensland’s leading department stores, and Toowoomba’s chief local retail business. Not only did Pigotts service a vast regional market, they also competed with the major city department stores, running for over nine decades.

Pigotts Toowoomba, undated
Pigotts Toowoomba, undated. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

Pigotts was founded by Michael Daniel Pigott, an Irishman who came to Queensland in 1885. He went into partnership with fellow draper T. C. Beirne—another recent arrival to Queensland from Ireland—and together they opened a drapery store on Stanley Street, South Brisbane, in 1886. Five years later, Beirne and Pigott dissolved the partnership and Beirne opened his own store in the burgeoning retail precinct of Fortitude Valley.

Michael Daniel Pigott, undated. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
Michael Daniel Pigott, undated. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 12212.

Pigott remained in South Brisbane until the 1893 floods, and then purchased a store on Brunswick Street in Fortitude Valley, close to where Beirne had set up his namesake business. It was a time when many major retailers were sowing the seeds of future success in the area. But within a few years Pigott decided to leave the city and make his mark on Toowoomba’s shopping sector, identifying a solid regional market with great potential and less competition. After opening his first Toowoomba branch in 1896, Pigott sold his Valley shop to another budding department store entrepreneur, James McWhirter, in 1898.

Exterior view of the shop front of Pigott and Co Toowoomba 1927
Exterior view of the shop front of Pigott and Co., Toowoomba, 1927. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 12225

Pigotts’ first Toowoomba branch was on Russell Street, but he quickly secured a better location. In 1902, he rented the premises on Ruthven Street that would be Pigotts’ signature spot. Between 1902 and 1908, significant additions and alterations were made to Ruthven Street. In 1905, Pigott expanded and opened a store in the centre of Warwick, in Palmerin Street. While this was a strategic part of Pigotts’ enterprise, Toowoomba maintained its position as the central store, well supported by its Warwick counterpart.

Remains of Pigott & Company's building after the fire, Toowoomba 1909
Remains of Pigott & Company’s building after the fire, Toowoomba, 1909. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 12226

In 1909, disaster hit when a fire broke out in the Toowoomba store, destroying much of the building and Pigotts’ stock. M.D. Pigott bounced back quickly, rebuilding with a new façade and doubling the previous amount of floor space. In 1910, Pigotts was declared a limited company, with M.D. at the helm as managing director. By 1914, Pigott was able to purchase the Toowoomba building and immediately began adding to it. Improvements included electric elevators, more floor space for the dress department, tailoring, and dressmaking workrooms, and the mail order department. Pigotts’ pneumatic cashier system was reputedly the first in Australia. Pigott was clearly building a major department store, in the same league as those he had seen established in Brisbane.

Interior of the mailing office at Pigott and Company Toowoomba ca. 1924
Interior of the mailing office at Pigott and Company Toowoomba ca. 1924. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg:12220

From early on, mail order was a cornerstone of Pigotts’ business, allowing the store to service country customers throughout Queensland. Pigotts catalogues were known as ‘The Economic Messenger’, and their promise was to “deliver your goods two days ahead of Brisbane”. They also referred to themselves as ‘The City Emporiums.’

Catalogue 1942
Pigotts ‘Economic Messenger’ Spring Summer 1942 catalogue. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

Pigotts advertised in city and country newspapers throughout Queensland, aiming to compete with large Brisbane department stores and other rural outfitters. Pigotts’ ads were aimed equally at men and women customers, with new arrivals in men’s cardigans, hats, or trousers frequently taking up as much newspaper real estate as women’s swimsuits and frocks.

Pigotts ad, Jantzen’s Cardigans for Men, March 1954. Western Star (Roma).
Pigotts ad, Jantzen’s Cardigans for Men, March 1954. Western Star (Roma). National Library of Australia.

Pigotts’ hefty and well illustrated catalogues were dominated by men’s and women’s fashion goods. Women’s clothing, shoes, and accessories, including millinery, always occupied the prominent first section of the catalogue, with plenty of space given to enticing imagery. Colourful illustrations of fashionable women’s clothing graced the majority of Pigotts’ catalogue covers. Their stock was a combination of clothing made by Pigotts, and other affordable and reputable brands.

Catalogue 1948
Pigotts Autumn Winter Catalogue, 1948. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.
Pigotts Spring Summer Catalogue, 1952
Pigotts Spring Summer Catalogue, 1952. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

In addition to their excellent stock and mail order clout, Pigotts was also an example of progressive management. M. D. Pigott was a respected and well-liked director. Alongside plenty of staff functions and social outings, M. D. was responsible for implementing a subsidised insurance scheme for his staff, which eventually developed into a complete superannuation system. He demonstrated an active social conscience, donating Pigotts goods to charity on regular occasions, including toys for needy families at Christmas. When M. D. passed away in 1929, he handed the reins to his son, F. J. Pigott, who continued in his father’s footsteps by expanding Pigotts in the 1930s and 1950s to make it Toowoomba’s largest store. Fashion parades were regularly held to introduce local customers to new stock. These continued into the 1980s, remaining a central feature of the Pigotts brand.

Catalogue 1938 inside
Millinery in Pigotts Catalogue, 1938. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.
Pigotts paper shopping bag, undated
Pigotts paper shopping bag, undated. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

A major competitor arrived in Toowoomba in 1962, when Myer opened their doors. In response, Pigotts Toowoomba extended their premises to Margaret Street to have three street frontages. They also installed cash registers and escalators to modernise the space and make shopping more convenient, and opened a food hall to enable customers to buy everything they needed under the Pigotts roof. After F. J. Pigott died in 1957, other members of the family continued to work in the business, including his son, Jim Pigott, who eventually became a managing director.

Portrait of F.J. Pigott, undated
Portrait of F. J. Pigott, undated. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 12215.

