Where Was Your Local Corner Shop or Deli?

If you’re a baby boomer who grew up in an Australian city or country town,  just the mere mention of the words ‘local corner shop’ or ‘corner deli’ will instantly bring back a flood of wonderful memories!

There was a local shop (in some states referred to as the corner deli) on almost every second corner in every suburb and they stocked everything from milk and bread to shoe polish and sewing needles. This little shop was the beating heart of many communities, as well as a source of local gossip and an income for the families who ran them.

In the 1950s and 1960s we were a less mobile community and most of the shopping was done close to home. There was a local butcher shop with sawdust on the floor and a kindly butcher who always had a slice of devon (or fritz) for all the kids who might be out shopping with mum. There was the local hardware store, a hairdresser and greengrocer and most other perishables were delivered daily by the milkman, baker and iceman.

Kenny Peplow shared this photo; “Dad’s FJ taxi outside the local deli around 1958-1959.” The taxi was parked outside the corner shop at the time”.

But the corner shop was where you could find most of the essentials of daily living and ‘extra’ grocery items and they continued to play a role as an important fixture in our communities until the mid 60s.

Many little shops were built onto the front of a premises, which also acted as the family home, and as they lived on site, the owners and their families would stay open until 9pm during the week and all weekend, even after church on Sunday.

Corner shops were magical places full of strange aromas and wonderful surprises! Cheeses came in wheels and were cut by slicing with a cheese wire. Fresh ham came on the bone and was sliced by a meat saw. Most of the fresh produce was sold in small quantities, as needed. Sugar and flour came in sacks and was carefully measured out into brown paper bags. Fresh milk came in bottles and cream was ladelled out from a milk urn into your own bottle or container, which you took to the shop.

You could also buy tuppence worth of lollies, choosing from the range behind the faded glass display case, which included conversation lollies, red and green umbrella toffees on a stick, liquorice blocks or a packet of sherbet fizz. There was Peters ice cream in either single or double scoop cones, or a square raspberry ice block in a square cone (they were also tuppence).

Many corner shops also had a jukebox installed and served ice cold milk shakes and became a regular hangout for teenagers after school or work.

The motor car and the spread of the supermarket chains saw the gradual demise of the little corner shop. Many continued to trade on into the 70s and even the 80s but with the arrival of the big suburban shopping malls, the final nail was hammered into the coffin.

Roger Ray shared this photo of a derelict corner shop boarded up and probably awaiting demolition

Driving around our suburbs and towns today, there are still reminders of the days when the corner shops reigned supreme. They are mostly boarded up now, some are still used as family homes, but they stand as a reminder to a fascinating part of our lives, growing up in what I believe was a very special era.

The local corner shop is a special part of our childhood memories and an important part of our history as a community.

If you love nostalgia join me on a trip down memory lane with a copy of my best-selling book Australia Remember When. Almost 250 pages, crammed with photos, memories and stories of growing up in the baby boomer years from the 40s to the 80s and beyond. Join me as we celebrate growing up in what was a very different era, when kids roamed free, parents and teachers were obeyed, discipline was an accepted part of life and the world seemed a simpler place. RRP of the book is $34.99 (plus postage) and can be purchased from Shopify, just to the right of this story.

Going to the Drive-In Pictures.

Ahhh…..those nights at the local drive-in!

Remember how, as teenagers, there would be 6 of us crammed in the FJ or the Zephyr and one hiding in the boot, as we’d head off to the drive-in for some innocent fun and some hi-jinx and to watch a movie of course.

Later, and a little older, it was the ideal place to take the new girlfriend for some serious pashing and as much as you could get away with! (Mind you, that was never very much)!

Drive-in pictures theatres were a phenomenon of the latter half of last century and many baby boomers I’m sure will remember nights of their lost youth spent in a crowded car with good friends at the local drive-in.

