Memories of Devlin’s and the Mine Road Shops
by Dennis Conn
Recently I found a Korumburra Times dated 10th February, 1960. In it was an advertisement from Devlin’s Grocery for a brand of tea named Gossip. It said “Gossip Tea less than five shillings a pound – four shillings and eleven pence”. The advertisement brought back memories of Devlin’s and the Mine Road Commercial area as it was seventy years ago.
Devlin’s Shop was to the east side of where the current fish and chip shop is in Mine Road. I can remember going into the shop with my mother when I was a small child, and Bernard Devlin was in the shop behind the counter to the left, or west, side, while his son Jack served from the counter on the right, or east, side. When the Devlin family first came to Mine Road Mr Devlin Snr was a barber, and I believe he ran a barber shop prior to the establishment of the grocery shop. Bruce Stewart, who later, purchased the group of shops from the Devlins, kept a barber’s sign when the shops were pulled down. It reads “Shave and Haircut 5 Pence”. Mr Devlin Snr had a full white beard and he dressed in a long white apron, and as a small child he looked to me like a large white giant.
Devlin’s was always seen as a shop that catered for the working classes, as were most of the shops along Mine Road, although some may say there was no class distinction in our town. In that short run from Devlin’s up to the Austral Hotel there were a couple of shops that had been converted into private homes, a Boot Repair shop, that did not last long in competition with Wrenches in the Main St, the Salvation Army Hall, a Bakery and a small mixed business where the op shop now is (what we later called a milk bar). Beside the milk bar was an entrance to Joe’s cordial factory, where the school crossing now is.
Jack Devlin had a push bike with a square basket at the front, in which he would deliver groceries. He sold loose biscuits from tins and at times he would have broken biscuits that we could buy much cheaper than other biscuits. If my mother placed a larger order with Jack Devlin, there was always in amongst the box of groceries a complimentary packet of PK chewing gum. MacRobertson confectionery had a long calligraphy logo, and Jack could copy it by hand exactly as it was on the chocolate bar or box.
Unless it was a very wet day, Jack would have plenty of time to fill in on a Monday. Very few, if any ladies would be out shopping on a Monday, as that particular day was traditionally washing day. Coppers were being boiled and the bed and other linen was washed, followed by the heavy working clothes. Mary Devlin worked as a clerk and bookkeeper for a local firm of solicitors, and she and her sister Ann also sold tickets at the picture theatre.
I remember Devlin’s as being among the first to promote margarine when it came out. Margarine was condemned by some, as they saw it as being in competition with our farming community. Some said that if the sales of margarine got too high, then the sales of butter would drop and it would be at the expense of our dairy farmers. Margarine was cheaper than butter, but my mother refused to buy it for a long time, some even said they would not shop at Devlin’s if they kept selling margarine. Yet those thoughts quickly passed, as it was soon sold by all grocery stores and promoted as being good for one’s heart.
The telephone exchange was in the building that now houses a Christian group on the south side of Mine Road behind the old post office. Having a home phone was not commonplace in the town in those days. There were several public phone booths and long distance or trunk calls as they were then known as, were booked and paid for by knocking on a small sliding door that was opened by one of the exchange ladies. On the south side of Mine Road and just east of John St was Stirling’s Clothing factory, built by the late Bill Fisher. Stirling’s employed a large number of local women, especially younger women, who sewed men’s working clothes. Mr Proudfoot was the Manager and Miss Lancey the Forelady. Two of my sisters worked for Stirlings.
There was always a mix of shops and some private homes, or shops with dwellings attached, on Mine Road. Some came and went over the years, as the Mine Road commercial area was considered by and large as being a working class area, and did not always get enough patronage. Even the name of Mine Rd implied working class, but when Council tried to change the name to McMaster Ave it was hotly opposed by the residents and the name change proposal failed. Class and at times religious denominational division were a part of our social history in those days.
Editor’s Note: the advertisement from 1914 mentions ‘rings, combines or trusts’. The first grocery chains began in Melbourne in 1881 and were well-established by the time this advertisement was printed. Devlin’s may have used a buying group to purchase in bulk and keep prices competitive for their local clientele.
Today memories of Devlin’s Grocery shop can be revisited at Coal Creek Park.
Coal Creek’s reproduction Devlin’s General Store was built on site in 1976. The building was based on photographs of Futcher’s Ironmongery, corner of John Street and Mine Road, Korumburra in 1894. The store counters were built in blackwood timber by former Coal Creek saw miller, Jack McMaster. The cash carrier system came from the Korumburra Butter Factory Store.
Gossip Tea Ad in The Times © Dennis Conn
B.H. Devlin’s bicycle © Coal Creek Community Park & Museum, Korumburra
MacRobertson’s Confectionary © RHSV collection
Devlin’s General Store © Coal Creek Community Park & Museum, Korumburra