New rivals continued to arrive in Toowoomba, including cheaper retailers such as Target. In 1983, Toowoomba got its first major shopping centre, Clifford Gardens, which challenged the high street district and moved trade out of the centre of town. But Pigotts still managed to remain a successful business with a loyal clientele in both Warwick and Toowoomba. Advertising from the 1980s shows that Pigotts was directly competing with Myer for market share, selling high quality Australian fashion brands such as Carla Zampatti, JAG, and Country Road.

Pigotts ad in The Chronicle, Toowoomba, May 1983
Pigotts ad in The Chronicle, Toowoomba, May 1983. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

But times were changing, and due to an economic recession, retail was a difficult area of business in the early 1980s. Pigotts’ Toowoomba site was a prime piece of real estate, which was sought as part of a new development by property developers Jennings. As this negotiating began, however, Pigotts was approached by Brisbane department store firm McDonnell & East, who made a bid to purchase Pigotts in 1983. McDonnell & East’s offer would allow Pigotts to continue as a department store in both Toowoomba and Warwick, and was thus more attractive to the long-running local business.

Front page news: Pigotts Sold, The Chronicle, July 28th, 1983. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
Front page news: Pigotts Sold, The Chronicle, July 28th, 1983. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

In 1982, Pigotts’ profits were listed as $591,000 at the Toowoomba store, and $63,000 at the much smaller Warwick branch. The sale to McDonnell & East was confirmed as front page news in the Toowoomba Chronicle on July 28, 1983, with the purchase price listed as the significant sum of $5 million.

Pigott's building facade, Toowoomba, 1990s. Queensland Heritage Register.
Pigotts building facade, Toowoomba, 1990s. Queensland Heritage Register.

Pigotts continued operating until 1990, when McDonnell & East closed their Toowoomba and Warwick stores. In 1992, the Pigotts Toowoomba building was entered into the Queensland Heritage Register, preserving it as a Queensland retail landmark.

References:

This article was written as part of the Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame Fellowship. A partnership between QUT Business School and State Library of Queensland.
February 11, 2015

Players Sportswear

Player's Sportwear window display, Queen Street, c. 1940-1950. Hansford family collection Player's Sportwear window display, Queen Street, c. 1940-1950.

Who: Players Sportswear, established by Henry “Harry” George Hansford (1910–1967). In 1960, Hansford sold Players to local department store Weedmans, where he remained as a director until his death in 1967.

Henry George Hansford, c.1945. Hansford family collection.
Henry George Hansford, ca. 1945. Hansford family collection.

Hansford came out of retirement to also temporarily fill the role of general manager of Weedmans between 1965 and 1967. In 1970, Players became Sportsgirl.

Players catalogue, c. 1939. Hansford family collection.
Players catalogue, ca. 1939. Hansford family collection.

Harry Hansford’s other business interests included Shirleys Shoes, a city footwear retailer that was purchased by Mathers in 1961, who subsequently opened suburban and regional stores under the Shirleys Shoes name.

John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Collection reference: 6523 Royal Australian Institute of Architects photographs and plans.
Shirleys Shoes next door to Players Sportswear, Surfers Paradise, ca. 1965. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Collection reference: 6523 Royal Australian Institute of Architects photographs and plans.

What: Emerging in the 1930s, Players were among the first retailers in Australia to recognise the influence of sportswear on women’s fashion and introduced a unique take on American-style sportswear to the Sunshine State. Players manufactured their own clothing and shoes, which were supplemented by regular buying trips to the United States.

When: 1931–1970.

Players building, 341-343 Queen Street, Brisbane, c. 1940. Hansford family collection.
Players building, 341-343 Queen Street, Brisbane, ca. 1940. Hansford family collection.

Where: The primary business was located in central Brisbane. Initially at 187 George Street, Players relocated to Queen Street in the 1930s. Their first premises was at 345–347 Queen Street, but after quick growth they relocated to a new building at 341 Queen Street. Players also had stores in Surfers Paradise, Southport, Bundaberg, Ipswich, Coolangatta, and Rockhampton.

Players Sportswear catalogue, c. 1939. Hansford family collection.
Players Sportswear catalogue, ca. 1939. Hansford family collection.

Why: Queensland fashion is frequently associated with laidback, casual, beach-friendly attire in bright colours and light, cool fabrics. Players helped to establish and promote this style of dressing, influenced by American sportswear in California, Florida, and Hawaii, and European resort-wear found on the Isle of Capri and the French Riviera.

Players Sportswear ad, The Queenslander, September 14, 1938. National Library of Australia.
Players Sportswear ad, The Queenslander, September 14, 1938. National Library of Australia.

Players stocked and made clothes designed for active women, long before ‘active-wear’ existed. The Players’ woman played sport and spent plenty of time travelling. Her clothes needed to be modern, stylish, and comfortable. Day-dresses, playsuits, slacks, and swimsuits in myriad styles, fabrics, and sizes formed the core of Players’ stock.

Window display at Players frock shop Queen Street, Brisbane, 1940 - 1950. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 51423.
Window display at Players frock shop Queen Street, Brisbane, 1940-1950. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 51423.

In 1934, keen rugby union player Harry Hansford married Dorothy Drouyn, who had been a leading Queensland hockey player before becoming the President of the Queensland Women’s Hockey Association. Women like Dorothy were the clientele Players wanted to dress, and her background made her keenly aware of the limited fashion options for active women. Harry and Dorothy understood there was a gap in the market for practical, fashionable, and sporty clothing for women; Players filled that gap.

Players Sportswear window display, c. 1940. Hansford family collection.
Players Sportswear window display, ca. 1940. Hansford family collection.

In 1937, Dorothy Hansford arranged and compered a spectacular fashion parade at City Hall, featuring over 115 models wearing styles from Players. The majority of the models were well-known national and international sportswomen, with proceeds going to women’s hockey funds. Two years later, a similar event was organised by Players and held at Cloudland Ballroom. Tragically, Dorothy Hansford died young in 1942.

Interior of Players Sportswear, 341-343 Queen Street, Brisbane, c. 1940. Hansford family collection.
Interior of Players Sportswear, 341-343 Queen Street, Brisbane, ca. 1940. Hansford family collection.