Australia’s first drive-in was the Skyline which opened in the Melbourne suburb of Burwood on 18 February 1954 showing the musical comedy On The Riviera starring Danny Kaye. On the first night there was traffic chaos as 2,000 cars competed for the 600 spaces. After paying at the entrance you drove into the parking area and pulled up next to one of the many posts in rows all over the site. This post housed a pair of speakers with volume control which you’d attach to the inside of your car window.

Metro-Twin drive-in Chullora in 1956. It was not unusual for patrons to get dressed up for the night. MAAS Collection 2007/191/1-2/7/1

Drive-in theatres began popping up all over Sydney throughout the 50s. Two Skyline drive-ins opened at the suburbs of Frenchs Forest and Dundas. The El Rancho drive-in at Fairfield opened a year later in 1957 with a Wild West theme complete with a chuck wagon for quick service meals, a ‘kiddies korral’ and brightly-costumed cowboys and cowgirls directing cars and providing service to patrons. By the mid-1960s Sydney also had Skylines at Bass Hill, Caringbah and North Ryde, a Metro-Twin at Chullora and the Star at Matraville.

Queensland had at one stage over fifty drive-ins. Brisbane’s first drive-in was the Capalaba which opened in 1955 and now all of the suburban Brisbane drive-in theatres have closed leaving the Tivoli Drive-In in Ipswich, and the Gold Coast’s Yatala as the closest drive-in theatres to Brisbane. In rural Queensland however, there are still a number of drive-in theatres operating.

The first conventional drive-in located in Western Australia was the Highway which opened in the Perth suburb of Bentley in October 1955

The Blue-Line drive-in located in West Beach Adelaide was the first drive-in located in South Australia, and the first to be constructed outside of Melbourne. It was opened on 28 December 1954,

Drive-ins were especially popular with courting couples and those on first dates, providing much more privacy than the picture theatre. For families it was a fairly inexpensive night out. The kids would come out in their pyjamas and would pile into the back seat on a mountain of pillows and blankets while parents didn’t have to go to the effort of dressing up. And of course cars full of teenagers would smuggle in a few extra friends for free by hiding them in the boot.

In those early years there were two nightly sessions, the first starting at 8pm, and the late show at 10pm. Visibility of the screen from the road created a problem for both drive-ins and local councils as many

How many times did you drive off leaving the speaker still attached to the car window?

cars parked in the streets and roads outside the drive-in hoping to watch the screen without paying. Many local council decided to take action against motorists parking on the roads and introduced fines and parking restrictions.

It’s great fun to think back to that era and remember those cold wintery nights when all the windows would fog up and you were continually wiping the windscreen to watch the film, or the nights when it rained and some cars had to run their engines to get their windscreen wipers working.

Remember too, driving off with the speaker still attached to the rear window or trying to smuggle extra kids in by having one or two hiding in the boot?

There were flat batteries and flat tyres, fun times and very romantic moments as well.

The drive-in picture theatre is now pretty much just a memory but they were great times and you know the scary thing is, it doesn’t seem all that long ago!

Share the memories of your own childhood with our other readers by recording your comments in the “Comments” area below. Comments may take up to 24 hours to appear.

If you love nostalgia join me on a trip down memory lane with a copy of my best-selling book Australia Remember When. Almost 250 pages, crammed with photos, memories and stories of growing up in the baby boomer years from the 40s to the 80s and beyond. Join me as we celebrate growing up in what was a very different era, when kids roamed free, parents and teachers were obeyed, discipline was an accepted part of life and the world seemed a simpler place. RRP of the book is $34.99 (plus postage) and can be purchased from Shopify, just to the right of this story.


Saturday Arvo at the Pictures

An important tradition of growing up in Australia from the 50s and 60s was the Saturday afternoon pictures at the local picture theatre, town hall or flea pit.

There were always two full length pictures, an episode of the serial, a cartoon and a Pete Smith Special to watch while eating your Jaffas, Fantales or a Dandy (ice cream) from one of the tray boys who would patrol the aisles before the first picture started and again at interval.

