All about the history and heritage of Strathfield
by Vic Keary
I came to live in the Strathfield district in October 1914, after my father gave up a hotel at Kings Cross and took over a shop in Wharf Road (now Burwood Road). After a short time we moved to a shop on Parramatta Road, near Mosley St, and the side wall of that shop still shows the sign, “Keary’s – Agents for Buchanan’s and Cadbury Chocolates”. And then we moved to the first shop built in Everton Rd beside the Strathfield Hotel, and finally to the present shop on the corner of Redmyre Road and The Boulevarde.
I have been in this shop for about 64 years. For years we dealt in mainly fruit and vegetables but nowadays it’s mostly a Milk Bar and confectionery business. We used to have three men going around in carts serving big runs in Strathfield, Homebush and Flemington, and even as far as Lidcombe.
The carters carried baskets of fruit and vegetables, very attractively arranged, to show to the customers to get orders. They then returned to the carts to make up the orders. My father kept a tight rein on the business but I don’t think he ever found out that the carters frequently “drank” on the job and diddled him out of a lot of money.
It was a big business. It was nothing for us to have a railway truck load of pumpkins delivered to the old Homebush railway siding or to pick up a big load of potatoes direct from the wharves; but we got most of the fruit and vegetables from the City Markets. We would go to the Markets each day in horse wagons, leaving at 3 am. We had big draught horses and my father wouldn’t stand for them being galloped; it was God help anyone who dared to take them out of a walk, they’d be sacked on the spot. The “old fox” himself, used to travel to the markets by train and he’d keep a watch out for the wagons along the road beside the railway line. We traveled that route as far as Summer Hill and then, because there was no better way, we’d swing over to the Parramatta .Rd. Just below Taverner’s Hill. What a wicked stretch of road that was! The surface was mostly dirt and deeply rutted; and Taverners Hill….that was something else again. It was a slow hard drag up the hill but coming down with a full load could be “hair raising”. If you didn’t want to finish up in a heap of fruit and vegetables on the road you came down with the brake grinding and your horse straining back on its’ haunches, Tommy Clark – he had a fruit shop here too – was never bothered by Taverners; he was invariably drunk on the return journey and seemed to delight in galloping down the hill. I don’t think he ever came to grief so he must have been blessed or awfully lucky. The road was worse than woeful when it rained! I wish I’d kept a picture from the front page of the “Sunday Times” of many years ago…it showed Keary’s big wagon with horses stuck up to their bellies in mud and the top of the wheels dead level with the road.
It wasn’t only the state of the roads that made travel slow and difficult, they used to drive cattle along the Parramatta Rd. from the city and they had right of way…there was nothing you could do but wait till they passed. The cattle were often held up at a level crossing which used to where the Abattoirs Line now crosses the Parramatta Road near the HMV Records Building. Often the cattle would get stirred up and I well remember one after when a bull went made and tore into our shop and bailed up my mother in a corner. If it hadn’t been for a baker who was passing by, she would have been gored to death. After that the “old man” always made sure the front door was shut when cattle droving was on.
I’ll never forget the first motor buses, they were run by F.S. Stewart…big Leylands with great big iron wheels and solid rubber tyres and another type with chain driven back wheels. When you cam to Taverners Hill the driver would yell .“All Out! All Out!” and with groans or smiles depending on the weather ……..You’d get out walk up the hill and get back on board at the top. The buses were so lengthy that if everyone piled in the back section, the front would leave the ground. The early cars had their problems too. My mate had a Daimler – a single seater with gate-change gears; when you put up the hood you had to secure it with great big leather straps that came from the front chassis and reached back onto the hood to keep it from blowing back. You had to get out to get out to crank the engine by hand and if you got a kick back you’d certainly know all about it. At night you had to light up your carbon lamp attached to a great big brass cylinder on the running board. There were no hydraulic brakes, only two wheel brakes and you had to pull like hell to stop the car. There weren’t many accidents because the cars didn’t go very fast.
