by Cathy Jones
Keary’s Corner once stood on the corner of Redmyre Road and The Boulevarde, Strathfield. Many older residents of Strathfield often speak about Keary’s Corner which was one of Strathfield’s most famous landmarks. When it closed in 1990 after the death of its proprietor, it was described as ‘the shop where time stood still’. This was true as the Keary family operated the shop for nearly eighty years, with furnishings and fitout dating back to World War I. Keary’s Corner stayed the same, while the world around it changed.
Though there is a sign on the first floor of this building which states ‘Keary’s Corner’, the shop has been extensively altered since it was ceased trading. Little remains of the historic milk bar and lolly shop, which was historically significant for its interiors as well as the external building.
Keary’s Corner is one of a row of Victorian style shops built in the early 1890s on The Boulevarde Strathfield. According to records, these shops were owned by Randolph Nott (1822-1906), a man of many interests: financier, land agent and architect. It is possible Nott designed these shops as he gained his qualifications as an architect prior to migrating to Australia. Nott, himself, lived in ‘Silwood’, a mansion on The Boulevarde Strathfield, which was subject of compulsory acquisition by NSW Railways in order to widen the Strathfield Railway Station in the 1920s. Part of Strathfield Square is located on the site of ‘Silwood’.
The best known of these shops is Keary’s Corner, which is a heritage item on Strathfield Council’s Planning Instruments. The building occupied by Keary’s Corner was built in the 1890s. The Keary store was opened in 1912 by Sidney Keary, described by his son Vic, as an Irish publican who was ‘a wild one but underneath he was as gentle as a lamb’. The opening of the new store was a ‘grand affair with balloons and free ice-cream’. The Keary family previously operated a hotel in Kings Cross, a shop in Wharf Road (now Burwood Road), shop on Parramatta Road near Mosley Street Strathfield and then a shop on Everton Road next to the Hotel. The Keary’s originally operated a fruit and vegetable business on The Boulevarde, but later the business became a milk bar and confectionary shop.
From 1914, Vic Keary, then a teenager, began working with his father. He remained at the store until his death in 1990.
Keary’s Corner sold a wide range of sweets as well as milkshakes and ice creams. Vic Keary lived on top of the shop and opened the shop 12 hours a day, 7 days per week until his death aged 83 in September 1990. A popular local figure, he delighted in the excitement of young shoppers at the shelves lines with lollies. He said “You ought to see them when they come in here for the first time….their little faces suddenly light up. It’s the most fantastic sight and, well, it makes it all worthwhile”.
The interior of the shop contained an amazing variety of posters, mirrors and memorabilia. A large mirror hung over the shop door advertising mineral waters and cordials ‘as supplied to his Majesty the King’. Opposite was a 1914 poster for Schweppes Palato – ‘the drink that pleases the palate’. The store contained a huge organ, which was often played by Mr Keary.
The ledge above the counter contained 150 old fashioned lolly jars containing rainbow balls, milkbottles, cobblers, hats, red and green frogs, hats, teeth, buttons, Love Hearts, Jaw Breakers and many other traditional style lollies. Many lollies were imported from around the world including England, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Japan and America. Many of these jars were bought after Keary’s death and are now housed with the Powerhouse Museum, and the collection forms part of displays on 20th century shopping in NSW.
Vic Keary occupied a unique position in the history of Strathfield and was a keen observer of local events and people. He provided a history to the Historical Society in 1980, which provides a great insight as well as valuable information about the cultural, social and economic life of Strathfield from 1914 to 1980. His historical recollections are reprinted below.
Keary, V., ‘My Collections of the Past in Strathfield’, Strathfield District Historical Society Newsletter Vol.2 No.8, 1980
Reilly, G., ‘A store of childhood fantasies’, Sunday Telegraph, p17, January 9 1983.