The theatre would be packed, with constant noise from chattering excited kids, regular bursts of cat calls and the sound of Jaffas rolling down the aisle. It was mayhem with the ushers and usherettes continually shining torches on noisy groups in an attempt to restore some form of order.

In every city, suburb and country town there were Odeons, Ozones, Roxys, Royals, local town halls and church halls all showing pictures on Saturday arvo.

The episode of the serial was always shown first. The hero would escape from last week’s dastardly plot just in the nick of time, and end with him about to be lowered into a vat of boiling oil or tied to the train lines with a speeding locomotive bearing down and no possible hope of escape. You just had to be there for next week’s episode to see how he survived.

Whenever there was any kissing on the screen the whole place would erupt into loud jeers and boos. Randolph Scott would have just dispensed with all the baddies, shooting them with his trusty six-gun and would then get a kiss from the heroine, which would ruin everything and briefly create chaos with the audience. If there was a projector problem or the film broke, again momentary bedlam until calm was restored with the film restarting.

After interval came the cartoon, a Heckle and Jeckle or Tom and Jerry, and would be followed by the main feature, which was generally a similar sort of flick to the first one.

Randolph Scott would have just dispensed with all the baddies, shooting them with his trusty six-gun and would then get a kiss from the heroine

It didn’t really matter what was showing: everybody was there for the day out and to have some good, clean and (mostly) innocent fun!

One shilling would pay for the ticket with sixpence to buy an ice cream or some lollies and that was enough for a great day’s entertainment.

In almost every city, suburb or country town there was an Odeon, Ozone, Roxy, Regent, Royal, local town hall or church hall showing pictures on a Saturday arvo.

Movies today are now just part and parcel of the digital age and can be purchased online for just a few dollars – nothing really out of the ordinary, just a part of everyday life.

But back when we went to the flicks on a Saturday afternoon, the pictures were something  really special and will always remain so in our memories.

What are some of your memories of Saturday afternoons at the pictures?

Remember When No. 96 Was On The Telly?

Remember when Number 96 was the biggest show on Australian television and every night we would tune in to Channel 10 for the adventures of Abigail, Dorrie Evans and Herb, Arnold Feather and Flo?

It was a great time for Australian television, although legend has it that the show was not so much born out of great creativity but was a last ditch effort to save the Channel 10 network from bankruptcy.

Number 96 was launched amid much controversy in March 1972. Channel 10 had suffered dismal ratings and was failing as a business. There was a feeling with executives that they had nothing to lose by producing a programme that would test the bounds of accepted standards of the day and it was decided that the show would either make or break the channel.

News Headlines from the Sydney Daily Mirror newspaper. From the outset it was controversial in the extreme., but attracted a huge audience every night.

Each night for several weeks before its debut, the message Number 96 Is Coming would appear on screen during Channel 10’s advertisements. No explanation was given, and it stimulated curiosity. This was backed up with full-page newspaper advertising with a countdown saying “In 7 days Australian Television Loses Its Virginity.” then “In 6 Days” etc. etc.

When the series finally premiered viewers were presented with a level of titillation and taboo subjects that had never been seen on Australian TV, and the event came to be known as “The night Australian television lost its virginity”.

From the outset it was controversial in the extreme. On the day it was due to go to air, staff at the Channel 10 studios in Sydney were alarmed to see hordes of protestors assembling and parading on the front lawn of the studios with signs reading “Ban this Filth”, “Protect our Children”, “Where has Decency Gone?”  By the time publicity director Tom Greer arrived at work the staff were in a panic and asked him “How do we get rid of these people?” Tom replied, “Get rid of them? … You must be joking … Send them tea and biscuits … Send down the news cameras and do live crosses every hour.” This massive free publicity ensured all TV sets that night were tuned to Channel 10.