In 1940, Players Sportswear moved to different premises, in a new building at 341 Queen Street. The impressive store had large display windows, a vast showroom, and basement. A distinctly Tiki aesthetic could be seen throughout the space—including Rattan display counters, shelves, and cabinets—inspired by Harry’s American travels. Players’ staff wore uniforms that reflected the sportswear focus of the store, with short plaid jackets, cotton blouses, and knee length skirts.

View of the main showroom at Players Sportswear, 341-343 Queen Street, Brisbane, ca. 1950. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 51426.
View of the main showroom at Players Sportswear, 341-343 Queen Street, Brisbane, ca. 1950. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 51426.
Display shelves full of folded merchandise at Players Sportswear, Queen Street, Brisbane ca. 1950. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 51412.
Display shelves full of folded merchandise at Players Sportswear, Queen Street, Brisbane ca. 1950. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 51412.

Harry Hansford’s second marriage in 1945 to trained dressmaker Mona Edna Moles produced four children. Mona had previously had her own shop. During the Second World War, she was employed at Players’ dressmaking factory.

Players’ staff celebration, 1950s. Mona Hansford is on the left, wearing a white hat, Harry Hansford is on the right. Hansford family collection.

Their first-born daughter was given a name that reflected Harry’s affection for the United States, particularly Hawaii: Leilani. Two years later, Players began stocking their own brand of shoes, named Leilani Sandals.

Players Sportswear ad featuring Leilani sandals, The Courier Mail, August, 1952. National Library of Australia.
Players Sportswear ad featuring Leilani sandals, The Courier Mail, August, 1952. National Library of Australia.
Players Sportswear window featuring summer dresses and ladies shoes ca. 1950. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 51414
Players Sportswear window featuring summer dresses and ladies shoes (including Leilani Sandals) ca. 1950. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 51414

Hansford’s love affair with the United States and the country’s strength in sportswear design shaped the Players brand. He became a regular commentator in the fashion pages of Queensland newspapers, reporting on the trends he observed while on buying trips in America, such as the incredible popularity of blue jeans.

Players Sportswear ad featuring jeans, Queensland Country Life, August 1950. National Library of Australia.
Players Sportswear ad featuring jeans, Queensland Country Life, August 1950. National Library of Australia.

Once only worn by men as workwear, young women were adopting jeans as a fashionable wardrobe staple, and Harry Hansford was quick to stock them at Players5.

Players Sportswear shoe department, c. 1940. Hansford family collection.
Players Sportswear shoe department, ca. 1940. Hansford family collection.
Interior photograph of the basement of Players Sportswear, ca. 1950. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 51415.
Interior photograph of the basement of Players Sportswear, ca. 1950. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 51415.

But it wasn’t only American trends that Harry Hansford was attuned to. In October 1945, Players proved that it was on the cutting-edge of European fashion trends too, showing the new ‘French swimsuit’ style for the first time. A scant, two-piece strapless swimsuit resembling the modern bikini was displayed in Players’ windows for a crowd of eager onlookers, contrasted with demure swimming attire from previous decades, including styles of 1897 and 1910. This mini swimwear exhibition cleverly communicated the message that the new style was about progress; it was designed for modern women. The contrast was effective, and deliberately provocative. A large photograph of the display at Players, and an accompanying article, appeared in The Courier Mail:

Models of the suits, which will be manufactured, are now on display in a Queen Street store. Crowds assembled outside the display windows early yesterday as soon as the dummies were placed in the two windows, and passers-by (particularly men) formed a queue— three deep— at times, when the windows were lit last night… The manager of Players Sportswear Mr. H. G. Hansford said last night that he was confident that the brief swim suits would have a wide sale in Queensland6.

Photograph of Players Sportswear window display featuring new 'French Swimsuit', The Courier Mail, October 4, 1945. The National Library of Australia.
Photograph of Players Sportswear window display featuring new ‘French Swimsuit’, The Courier Mail, October 4, 1945. The National Library of Australia.

Harry Hansford was right. He clearly knew modern clothing when he saw it, and Players was well ahead of the curve. The ‘invention’ of the bikini is generally attributed to Frenchmen Louis Réard and Jacques Heim, both of whom showed the brief styles independently in 1946, a year after the French swimsuit was already causing waves in Australia, albeit without the catchy name. But while bikinis remained scandalous attire overseas for some decades, Australians took to them quickly. Gold Coast designer Paula Stafford made her name by creating bikinis for women at Surfers Paradise in the late 1940s, where the style became synonymous with Queensland beach culture.

Players Sportswear Extends to Surfers Paradise, The Sunday Mail, December, 1954. National Library of Australia
Players Sportswear Extends to Surfers Paradise, The Sunday Mail, December, 1954. National Library of Australia

In 1954, Harry Hansford recognised the importance and relevance of the Surfers Paradise market to his own business, opening a Players store at Cromwell Place. Here, the emphasis on resort-wear and swimsuits was even greater than the Queen Street store, attracting the lucrative tourist market. Also during this decade, Players Sportswear solidified its association with beachwear by regularly sponsoring a major prize as part of The Sunday Mail Sun Girl contest: a £100 wardrobe from Players.

Players Surfers Paradise store, c. 1955. Hansford family collection.
Players Surfers Paradise store, ca. 1955. Hansford family collection.

By the end of the 1950s, fashion retail was increasingly courting an emergent youth market, who were no longer interested in the kind of stores their mothers had shopped at. With its emphasis on modern, casual clothing, Players Sportswear had to a large extent remained immune to these changes, having already anticipated the desires of young, active women.

Players Sportswear photoshoot, c. 1960. Hansford family collection.
Players Sportswear photoshoot at the Hansford family home, ca. 1960. Hansford family collection.

