Wandong, more than just a town

Wandong, more than just a town

The Wandong General Store

Duncan Arkell and his father Frederick commissioned William Patton to construct the first store at Wandong. At this time it was known as Dry Creek or Morphetts. The name “Wandong” was suggested by Frederick Arkell and on the 9th of October 1876 the first post office opened at the store with F Arkell the post-master with a wage of six pound per year.

After selling the store at Wandong Arkell moved on to other ventures, John Fulton Adams, Walter Ryan and Walter Nash were all early storekeepers, in 1908 the Rohan family arrived from Tasmania and took over the ownership of the store. Son Matt was to become a much-loved teacher at Wandong State School. After the death of Alan Rohan wife Nellie continued to run the shop on her own, this was a big task for one person as maintaining both the needs of the shop for the large community and the post office were quite demanding. Eventually Nellie sold the shop to her sister and husband who were to continue the business for many years. Nellie commissioned a new house to be built in Wandong Avenue, local William Jenkins built a simple three-bedroom home in which Nellie lived until her passing, she is buried in the Kilmore Catholic Cemetery.

Nellies sister Winifred and husband Ernest (Thomas) purchased the store, and the Thomas ownership of the store would continue for many years. The Thomas family became stalwarts of Wandong, volunteering for positions on the Public Hall Committee, being involved with the tennis and Athletic Clubs and were known for their generosity and preparedness to help anyone in a crisis. It was the Thomas’s that the locals turned to when a trip to Kilmore hospital was required, having about the only car in the town the family never hesitated to help out and many expectant mothers made it to hospital on time thanks to the Thomas family.

In 1948 it was Ern Thomas, Laurie Davern and Angus Mc Donald that formed a delegation to Minister Jock Granter to have electricity supplied to Wandong, this was finally achieved in 1956 with a grand switching on ceremony at the Public Hall.

The local store had a bit of everything, Mrs. Thomas had a haberdashery section at one end of the store, biscuits were in large tins and weighed out by the ounce. Broken biscuits were a treat for kids with a penny a bag and cigarette packets were broken down to make them affordable. Son Jack purchased a T Model Ford, and this was used to do deliveries, a delivery to Clonbinane a mere six miles away was an all-day trip in those days. Some roads were so steep and slippery that Jack had to use reverse gear to go up them, one hates to think what the ride back down was like.

In 1950 Ernest sold the shop to son Jack and his wife Frances, he built a home next to the shop, this house was moved to accommodate the modern Magpie and Stump Hotel” and still stands today. When Jack married Frances she was already a widow, she had three daughters and the family was added to with the arrival of Desmond, Kerry, Susanne and Michael. The children were often called upon to help out in the shop, their son Michael left school at 15 and worked at the shop behind the counter and delivered goods for six years.

The store was indeed a general store in every sense of the word, it sold items from milk, bread and papers to, clothing, wool and hardware. By arrangement with Bill McKenzie in Kilmore electrical goods could be purchased. Pots and pans hung from the ceiling, large lolly jars held all sorts of delights and Kilmore Sausage, and Cons soft drinks were also available. To collect the mail in those days the mail was placed in pidgeon holes with the letter of the alphabet and all the mail for that letter had to be gone through each time someone came to collect their own mail. The store was the centre of the town where news was passed on, and the locals got to catch up on what was happening in the town.

Produce was a big seller, kept in a shed beside the shop, part of the shed also housed a bootmaker who repaired the shoes of the sawmillers and families and locals in need of such services. Drums of kerosene and petrol were also stored there and hand pumped into customers tins before the more modern hand pump was installed outside, gravity fed it could only deliver six gallons at a time.

Not only did the locals come to the shop for their groceries and needs they also bought their babies to be weighed, there were no health care centre or visiting nurses in those days.

As well as mail the store was also the telephone exchange, all calls came through to the store and each was answered by a member of the Thomas family who then had to ring Kilmore exchange who then rang Melbourne and the call was connected.

By 1966 the store had changed hands again with Bill and Rita Clarke purchasing the store. They introduced the one thing that Wandong had been lacking for so many years after the fire that destroyed the Magpie and Stump Hotel, a place to purchase liquor. As part of the conditions of the licence a new building had to be built so the Clarkes built a new brick building beside the old shop, and they moved into the old store as their residence.

By the 1980’s mail delivery was a full service to the residents of Heathcote Junction, Wandong residents waited until 1993 for the same service as if within a two-kilometer radius of the post office it was deemed not necessary. The Clarkes kept the store but in 1978 leased it to Alan Hough, in 1981 the business was sold to Graham and Dianne McKenzie. The McKenzies eventually purchased the freehold of the store and in July 1987 sold the shop to MACCOL P/l headed by Dale McMillan and Robert Collier. On New Years Eve of 1987 two days after flood had inundated the shop and residence the building caught fire and was totally destroyed.

In subsequent years other businesses have flourished and failed where the old store once stood, so far the hotel has continued to be successful, other businesses have come and gone, the building of the Wandong Plaza on the old Terra Cotta brickworks site has seen that end of town with many new and exciting businesses one wonders what Frederick Arkell would make of it all

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