The bridge over the railway station has already been mentioned by others but I always knew it as the “hill” not the “Hump”. They used train line rails and solid brick walls to support the ramps….I think you can still see some of the rails from the car park at the top of Parnell St…some of the brick wall which was up against Patterson’s shop may also be seen. The shops I remember on the left side of the ramp were Orton Bros., Estate Agents, Dewick the barber and a little lolly shop; what I remember most of the right-hand side was the beautiful wisteria that used to cover the fence. You couldn’t avoid going up the hill to get down to the station platforms but you could cross to the other side of the line through a subway that went straight ahead at the top of the Boulevarde. The level crossing mentioned by Mr. Randall had ceased to be at that time when the “hill” was removed in the twenties the old subway was filled in and the present one was built in its place. when you try to picture all this remember that Strathfield Station was back towards Burwood.
The ramp on the northern side of the station was not steep….it was a long sloping road down to Everton Rd., near the junction of Mosley Street. That’s why the cabs used that side. There used to be anything from fifty to a hundred hansom cabs and four-wheel coaches…often lined up back to Cooper St….waiting for people to come off the trains. Many of the residents had their permanent drivers who would be there when they arrived. Very seldom, if at all, would drivers go down the stoop slope to the Boulevarde….they would go up Everton Street or Cooper Street to Wentworth Road, over the railway bridge and down Morwick Street to the Boulevarde. I knew quite a few of the cab drivers; they were real characters. One fellow named Hillyard lived next door to our shop on the Parramatta Road, and another was called “Ben Hur” – he had a covered in four-wheel coach with two horses and carried four people — two on each side — just like a mourning coach.
When we first came hero there were hardly any shops at all. Going towards the station from our present shop, there was Perce Williams saddlery shop next door, then Orr’s chemist shop, Reynolds’ drapery store (now Dunlops), grocery, Guthries Newsagency and then Ken Riddell the plumber, where the CBC bank is now. One of the Riddell’s still has a plumbing business at the back of the bank. There were no shops between Riddells’ and the railway, except one, near the then level crossing, but it was burnt down. On the other side of the Boulevards, John Dale Patterson had his butcher shop at the foot of the “hill”. His shop was where the florist and the milk bar are now – blue glazed tiles of the butcher’s shop can still be seen at one end of the Florist’s shop frontage. Besides being a butcher, Patterson was famous for his “D. P.” cure for indigestion. It was his own concoction and he had a “ton” of it about the shop. Anthony Horderns handled it for him too. Next to Patterson’s shop was “Tyrone” but there were no other shops in front of it then only a beautiful fountain. I don’t remember “Tyrone” being anything but a boarding house. After “Tyrone” there was Dicks’ Chemist shop on the corner of Parnell St., then Squires the grocer, and a little further along, Miss Scofield’s lolly shop. I remember the ‘taste-day’ mentioned by Miss Short…it was on every Tuesday until it got “a bit too willing” and she made it every second Tuesday. Some of the kids used to rush out and exchange hats and go back in for a second helping; as they used as say she was a “corker”. Yours truly got his share. Past Miss Schofield’s a little old man named Saunders, complete with a big moustache, had a cake shop, and then was Mitchigans Upholstery store. After that came Alley’s big grocery store; it used to be a produce store with a wood coal and coke yard. It would be nothing unusual when there was a big storm to see wood and coke floating down The Boulevarde; an open stormwater channel which passed under the Boulevarde in that area used to flood over and since the lane behind the shops was higher than the shop floors, water would run through the shops and out onto the Boulevarde….there was never a dull moment when it rained heavily.