The company had built and maintained a strong and relevant position in the fashion retail market for three decades, catering to a broad customer base whose outlook was decidedly modern. From this enviable position, Harry Hansford accepted an offer in 1960 from another Brisbane fashion businessman, T. J. Weedman, who owned the Weedmans department store. Players continued to operate, and Hansford became a director of Weedmans Pty Ltd.

Players Sportswear photoshoot at the Hansford family home, c. 1960. Hansford family collection.
Players Sportswear photoshoot at the Hansford family home, ca. 1960. Hansford family collection.

Harry Hansford died in 1967. The success of Players as a modern brand was confirmed in 1970, when Australian fashion retailer Sportsgirl (owned by parent company Sportscraft) became the largest shareholder of Weedmans, entering into an agreement to take over the Players stores.

Players were true pioneers. They predicted the now well-integrated connection between sport and fashion, long before businesses like Sportsgirl had. They also created a retail model that embraced more casual dressing, suited to a variety of ages, likely the result of a Queensland clientele who responded to this kind of fashion because it matched their lifestyle. As a result, Players continued to succeed despite immense changes impacting older style fashion businesses. Players was a perfect match for an increasingly youth oriented fashion customer, and created an enduring style of fashion retail that would not look out of place today.

References

This article was written as part of the Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame Fellowship. A partnership between QUT Business School and State Library of Queensland.
February 9, 2015

Finney Isles & Co.

Interior of Finney Isles department store, Brisbane, 1910. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 110549 Interior of Finney Isles department store, Brisbane, 1910

Who: Thomas Finney (1837–1903) and James Isles (1837–1888) established Finney Isles & Co., known affectionately as ‘Finneys’, in 1864. After ninety years of trade as an independent Queensland-owned company, David Jones purchased the store in 1955.

Finney Isles' building in Queen Street, Brisbane, 1933. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 45267
Finney Isles’ building in Queen Street, Brisbane, 1933. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 45267

What: Beginning as a retail and manufacturing firm, Finney Isles & Co. expanded to become a landmark Queensland department store so successful that it sparked a bidding war between Australia’s two major retail empires, Myer and David Jones.

Displays in the main building of the second National Association Exhibition, featuring Finney Isles & Co., Brisbane, 1877. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 15769
Displays in the main building of the second National Association Exhibition, featuring Finney Isles & Co., Brisbane, 1877. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 15769

Where: Finney Isles & Co. is best known for their substantial Brisbane location, occupying Queen and Adelaide Street buildings, whose façades still stand. While their city premises became their sole focus, Finney Isles & Co. began in Fortitude Valley and at one point had stores in Rockhampton, Gympie, Maryborough, and Murwillumbah.

When: 1864–1955.

Original Finney Isles & Co. store on the corner of Ann and Warner Street, Fortitude Valley, ca.1870. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 84139.
Original Finney Isles & Co. store on the corner of Ann and Warner Street, Fortitude Valley, ca.1870. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 84139.

Why: Finney Isles & Co. was one of Brisbane’s earliest drapery-to-department store businesses, setting up shop in Fortitude Valley before the area was known as a shopping precinct. Established two to three decades ahead of its major competition, such as McWhirters, T. C. Beirne, McDonnell & East, and Allan & Stark, Finneys was a thriving Queensland department store that led the way for subsequent retailers.

Thomas Finney, undated. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 171859
Thomas Finney, undated. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 171859

Like some other notable Queensland drapery businesses, Finney Isles & Co. was founded by Irishmen from humble beginnings. Thomas Finney and James Isles travelled to Queensland together in 1862. With experience as drapers in Ireland, the colleagues quickly found work upon their arrival. After saving enough money to set up their own shop, the men purchased the drapery business of Merry & Bush, located at the corner of Ann and Warner Streets, and rebranded it as Finney Isles & Co. at ‘The Valley Exchange’ in December 1864. Mrs Isles was a partner from the beginning, charged with overseeing millinery and women’s undergarments.

James Isles, undated. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.
James Isles, undated. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

Their first store began with a modest staff of five, but it wasn’t long before Finney Isles & Co.’s business expanded. They looked to the growing towns of Gympie and Rockhampton to extend their enterprise, opening stores in both locations in 1869. The following year, they added a Brisbane city store to their portfolio, renting a shopfront on the corner of Queen and Edward Streets and branding it as ‘The City Exchange’. By 1873, they had purchased the building. The focus of the partnership was city retail, and in 1875 the Valley store was known as Tutty & Finney, to reflect a separate business arrangement. The Rockhampton store was also rebadged in this way in the following decade.

Finney Isles and Co. corner of Queen and Ann Streets, Brisbane ca. 1879. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 45276
Finney Isles and Co., corner of Queen and Ann Streets, Brisbane, ca. 1879. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 45276

Finney Isles & Co. continued to occupy more and more space in the city as their business expanded beyond their drapery origins and into a comprehensive department store. By 1883, they had acquired the store next-door to house the ‘Finney Isles Tailoring Department’. A furniture department was established the following year, and with it, a new building.

Finney Isles & Company Limited Autocarrier, Brisbane, undated
Finney Isles & Company Limited Autocarrier, Brisbane, undated. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 13216

A double-page illustration in a 1888 issue of The Queensland Figaro presented Finney Isles & Co.’s designs for an increasingly elaborate empire: a grand new building that would span Edward, Queen, and Adelaide Streets. In reality, what was built was decidedly less baroque.

Proposed sketch for the premises of Finney, Isles & Co. on the corner of Adelaide, Edward and Queen Streets, Brisbane, 1888. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 63371
Proposed sketch for the premises of Finney Isles & Co. on the corner of Adelaide, Edward and Queen Streets, Brisbane, 1888. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 63371

Occupying the corner of Adelaide and Edward Streets, the new store was big, but by no means the one depicted in the drawing. Nevertheless, it opened with a good degree of fanfare, with advertising announcing the building would house “a grand exhibition” of the latest “Oriental Novelties” selected by Thomas Finney7.

