Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Belshaw's World - Armidale in the 1960s: a city in transition

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 5 October 2011. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011.

The Express story about the Rologas family (28 September) carried me back into Armidale of the 1960s.

Armidale’s population had passed 12,000 for the first time. Part of the increase came from natural population increase, part from an increase in the city’s boundaries.

Old Armidale – the old city – had an area of just 3.3 square miles. This is the city you can still see on the maps with its square grid pattern.

By 1960, the population had begun to spread into the adjoining Dumaresq Shire. The city council had long complained about the city’s small rating base relative to needs. Finally, the city boundaries were expanded to include part of the emerging urban areas in the Shire.

This was a city in transition. The large residential blocks that marked the posher areas of the old city had begun to be subdivided. The city’s first flats were appearing. Yet the city was still clearly that which I had known all my young life.

The CBD was still made up be the three central blocks on Beardy Street. The central block, now the Mall, was still the town’s main centre.

Richardson’s Department Store anchored the CBD on the west. Modelling itself on David Jones, Richardson’s offered a complete range of services including a small lending library.

A lending library? Well, prior to the expansion of the city library, Richardson’s library offered a range of popular material that appealed especially to my mother.

Just beyond Richardson’s, the Capital Theatre marked the entertainment epicentre. This was a pretty popular theatre.

On the eastern side of Beardy Street, the less popular side, Hanna’s provided an alternative to Richardson’s, anchoring the east end. Nick’s Café was to be found beyond and was a popular place.

The department stores plus Burgess’s all offered home delivery of groceries. In those pre-internet days, there would be a knock on our back door. Mum would go out and give her order; the groceries would be delivered later.

Armidale’s pubs were the centre of much socialising, each drawing a particular clientele.

Rebuilt in 1930s in art deco style, Tattersalls Hotel in the centre block was Armidale’s prestige hotel. By 1960, fashion had begun to pass it by, but it still carried the marks of a grander past.

East West Airline founder Don Shand still held court there from time to time with the grazing families that came into town to do their shopping. Big and burly, Don could tell a good yarn.

I can still remember sitting in one of the leather arm chairs in the Tatts foyer waiting to be introduced to a girl friend’s parents.

I had met Steph earlier on the long boarding school trains that used to take the boarders out of town at the end of term. As a local, I normally did not go on the end term trains, but this time I was going to stay with a school friend at Molong.

Those trains were quite something. The platform crowded with students and supervising teachers suddenly emptied as teachers waved the charges good by. For their part, the charges now freed from teacher supervision settle down to smoke, fraternise and sometimes drink. It all seems quite mild now, but it was exciting then.

That day I was to meet Steph’s parents for the first time for they had driven up to collect their daughter. I still remember how nervous I felt!

I may seem to have come a long way from my starting point, the Rologas family, but there is a link.

As compared to Victoria, NSW has always been a bit of a wowser state. It still is. It was not until the early 1960s that the Mun Hing and Nicks obtained liquor licenses, the first cafes in Armidale to do so.

Prior to Nicks obtaining its licenses, those wishing to go out to a dinner had very limited choices. The main Tatts dining room was quite good, while Tatts’ Tavern also served food. However, they weren’t so good if you simply wanted to take a girl out to dinner with a degree of privacy!

Once Nicks got its licence, it opened a whole new dining experience and I ate there a lot. Civilisation had arrived!

Part of the attraction of Nicks lay in Chris and other members of the family. It was just a nice, friendly place in which to eat. I also liked the food.

From then through the upgrades and the creation of Seven Brothers I continued to eat at Nicks, as did my parents and many people I knew.

The world changes. Those days are gone, but the fond memories remain.


Denis Wright said...

I came to Armidale in the mid 70s. At that time there was only one mall, which is the central one today. I have some very dodgy Super 8 film of that.

The Seven Brothers I remember most for the fact that although there was nothing special about the food, they must have bought up a stack of very high quality reds several years before at several vineyards in South Australia. We could always get excellent cabernet sauvignons and clarets to go with the meal, and they charged very little for them. We would have paid twice as much.

I'm sure they got a lot of customers for dinner who were really coming in order to drink fine wines at low cost, but have a respectable meal with them at the same time!

Mark said...

I remember the Burgess supermarket in Taylor St well as I was a regular shopper there. There was also another greek hamburger joint next to the Seven Brothers. We used to call it the 8th Brother. My memories of Armidale begin in the late 70's. I always loved all the corner stores scattered over town. Each had their own personalities and quirky owners.

Jim Belshaw said...

Denis, Tatts had a very good wine cellar as well earlier - full bodied Hunter Valley wines.

Mark, you got to know your own corner store. Ours was owned by Mrs Beatty, then Jack Knight and then the Brennans. I remember the 8th brother!

Ross said...

Comonos cafe in Beardy street was a popular place in 1955 and 1956 among the St.John's Hostel boys( boarders attending Armidale High School) on a Saturaday morning where they could meet up with their girlfriends who were girls'hostel boarders.
And Dr.Bruyn's (Bruyn's Pub )and latter Tatts ,were very popular drinking holes with UNE students in the late 1950's.

Jim Belshaw said...

That's interesting Ross. I certainly remember the IXL and also Brunys', although I mainly drank at Tats!

Jim Belshaw said...

Ross, a follow up. Did you board at St John's?