On the corner of Lyons St., where the Commonwealth Bank is, there have been three different bank buildings over the years. The original bank was a narrow gutted building alongside a vacant piece of land where a couple of shops have since been built. Next was Bell and Company’s grocery and hardware store and then Matthew’s butcher shop….Matthews’ trade symbol, a cow’s head, is still to be seen at the top of the gable in front of the building. Old Matthews had the shop for a long time but his son Denham did not stay long after he took it over. A little further up was Fitzmaurice, a greengrocer who was there for years and then there was a church on the corner of Mosely St opposite Holy Trinity Church. A “Howl” went up when they pulled down the Church and Dance Bros. set up a tyre business which was eventually taken over by Dunlops. A little beyond Holy Trinity Church was the police station which was next door to a big laundry – Evans’ laundry. On the Russell St corner, the Fresh Food and Ice Company had a big depot…it ran back deep into Russell Street and they kept their horses and carts there. Past Russell St. was Hoskins’ old home “Hollyrood” which was then occupied by the Adams’ family who owned a big hotel in the City. On the opposite side of The Boulevarde was “Del Monte” which was then in the hands of the Grace Bros family. I knew Mrs. Grace very well…she was a nice person, a down to earth type, nothing “put on”; a very big woman, she used to come into the shop regularly and as soon as she appeared, my father, without fail, would yell, “Victor, look sharp,. get Mrs. Grace a chair”. Between Carrington Street and next door to “Del Monte” was another large home — still standing— called “Parkstone”. It was occupied by a family named Newman who were shoe manufacturers. It was acquired by Trinity Grammar for a number of years and now, “Del Monte”, is part of the Santa Maria Del Monte College. Between Carrington St and Redmyre Rd. there were two houses which made way for the Ampol Garage, and then a very old cottage where a little old maid – can’t remember her name — lived for many years. When she died it was aquired by L. T. Otton, Consulting Engineer, who modernised the frontage and now conducts his business there. The post office was always on the corner of Redmyre Rd. in my time, but the building is about the fourth to be erected on that spot. When I first came here they used to deliver letters on horseback……the stables were at the back.
From being in the shop and making some 90 to 100 deliveries a week I became acquainted with a lot of the residents living away from the shopping area. Ebenezer Vickery lived in “Tiptrees” in Kinjaland on the block between Wakeford and Llandillo Avenues. It was a mansion with a large number of rooms. The Red Cross took it over during the War years and they had 36 beds in there for wounded soldiers. “Tiptrees” was situated on the hill overlooking Llandillo Ave. and provides good views of Mortlake and the Parramatta River. Many homes have been erected where “Tiptrees” once stood. The family of Joseph Vickery – I think they were shoe manufacturers – lived in Strathfield Ave, which then only ran to the frontage of “Strathfield House’ before it was pulled down. They built another place there but it made way for a new subdivision which saw Strathfield Ave. extended through to Nichol Parade. Frederick A. Peters, of Peters Ice Cream, built the two storey place “Washtenaw” in Kingsland Rd between Wakeford Rd and Albyn Rd. Two doors away was the home of Judge Holden. The Judge and Mr. Peters often called at the shop and were friendly fellows. Harold Arnott lived on the corner of Homebush Road and Victoria St. There were two boys in the family, mad about racing cars: I remember the “Rileys” they had and how devoted they were to them. Percy Arnott, who lived on the corner of Albyn & Chalmers Rds, also had a strong outside interest – he was keen about sailing. The grounds of Percy Arnott’s home were subdivided some years ago and there are now two or three houses where their tennis court used to be.
Across on the other side of Chalmers Road was a big house owned by W S Friend, the hardware merchants; it later passed to a Bible Society. A year or two ago it was sold, remodelled, sold again, and it now the home of the Bullen family – of Bullen’s Circus. Next door, on the corner of Chalmers and Barker Road, was the home of another prominent businessman – Mr Bush of Bush’s Meats.
In Margaret St were the PLC now have a little school, was a cottage occupied by a well known entertainment personality. He was Charles Lawrence, a journalist, radio commentator, the voice behind Cinesound Newsreels, and a leader of community singing concerts which were popular during the depression years. Next door Next door where “Marion Court” retirement village now stands, was the home of J.J. Leahey, a well known pastoralist in the Bathurst area but more widely known as the owner of Tullock, the champion racehorse of some twenty years ago. It was a large mansion extending back to Carrington Ave. After its death, the hooves of Tullock were mounted in Mr. Leahey’s billiard room. Mention of Tullock reminds me that J. W. Tullock who was the owner of Tullock’s engineering firm at Rhodes lived in the large two storey, red brick residence at the top of Redmyre Road just before the curve into Chalmers Rd. I went to Sydney Grammar School with one of his Sons and used to visit the home to play billiards. The other two-storey place just above Tullock’s was the home of Mr. Andrew Watt K.C. who was a leading lawyer of his time. Just below Tullock’s lived the McCredie family, the founders of McCredie’s Lifts which are still being made and will be found in most of the older buildings. McCredie’s was another of my regular visting places for playing billiards. On the southern corner of Redmyre and Chalmers Rd. is a place called “.Springfort”. It was the residence of Mr. Lysaght of iron and steel fame and later Mrs. Katie Coggins whose family were in the motor trade. Another family in engineering was the Ritchie brothers whose firm of that name, was once a well known landmark near the railway line midway between Lidcombe and Auburn. One brother lived in Woodside Ave and the other, Stewart Ritchie, resided in that large home on the corner of The. Boulevarde and Redmyre Rd. The latter was keen on astronomy and had a large telescope installed.