Letterhead showing Finney Isles building at the corner of Queen Adelaide and Edward Streets, Brisbane, 1890. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 177927
Letterhead showing Finney Isles building at the corner of Queen Adelaide and Edward Streets, Brisbane, 1890. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 177927

Sadly, just two months later, James Isles passed away, leaving Finney to continue the enterprise alone. The partnership had been extraordinarily productive, having already created one of Brisbane’s largest retail-manufacturers within just two decades. In this time, the new immigrants had also contributed enormously to Brisbane’s public life; both men served on local boards and were active members of trade associations. Like his colleague and fellow Irishman Frank McDonnell (co-founder of Brisbane department store McDonnell & East), Thomas Finney supported reform to retail workers’ conditions by advocating for early closing times—a policy that was implemented at Finney Isles & Co. James Isles joined Brisbane City Council in 1883, where he served until his death. Finney joined Toowong Shire Council in 1896, where he was elected to the Legislative Assembly, holding the seat of Toowong until 1902.

Queen Street, Brisbane, showing the Courier Corner with Finney Isles & Co. in the background, ca. 1910. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 194825
Queen Street, Brisbane, showing the Courier Corner with Finney Isles & Co. in the background, ca. 1910. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 194825

Just over a decade after the death of James Isles, Thomas Finney welcomed his managers James Coakes and Joseph Kilroe as new partners in the business. Thomas Finney died a few years later in 1903, but the firm continued. Finney Isles & Co. was registered as a limited company in 1905, at that time operating in Brisbane, Murwillumbah, and Maryborough, with offices in New South Wales and London.

Finney, Isles & Co. Limited in Brisbane, Queensland, 1921. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 45269
Finney Isles & Co. Limited in Brisbane, Queensland, 1921. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 45269

1909 saw Finney Isles & Co.’s Brisbane footprint enlarge further. That year the company embarked on another major building campaign, and the new ‘Big Block’ store, a prominent Brisbane city landmark, opened in 1910. At the same time, the Murwillumbah branch closed, leaving only the Brisbane and Maryborough locations to focus on.

Interior of Finney Isles & Co. department store, Brisbane, 1910. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 117775
Interior of Finney Isles & Co. department store, Brisbane, 1910. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 117775

The Big Block building is today heritage listed. Its entry in the register reveals the features that made the new building so advanced in its time, including “innovative display windows on Queen Street, silky oak staircases, lifts decorated in latticed ironwork and silky oak, pneumatic tubes for exchanging cash, [and] a roof-top water tower”. Its own generator was able to power the store’s many new electrical features—elevators, lighting and pneumatic cash system—as well as the manufacturing arm of the business, with a staggering 400 sewing machines8.

Messrs Finney Isles and Company's building illuminated in honour of the visit to Brisbane of the Prince of Wales, July, 1920. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 45270
Messrs Finney Isles and Company’s building illuminated in honour of the visit to Brisbane of the Prince of Wales, July, 1920. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg: 45270

Further property acquisitions and remodelling took place in over the 1920s and 30s, by which time Finneys was an unmistakable beacon of retail in Brisbane’s CBD. The final rural outpost, the Maryborough store, ceased trading in 1927. Now Finneys was solely a city business. It became Brisbane’s answer to Melbourne’s Myer and Sydney’s David Jones. Shopping at Finneys was a cosmopolitan experience, combining scale, spectacle, glamour and grandeur.

Mannequin parade at Finney Isles & Co., Brisbane, 1929. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 88110.
Mannequin parade at Finney Isles & Co., Brisbane, 1929. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 88110.

During the 1920s, the city store hosted regular ‘Fashion Teas’, which were large and glamorous fashion parades held on their rooftop garden. In 1929, new display windows graced the Queen Street façade, filled with Finneys’ latest fashion offerings. In 1936, in yet another new building, Finneys opened a large ballroom, which quickly became a central venue for social occasions in Brisbane.

Young women admiring an exhibition of paintings at Finneys Art Gallery, 1948. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 141098.
Young women admiring an exhibition of paintings at Finneys Art Gallery, 1948. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 141098.

From the 1940s, the store opened a substantial art gallery of 371m², which became a major cultural landmark for Brisbane, particularly whilst the Queensland National Art Gallery (now the Queensland Art Gallery) was without a permanent home. It hosted exhibitions of emerging and established artists by the Royal Queensland Art Society, and a range of travelling shows, including reproductions of important European art works—a practice which was common for galleries at the time. The gallery space continued until at least the 1960s.

Tootal parade at Finney Isles & Co., 1955. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.
Tootal parade at Finney Isles & Co., 1955. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

A final period of renovation took place between 1949 and 1954. The women’s showroom, shoe department, millinery, underwear, children’s and men’s departments were all modernised and remodelled to the latest standards in shop design.

Finney Isles & Co. refurbished interior featuring escalators, 1954. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.
Finney Isles & Co. refurbished interior featuring escalators, 1954. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

Escalators were installed to offset elevator traffic, and in 1954, new recessed windows featuring concealed lighting and black marble surrounds were revealed. Air-conditioning was also introduced as another key modern attraction.

Finney Isles & Co. refurbished interior, 1954. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.
Finney Isles & Co. refurbished interior, 1954. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

These significant investments and improvements, together with Finney Isles & Co.’s prime location and continued success, made the business an attractive acquisition for a rival department store. In 1955, one year after celebrating ninety years of trade, both Myer and David Jones made bids to take over the Queensland firm.

Six ways to look wonderful this spring at Finneys, August 19, 1954, The Courier Mail, Brisbane. National Library of Australia
Six ways to look wonderful this spring at Finneys, August 19, 1954, The Courier Mail, Brisbane. National Library of Australia

The first proposal to purchase Finneys was initiated by Myer, who went directly to Finney Isles & Co. shareholders after the board would not approve their terms. Soon after, in a surprise move, David Jones came in with a higher offer for Finneys. Myer bowed out after this offer was recommended by the Finney Isles and Co. board. In July 1955, the David Jones offer was officially accepted by shareholders.

