HISTORY TALKING | Shopping made easy in the forgotten age of home delivery

READY TO SERVE: Anthony Kaloutsis behind the counter of his shop in the late 1950s or early 1960s. 118 Summer Street will - hopefully - house another business after being closed as a shop front for almost 50 years.
READY TO SERVE: Anthony Kaloutsis behind the counter of his shop in the late 1950s or early 1960s. 118 Summer Street will - hopefully - house another business after being closed as a shop front for almost 50 years.

Did you know that you can now obtain a refrigerator which you check from your smart phone, and it will tell you just what you need to buy with granular details right down to the expiration date?

If that is not enough it will include a ‘health manager’ which tells you what feast you can make from what you have in your fridge and includes personal profiles of family members, taking into account age, gender, weight and body mass index to help you develop meal plans.

And if all that sounds just a bit intimidating, how would you like a grocer to sit in your kitchen while you told him exactly what you needed to buy?

He would write it in his order book and perhaps make suggestions about new products promising to bring it all back to your kitchen table the next day. That is the way our mothers and many of the Orange Oral History Group used to shop.

In the days before we all had refrigerators the only way to keep food cool was in an ice chest or a Coolgardie safe.

Mick Fitzpatrick was an iceman who delivered the ice right into your kitchen. “I would get up about 3am, go down to Gallagher’s fuel and coal place in McNamara Lane to the stables to harness the horse to the cart. We’d load the ice into hessian bags and set off on our delivery route all over town. People never locked their doors in those days so we were able to go into the kitchen, deliver the ice and collect the money from on top of the chest without waking them,” he explained.

Later Mick became a delivery man for Mackies’ store on the corner of Byng and McLachlan streets. He was the man who sat at your kitchen table and took down your grocery order to be delivered to your door. After that he worked for Western Stores, where he sold groceries and furniture.

People never locked their doors in those days so we were able to go into the kitchen, deliver the ice and collect the money from on top of the chest without waking them.

Mick Fitzpatrick

“The customer sat in a chair while the salesman went to different departments to find the item they wanted,” said Mick. “On Friday morning we would sprinkle ground coffee on the floor to entice people into the shop with the delicious smell.”

Rosemary remembered: “the big department stores used to send out catalogues. Once again you could sit at your kitchen table and write down the things you wanted to buy and post it with a cheque to the store. There were even tiny examples of materials included in your catalogue so that you knew exactly what you were buying.” This, of course, is very like what we are doing today with online shopping.

Because few people had cars in those days, the importance of the corner shop was obvious. It was also a great meeting place, as Frank pointed out.

Many of the group were fascinated by the dexterity of the grocer as he filled a brown paper bag and swung it around at the corners to fasten the top. He was also an expert with a piece of string which he tied in a neat bow and skillfully snapped with a twist of his finger.

Barb was one who could do just this. “My family had a bakery in Cargo”, she said, “and I used to wrap the bread and break the string with a flick of the wrist.” The group was suitably impressed by her skill.

There were all sorts of things to fascinate a child in those old department stores. One of them was the method of conveying the money paid by means of a cylinder attached to a wire which would whizz through the air up to a little box upstairs where an assistant sat ready to give change and a receipt and send it back to the counter.

It was far more exciting than standing in a queue at the checkout.

Bruce remembered the tall ladder on wheels which hooked onto the top shelves in the corner store and swiftly carried the grocer on his way to fill your order. There were also wonderful jars of highly-coloured lollies to choose from and bags of broken biscuits to keep a child busy for hours.

RELATED COVERAGE:

Most of us had recollections of being sent to the shop to buy bread which was often hot out of the oven and its wonderful aroma tempting us to break it in half and scoop out the delicious centre to eat on the way home.

Glenna reminded us of the delivery men like the baker with his horse and cart. His horse would come clopping down the road, knowing just where to stop while the baker carried a big cane basket with bread to your door.

“There was also the milkman who delivered very early in the morning and even the clothes prop man,” she said. These conveniences were only for those in town – in the bush it was another matter.

“In the droving camps,” said Reg, “we would kill our meat late at night and get up early. Someone would wave a green bush to keep the flies away and we would eat fresh meat for a couple of days and then corn it.”

“There would often be a store set up beside the railway tracks where stockmen would come and get supplies.”

Jan, whose father was a fettler, lived in a camp called “Kinnalung” on the Broken Hill line, and her family and her neighbours also had to rely on the trains for supplies. “The fettler’s wives would give a list to the guard on the train going through to Broken Hill and the goods were delivered on the return journey,” she said.

When you are trying to find a vacant spot in the crowded car park, or pushing your trolley around the busy supermarket, do you sometimes wistfully remember that delivery man who sat at your mother’s table and wrote down the shopping list?

Comments