The beautiful white building with the high ornamental iron fence at No. 81 Homebush Rd opposite Alviston St. was the residence of Professor J. D. Stewart. Professor Stewart was the leading veterinary surgeon of his day and was very well known as consultant to the Australian Jockey Club. The Wise family mentioned by’ others, were nice people, well respected in the district. Mrs Wise was a well known Red Cross worker arid died last year. She was the sister of’ J. D. Wise M.L.C.; they lived in the first two-storey house on the eastside of Florence St you come from Redmyre Rd. Mrs. Wise, a relative, whose husband was a doctor, still lives in Strathfield and often comes into the shop. A friend of that family was Mrs. Way who had a large drapery store in Pitt St – Ways Ltd. She used to come to the shop regularly but I haven’t seen her for some time and I don’t know whether she still lives here. Dr. Macindo, the eye specialist lived up The Boulevarde at 135. He used to go to Switzerland to keep them up to date on eye operations. He must have been good.
Over the years many politicians have lived in Strathfield; two prominent ones were Mr. J. M. Forde, who was Minister for the Army in the Curtin Government and lived, at 79 Redmyre Rd and Mr. J.J. McGirr who was a Minister in Jack Lang’s Government in the late twenties. Mr. McGirr’s widow still lives there and I see her from time to time. Another well known resident of the past was Professor Bland who lived at 73 Redmyre Rd. He was the father of Sir Harry Bland, who also lived in the district until he became head of the Department of Labour and National Service in Canberra.
On the other side of the railway line (northern side) there were no shops (until later) near the Station, only the hotel. It was vacant land, plastered with billboards. There was an open air picture show where the old “Melba theatre used to be. The first one was burnt down when the gas generator “blew up and they built another to replace it. When it rained there was a rush to get under the little bit of covering available. The vineyard was opposite the picture show and covered the area bounded by Mosely St, Cooper St. and the railway; the part of Everton Road from Mosely Street to the present Ring 3 underpass, was not in existance then. On the corner of Everton Road and Wentworth Road was a nice big home called ‘Oraya’ I think it was owned by a Mrs Cole; it became a private hospital later but was pulled down some years ago and replaced by a block of units. On the opposite corner to “Oroya” was another large residence with a big stone gate. It was owned by one of the big names in horse racing at that time – Skinny Moss – who lived there for years. Dr Dansey, a leading specialist of the time, lived a bit further down the Everton Road. There was a grand old place along Wentworth Road, just before Rowley St, called “Tabilkhoom” – it’s still there: it was known as a haunted house and was made more fearsome by the presence of a massive dog; we kids really were scared of that place and we always ran past it, keeping a wary eye open.
The blacksmith in the area was kept busy: I can’t remember his name, hut he had his forge on the corner of Wentworth Rd and Parramatta Rd. Just across the road from him was a chap named Simonds – a sign writer and jack of all trades. He used to do all the design work for Arnotts including the famous cocky, and built their vans including the wheels and iron rims. I used to be fascinated by his signwriting especially his fancy work on milk, bread and butter carts and even on the “old man’s” fruit wagons. The local bakery was a big one on the corner of Parramatta and Concord Road – Percivals — opposite George Georgison the removalist and carrier. There was also a small bakery attached to Saunders’ cake shop on the Boulevarde. Some people will remember the “Star” brand stoves – one of the best and the most widely used fuel stoves of the past. It was manufactured by W. F. Dewick who had a foundry in Morwick St. behind Dunlop Tyre Co. – where the Eclipse Drug was until burnt out a year or so ago. It was a common sight to see flames from the foundry chimney shooting high into the sky.