International Fashions in Wool parade at Finney Isles & Co. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.
International Fashions in Wool parade at Finney Isles & Co. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

For a time, David Jones continued to use the name ‘Finneys’, and traded on the latter’s reputation for fashion. This was signalled by chic, high-profile fashion events held at the store towards the end of the 1950s, such as the touring fashion parade, International Fashions in Wool, in 1959. Organised by David Jones and the Australian Women’s Weekly, the parade featured wool ensembles from leading American and European designers, amongst them Dior, Claire McCardell, and Pauline Trigère, worn by Australian and visiting Parisian, American, and Italian models.

International Fashions in Wool parade, held at Finney Isles & Co. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.
International Fashions in Wool parade, held at Finney Isles & Co. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

Though 1955 had signalled the end of Finney Isles and Co., David Jones found long-term success in their premises. Indeed, it continues to be their flagship Queensland store, meaning that a department store has now traded in the Finneys location continuously since 1870.

Finney Isles & Co. souvenir booklet, 1864-1954. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.
Finney Isles & Co. souvenir booklet, 1864-1954. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

The original Finney Isles & Co. buildings, now largely comprising only façades, were incorporated into Queensland’s entrée to luxury fashion retail, as part of the 2005 Queens Plaza shopping centre development. This redevelopment lost a great deal of the buildings’ original charm, but in another way, the fact that a high-fashion precinct continues in this site is a tribute to the foresight and legacy of Finney Isles & Co.

References

This article was written as part of the Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame Fellowship. A partnership between QUT Business School and State Library of Queensland.
February 5, 2015

Introducing High Street Histories

Night view of Queen Street, Brisbane, ca. 1959. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 260743 Night view of Queen Street, Brisbane, ca. 1959. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 260743

Fashion retail and manufacture represents an important segment of our state’s economy, culture, and society—it tells the big stories of Queensland’s past. Sadly this history has largely gone unrecorded. Most major department store buildings have been demolished or transformed, and contemporary shopping districts offer few clues about how fashion was produced and consumed in decades past.

Wallace Bishop Arcade Brisbane, Brisbane, Queensland, 1939
Wallace Bishop Arcade Brisbane, Brisbane, Queensland, 1939. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 71755

What has fashion retail and manufacture in Queensland looked like over time? How has our high street changed? What makes a successful fashion business?

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.

Women queuing outside a shop in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, 1953
Women queuing outside a shop in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, 1953. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 201999

High Street Histories comprises sixteen new profiles: the who, what, where, when and why of Queensland fashion. Written by co-directors of The Fashion Archives, Nadia Buick and Madeleine King, the project follows a six month Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame Fellowship undertaken at the John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

McWhirters catalogue, Autumn 1950. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Record: 730793
McWhirters catalogue, Autumn 1950. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Record: 730793

The John Oxley Library is one of our richest local resources for researching Queensland fashion history. It’s like a shopping list of clues to our sartorial past: catalogues, advertising, photographs, design sketches and scrapbooks, receipts, press materials, stationary, business records, sample books, and letters.

Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward VII, viewing opals at the Queensland gem display in the Australia Pavilion at the Franco-British Exhibition, London, 1908
Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward VII, viewing opals at the Queensland gem display in the Australia Pavilion at the Franco-British Exhibition, London, 1908. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 190846

The Queensland fashion industry has been overlooked as a subject of rigorous research, but that’s not to say that this topic lacks interest. While some important work has been done, there are countless other stories that remain untold.

Bayards delivery van in view at intersection of Queen and Edward Streets, Brisbane, 1940. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 82490 http://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/76646
Bayards delivery van in view at intersection of Queen and Edward Streets, Brisbane, 1940. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 82490

High Street Histories reveals incredible stories of change, transformation, survival, and collapse as wars, economic depressions, modernity, interstate and global competition have taken their toll. The Queensland fashion businesses explored offer insights into how fashion makers and sellers have, or have not, weathered the storm. Some made the bold move of expanding when the going got tough, while others were dramatically downsized. Some diversified and explored other industries to supplement their fashion enterprises. Some succeeded in developing fashion brands so strong that major interstate competitors entered bidding wars to purchase them. Some held their ground, and maintained loyal local customers for over a century with old-fashioned service and values. Others disappeared without a trace.

Three women in evening gowns at a fashion parade at the Carlton Hotel in 1931
Three women in evening gowns at a fashion parade at the Carlton Hotel in 1931. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 102522

In a moment when names like Topshop and Zara dominate, and our former fashion empires remain only as faded names on old façades, these stories reveal a high street that once looked very different to the one we know today. High Street Histories is a timely reminder that Queensland once had a distinctive, thriving, and diverse fashion scene.

View all 16 High Street Histories profiles here:

Paula Stafford
McDonnell & East

Cribb & Foote
Pike Brothers

Bayards
Ponds

Marsh & Webster

Nissens

McWhirters
Ivy Hassard
Stewarts
Allan & Stark
T. C. Beirne
Pigott & Co.
Players Sportswear
Finney Isles & Co.
Researching Queensland’s fashion business history
Paula Stafford, Henry Talbot, & Spike Milligan

Paula Stafford, Henry Talbot, & Spike Milligan

Paula Stafford and a model wearing a bikini ca. 1955, Surfers Paradise. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 151506 Paula Stafford and a model wearing a bikini ca. 1955, Surfers Paradise. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 151506

Paula Stafford—the Gold Coast fashion designer responsible for introducing the bikini to our beaches in the mid-20th century, and putting Queensland fashion on a global stage—was an impressive record keeper, with seemingly every new business venture, every new ad campaign, and every new swimsuit documented extensively. It’s a wonderful collection, but the scale is overwhelming! As we tackle box after box of archival documents and photos, we wonder if we’ll ever get closer to making a new discovery. Such was our state of mind when we pulled out the fifth box of photos for the day.