Number 96 courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment. Bev Houghton (Abigail) gets neighbour Don (Joe Hasham) in a compromising position.

The series proved to be a huge success, running from 1972 until 1977. Number 96 was so popular it spawned a feature film version, in 1973, which became one of the most profitable Australian movies ever made. Number 96 became known for its ground breaking sex scenes and nudity and for its comedy characters as well. The series was the first in the world to feature an openly gay regular character, Don Finlayson played by Joe Hasham.

The series made good use of cliff-hanger story lines in the last episode at the end of the season.

There was a panty snatcher dubbed the Knicker Snipper, and a serial killer called the Pantyhose Murderer. One of the most memorable though was the bomb in the Goldolphus deli on the ground floor of Number 96.

When the news broke in the paper that four of the cast would die in the explosion, all editions of the paper were sold out that day, prompting the editor to run a further edition.

Number 96 ran until July 1977 when it was finally cancelled due to declining ratings at which point, with 1218 episodes, it held the record as Australia’s longest running drama serial. Long-running characters Dorrie and Herb Evans, and Don Finlayson, were the only original characters that appeared in the final episode.

A Chookhouse, the Dunny and a Hills Hoist.

There was a time when almost every backyard in Australia had a chook house, an outdoor dunny, a vegetable garden and either a Hills Hoist or a clothes line propped up with a stick.

Here’s a photo (below) from 1960 of a typical Australian suburban backyard which also includes a number of fruit trees.

One of the children who lived in this home, Michele Dominiewski recalls; “It was too far to go out to the toilet at night so the kids had a bucket inside for night time.

As well as being a long way down the garden it was also a scary prospect because the chickens would randomly attack, pecking at you as you approached the ‘dunny’.”

A typical backyard for the 50s and 60s, a fowl house, outside lavatory and a clothes line. Photo from Museum Victoria.

Many of the lavatories back then were long-drops too and housed all sorts of creepy spiders (like redbacks), and rodents. As a kid it was a frightening experience to have to go to the lav at night….I think that’s how some of us first developed constipation!!

When I was growing up, I remember how my father had almost all of the backyard turned into a vegetable patch. He grew potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers etc, and I always remember his big lucerne patch, which I think, from memory, he fed to the fowls.

I believe the reason our parents grew most of their own vegetables, was first and foremost, a financial necessity. Most families then survived on a single income, with dad as the bread-winner and mum stayed at home to cook, clean and do the housework.

It also followed on from their parents, who had lived through a depression and had taught their children (our parents) to be self-sufficient and not rely on anyone else for anything.

Excess fruit and vegies were also traded, as were jams and relishes. One of our neighbours used to catch and smoke fish which might be traded for tomatoes or fresh eggs. Another neighbour was an electrician by trade and would repair electrical appliances in exchange for fruit and vegetables.

And yes, some of the hens would peck at you if you went in or near the fowl house, although I remember my sister had several hens that she used to ‘mother’. One in particular was a very docile old thing and sis would wheel her around in her doll’s pram.

The rooster however was a vicious bird and would attack anyone who ventured inside the fowl house or anywhere near it.

The Hills Hoist eventually replaced the old clothes line. Photo from State Library of SA.

Every year at Christmas one of the hens would have its head chopped off and be plucked and gutted, stuffed and cooked for Christmas day lunch. It was the only time in the year I can remember us actually eating chicken.

The Hills Hoist eventually replaced the old clothesline and doubled as something else to keep the kids occupied….when our parents weren’t looking we would go for a ‘whizzy’ on it. That would always get us into trouble though, because mum was frightened we would bend the arms, or even break it completely.

These days, with smaller residential blocks, very few families keep chooks, most people no longer have the time to tend and care for a big vegetable garden and the lavatory (or toilet) is generally inside. Unfortunately the kids don’t have as much room to play in the backyard as we did back then.

What memories do you have of those years when you were growing up?