When we first came to Strathfield there was no such thing as electric lighting; we relied on gas around the shop and the house. The streets were also lit by gas and a follow used to go around every afternoon armed with a small ladder and a rod with a hook at one end; He would use the rod to pull on the gas jets to light the lamps and, if he had to renew a mantle he would use the ladder to reach it. Every morning he would make another round to turn the lamps off. When electricity did come along we were the first shop to have it connected, in fact we had the seventh meter board installed in Strathfield. The new lighting was such a novelty that people used to come to the shop at night Just to have a look at Keary’s lit up shop. Also in the early days we were without sewerage; it was a dry toilet system – a fellow used to come around at night time and take away the pans and replace them. When sewerage came along we “had it made”. Water was also a problem; we had tanks in the roof…they are still there…but we always had the water brought to taps from them.
A familiar person around the district was a fellow named Hlarris. He used to go around in a cart selling rabbits; In a raucous voice he’d call “Fresh rabbits! Fresh rabbits!”, and he’d lop their heads off and skin them while you waited. Another odd, bat popular person, was a chinaman who used to get around in his colourful oriental dress with baskets on a pole across his shoulders, selling ginger, feather dusters and things like that; his call, accompanied by a fixed grin and non stop bowing was, “jin-jah! jin-ja! fedderdustah! fedderdustah!”. There was even a chap going around selling “ripe strawberries! ripe strawberries!’. A “clothes’ props” man who sold bush poles suitably ‘shaped for propping up clothes lines used to come around often. One who I got to know, mainly because he watered his horse at the trough outside my shop, was a fellow named Moxley. He brought notoriety to Strathfield because he abducted a couple who were “canoodling” in a car off the road up Enfield way and took them out near Liverpool where he assaulted and killed them both. He was reported sighted around here several times and for days the district was invaded by police armed with rifles. He was finally caught, tried and hanged.
In the old days we had very few places for recreation but we got by. On Sunday afternoons I used to go down to Mitchell’s at Burwood and hire a horse and sulky to take my girl for a ride in the afternoon; we’d drive down to the river or over to Five Dock, which was mostly bush and quite a popular place; sometimes we would go to Parramatta Park Launch trips were very popular too. A trip up the Lane Cove River from Circular Quay was the trend and so was the trip up the Parramatta River. When you reached the wharf at Parramatta, you’d hop onto a steam tram and it would run you into Parramatta Park. There were always crowds at the Park and one of the attractions was the emus, kangaroos and other animals just inside the main gates. Middle Harbour was another popular trip and Cabarita Park was always a magnet for the locals. “Potts Bush” up near the cemetery attracted a lot of people; you could always see some “whacking” big goanas up there. Deep in the bush was the biggest two-up school in Sydney – Thommo’s – they came there from everywhere. Although they had “cockatoos” keeping watch, police sometimes got close and when they did there was a great scatter in all directions.
Strathfield was always a quiet, dignified place with a real village atmosphere even horse hitching rails on The Boulevarde. At one time, there was a proposal to run a steam tram down the Boulevarde from Coronation Parade to Strathfield, but it didn’t get far. The only local places of entertainment besides the picture show were dances at St Mary’s Church Hall on the Parramatta Road. A lot of people went to theatres in town and I think half of the enjoyment was dressing up for the occasion. The untidy dress and scragginess you see to-day would not have passed unnoticed.
About the author
The late Vic Keary was the owner of ‘Keary’s Corner’, a well-known lolly and general shop in Strathfield located on corner of The Boulevarde and Redmyre Road Strathfield. The shop has now gone but the building is heritage listed. A sign “Keary’s Corner” can still be seen on the façade of the building.
This history was originally published as “My recollections of the past in Strathfield” by Vic Keary (transcribed by Syd Malcolm), Strathfield District Historical Society Newsletter, Vol.2 No. 8, May 1980