We’d seen so many of the images before—some we’d sifted through previously, some the library have already digitised and catalogued online, and others were doubles. We’d already given up hope as we flicked through the final photo album in the last box of the day. Page after page returned what we’d seen before. Until of course, we flipped to the very last page, and turned over a photograph that had been slipped in loose.

‘Fashions can be fun’ November 28, 1962, The Courier Mail (detail showing Spike Milligan and Kaia Stanford wearing Paula Stafford). John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Microfilm scan.
‘Fashions can be fun’ November 28, 1962, The Courier Mail (detail showing Spike Milligan and model Kaia Stanford wearing Paula Stafford). John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Microfilm scan.

Just at a glance we could spot it wasn’t quite like the others. It didn’t feature the shop, or the Gold Coast locations that set the scene of the other Paula Stafford fashion shoots we’d encountered. No, this was quite different: a clean white studio environment. The models didn’t look like the bronzed girl-next-door types and rugged hairy-chested brutes Stafford seemed to favour for her shoots. They looked somehow more urbane, a pale London look. And actually, the male model didn’t look like a model at all. He looked like… Spike Milligan.

It’s a cliché of research that new discoveries are made once all hope is lost, the pursuit goes cold and then some unassuming scrap of evidence appears at the 11th hour. It’s just that it’s a cliché that rings true more often than not. Therefore, it’s a cliché that tortures researchers into sustaining a seemingly fruitless mission.

Back of the Spike Milligan and Kaia Stanford photo with Helmut Newton and Henry Talbot's stamp on it, ca. 1962.
Back of the Spike Milligan and Kaia Stanford photo with Helmut Newton and Henry Talbot’s stamp on it, ca. 1962. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

But back to the photograph: we flip it over for more clues. A hand-written caption reads, ‘Spike Milligan ‘Goons!’ fame with model wearing Paula Stafford outfit (reversible)’. A printed stamp on the back reads, ‘Helmut Newton & Henry Talbot Photographers. 578 Bourke Street’.

An international photography studio, an international comedy star, and Paula Stafford. What lead to this strange constellation in Australia at this time?

We know that the German born photographers Helmut Newton and Henry Talbot had immigrated to Melbourne during World War II. They were sustained here by fashion publishing based predominately in Sydney. Their time in Australia was hugely influential. They produced a vast amount of photographs, and were not always credited, making it sometimes difficult to identify their work.

A quick search on Trove led us to discover that Spike Milligan was in Australia for a number of months in 1962, filming a comedy series for the ABC. But what was he doing in a fashion shoot?

We started looking for other shoots by Newton or Talbot, using Australian fashion, or models, or even featuring Spike Milligan. We knew Helmut Newton had left Australia for Paris in 1961, but his partner Henry Talbot continued to use the studio name. The photo was undated, but based on the styling and our knowledge of Paula Stafford’s work from this time, it looked like the early 1960s. We began searching for more Henry Talbot fashion photographs, and discovered some in the Powerhouse Museum collection for a campaign called ‘Everglaze’ (the product name of an American engineered cotton used by fashion designers all over the world). We located other photos from this campaign held by photographic dealers, featuring the same model, Kaia Stanford, seen in our photo with Spike Milligan. These credit the photograph as ‘Henry Talbot for Everglaze, 1962’.

Armed now with a date and a few keywords, we went looking for coverage in local newspapers. The Paula Stafford collection contains hundreds of newspaper clippings, so we figured it was likely she had kept a memento of this shoot with a significant photographer and an international comedy star. After a lot of digging, we discovered a partial clipping from The Courier Mail in 1962, featuring the photoshoot with Kaia Stanford and Spike Milligan. Unfortunately it was torn, but with access to the library’s microfilm collection, we were able to find the full-page feature.

'Fashions can be fun' November 28, 1962, The Courier Mail. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Microfilm scan.
‘Fashions can be fun’ November 28, 1962, The Courier Mail. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Microfilm scan.

Under the headline, ‘Spike the Goon Clown Shows How Fashions Can be Fun’ (November 28, 1962), the piece features a collection of ‘leading Australian sportswear designers’, namely Paula Stafford, Kenneth Pirrie, Prestige, and Sports du Jour. The real focus of the piece, however, is the models that were in town for a major event on the Australian fashion calendar: the ‘All-Australian Fashion Parade’.

This was no ordinary fashion parade. It was an extraordinarily ambitious charity event presented by the Australian Women’s Weekly and Myer Emporium featuring only the work of Australian designers. It toured from Sydney to Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide. It ran for two months over the four capitals, and in each city offered a staggering two parades a day over a week or two, some with multiple evening parades. In Brisbane, it was held at upscale hotel, Lennon’s, with considerable fanfare.

'3 Faces in Fashion', 17 August 1962, The Courier Mail. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Mircrofilm scan.
’3 Faces in Fashion’, 17 August 1962, The Courier Mail. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Mircrofilm scan.

Along with Kaia Stanford, The Courier Mail spread features London model Jill Stinchcombe as a second foil to Spike Milligan’s comic antics. With her exciting mod hair-cut and ‘It Girl’ aura, Stinchcombe was a high-profile international addition to the All-Australian Parade line-up. The visiting models were followed intently by Australian press, with regular appearances in advertising campaigns and interviews for newspapers, magazines and television in the months surrounding the event. Everyone wanted to know what they ate, what they cooked, what make-up products they favoured, and what they did in their spare time.

Advertisement for 'Myers All Australian Fashion Parades' featuring Kaia Stanford, August 20 1962, The Courier Mail. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Microfilm scan.
Advertisement for ‘Myers All Australian Fashion Parades’ featuring Kaia Stanford, August 20 1962, The Courier Mail. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Microfilm scan.

There’s no mention of Everglaze in The Courier Mail piece—they’re referred to mysteriously as a ‘Swiss Fashion Group’—but it’s not unusual for fashion shoots to become separated from their original commercial purpose in the media, especially when celebrity subjects provide adequate newsworthiness.

Stafford’s garment is given prominence in the piece. It’s a coat featuring a geometric bamboo design—Everglaze cotton, of course—and a mandarin collar to complete the ‘oriental’ look. It’s cut at the front and sides from the hem to the waist to reveal a pair of orange Bermuda shorts beneath. The open sleeve cuff shows off an unmistakable trademark of Paula Stafford designs: it’s reversible, to be worn with the bold print or turned inside-out for a plainer look.

Paula Stafford’s position as an international trailblazer has been well established, but images like these remind us just how successful she was. This shoot demonstrates that in her second decade of trade, she was able to maintain an edgy, risqué image when the youthfulness and change of 1960s fashion saw many other designers of her generation left behind.

You can read more about Paula Stafford on The Fashion Archives.

This article was originally published on the John Oxley Library blog.

Researching Queensland’s fashion business history

Jenyns illustrated medical ad, ca.1910s. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives. Jenyns illustrated medical ad, ca.1910s. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

When most people think of ‘business’ they imagine serious corporations and enterprises, not the ‘frivolous’ world of fashion. But fashion businesses have played an important role in the economic history of Queensland, and their story is a significant one. Through our work with The Fashion Archives, we’ve come across many pioneering names in Queensland fashion that warrant serious attention. Some remain familiar—T. C. Beirne, Bayards, McWhirters, Paula Stafford, Barry and Roberts, Wallace Bishop, Mathers—while others have faded from memory. Some of them traded for over a century, some of them invented radically new products, some of them devised complex and audacious marketing campaigns ahead of their time. Some grew from the kitchen-table or garage to become retail and manufacturing giants. Others started in small rural towns and went on to dominate national and international markets.

'Life study of a matronly figure wearing a Jenyns corset', ca. 1910s. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.
‘Life study of a matronly figure wearing a Jenyns corset’, ca. 1910s. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

As inaugural recipients of the Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame (QBLHOF) Fellowship, we will be sharing the wonderful fashion items we uncover in the collections of the John Oxley Library (JOL) over the coming months. This research culminates in a special online series for The Fashion Archives called High Street Histories, focusing on some of the leading fashion businesses our state has produced.

As we’ve been poring over business ledgers, retail catalogues, photographs, newspaper clippings, financial records, and correspondences, we’ve been thinking a lot about the value of business records to historians like us. Sometimes just a fragment of information can give us vital leads. For example, a small sales receipt can tell us about the price of a garment, the market tier it was pitched to, the address of the business at a given point, the items stocked, and the spending habits of its customers.

Jenyns clippings scrapbook, ca. 1917-1919
Jenyns clippings scrapbook, ca. 1917-1919. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

A case in point is the recently donated business records of Jenyns Corsets, one of Queensland’s most successful fashion businesses, who traded for close to a century. When its founder Sarah Jenyns (1865–1952) was recently inducted into the Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame, the family’s thoughtful donation to the JOL collection meant that we were able to get some new leads and insights into this leading corset label. We knew that Jenyns was extremely competitive in both national and international markets, with aggressive marketing campaigns, and a long paper trail of patent applications for their innovations to their fashion and surgical corsets. The new materials in the collection give us a fuller picture of what it takes to become one of the country’s most significant underwear empires, and one of Queensland’s longest running fashion companies.

Jenyns illustrated ad with hand-written annotations, ca. 1930s. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.
Jenyns illustrated ad with hand-written annotations, ca. 1930s. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

Take for example this original design for an advertisement that we found in the collection (above). We don’t know the date it was produced or where it was used, but it looks similar to other advertising imagery the company produced in the early 1930s. The hand-written annotations, written presumably by Sarah Jenyns, demonstrate the company’s awareness of their brand image, and the refinement of their marketing message. Jenyns was remarkably successful at selling to multiple markets. They advertised in medical journals as well as fashion magazines. They promoted themselves as having “a Model for Every Figure and Every Occasion”, meaning that they were able to reach the young and old, healthy and infirm; no body type could go unimproved by a Jenyns corset.

Sectional view of a Jenyns corset, undated. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.
Sectional view of a Jenyns corset, undated. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

This market diversity meant that they had to choose their words carefully, so as not to alienate their fashion market when promoting the health benefits. The 1930s advertisement shows how the words ‘For Health & Beauty Wear’ are changed to ‘High Quality Corsets and Girdles that ensure Beautiful Figure Lines’ to emphasise the fashion angle. The tag line ‘Fashionable, Reducing & Supporting’ was altered to the more direct descriptive, ‘Surgical as well as fashionable’. In marketing campaigns from the early- to mid-20th century, Jenyns used other lines to attach their image to style over medicine: ‘in service to health and beauty’, ‘the foundation of beautiful lines’, and, ‘Jenyns ensures graceful lines’.

Jenyns letterhead design featuring illustration of Jenyns building at 327 George Street, ca. 1920. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.
Jenyns letterhead design featuring illustration of Jenyns building at 327 George Street, ca. 1920. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

We’ve also spotted some other revealing edits to Jenyns marketing material. Take for instance, this illustration of the premises with their logo and business address (above), which was reproduced in newspaper and journal advertising as well as in company stationary and brochures. It tellingly has the initials E. R. scratched out from the premises name, after Sarah’s husband, Ebenezer Randolphus, had split from the business.

Jenyns patent corsetry insignia, 1950. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.
Jenyns patent corsetry insignia, 1950. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by The Fashion Archives.

The materials donated to the John Oxley Library as a result of Sarah Jenyns’ induction into the QBLHOF are an especially rich source for our research. The strength of these items in particular lies in the vastness and diversity of types of materials donated. Having access to the original documents that were used within the business across several decades provides subtle and valuable insights for us to build our new research upon. We admire the foresight of those who save not just the valuable items after a business closes or moves, but also the newspaper clippings, cheque stubs, outdated stationary, notepads, and unfinished designs.

You can read more about Jenyns corsets on The Fashion Archives.

This article was original published on the John Oxley Library blog.