MEMORY LANE: Bernice (Shanahan) Wehmeier in front of the Park Avenue spot where the shop she worked in during the 1960s has since burned down
MEMORY LANE: Bernice (Shanahan) Wehmeier in front of the Park Avenue spot where the shop she worked in during the 1960s has since burned down Jann Houley

What became of 'Rockhampton's quaintest suburb'?

THIS is a stroll down memory lane and a sharing of my memories of growing up in the suburb of Park Avenue.

When Park Avenue was first subdivided, the area was covered mostly with lantana, prickly pear and brigalow scrub. It was described as Rockhampton's quaintest suburb in the 1930s. The suburb was named Park Avenue, because of its park-like appearance when first inhabited and was one of the many suburbs on the north side of the city of Rockhampton.

 

Park Avenue 1930s
A heritage photo of the Park Avenue tram in the 1930s contributed

Park Avenue was like a little township in its own right. There were six grocery stores, all within a close proximity of each other: Monty Farris was on Glenmore Road, while the Four Square Store, owned by Campbell Doak (Snr) was in Haynes Street and was by far the largest.

The remaining stores were in Main Street. These were owned by Reg Beacham, Bill Stegemann, and Matt Larcombe, while Joe and Norah Phillips's store, on the corner of Main and Alexandra Streets, was later sold several times.

Vern and Val Fuller purchased Matt Larcombe's store and I secured my first job there in 1955, as a 14 year old. I worked for the Fuller family until 1959. On a Wednesday, I delivered groceries on my bicycle, riding one hand and juggling a big cane basket sitting in the middle of the handlebars. No helmets in those days! I enjoyed dealing with the customers. Outside the shop was a petrol bowser, which was very popular. The shop was later sold and it continued to operate as a grocery store, until it was burnt down in the late 90s. This block, on the corner of Main and Edgar Streets, remains a vacant piece of land to this day.

 

photo of Bernice at work in Park Avenue
A close up of the photo of Bernice Shanahan (on the right) at work in Park Avenue in 1955 Jann Houley

Kerrod Larcombe operated the Post Office; the Newsagency by Frank and Mary O'Brien; the Chemist by Brian and Mary Fitzgerald; and the Fruit and Veg Shop by Vince and Bev Johnson. Col Rigby had the Bakery in Main Street and there were two service stations.

There were four butcher shops. Vince Conaghan operated a successful butchery, at 71 Main Street. Meat was cut up on a chopping block, which was rounded and made from a tree trunk.

Byfield fern was displayed all around the walls in the shop to deter flies. The shop was then sold to the Angliss Group. Vince retained the role of shop manager in the 1960s at their new location at 52 Main Street.

Norm Hoffman's Butcher Shop was on Glenmore Road, where N & J Graff Engraving is today. Allan and Colin Gabel each had their own shops in Main Street.

When the shop, at 71 Main Street, was no longer required as a butchery, Les Doblo operated a fruit and vegetable shop from these premises. Then Les, with his horse and cart, would go around the streets, selling watermelons and paw paws.

There were two fish and chip shops: Cowies in Park Street and Mrs Reynolds in Main Street. Fish and chips were wrapped up in newspaper, usually The Morning Bulletin which, incidentally, cost two pence (tuppence). In the 1950s, people would collect papers, bundle them up and sell them to fish and chip shops.

There were 2 Barber Shops run by Wally Brooks and Warren Olsen. Lorna Bloxsom (Gould) had the Ladies Hairdresser Shop and, as time passed, other ladies bought the hairdressing business.

The three doctors that I recall were Dr Carew, Dr Sear, and Dr Peter Thompson. There were 4 churches: Catholic and Baptist in Main Street, and Methodist and St Matthew's on Glenmore Road. Park Avenue's two schools, St Joseph's and the Park Avenue State School, were opened in 1929 and 1898 respectively.

The two boot makers were Jack Clinton and Pango Atfield. They mended shoes etc. from their homes and, in those days, most children and adults had one pair of shoes, so these men were kept busy.

 

Australia's Rod Laver reaches to hit a return to Yugoslavia's Boro Jovanovic during their men's singles semi-final match in the Italian International Tennis Championship in Rome in this May 13, 1962 photo. Laver won 7-5, 9-7, 6-1. (AP Photo)
Australia's Rod Laver reaches to hit a return to Yugoslavia's Boro Jovanovic during their men's singles semi-final match in the Italian International Tennis Championship in Rome in May 13, 1962. Laver won 7-5, 9-7, 6-1. AP

There were six tennis courts, and one renowned tennis court was built behind the Laver home in Main Street and it was here that the young Rod Laver put in many hours of practice, before and after school. Rod Laver was coached by his father Roy Laver and later by Charlie Hollis (Brisbane). Rod became one of the greatest tennis champions in the world.

The court is still played on today. In the shed beside the court, a glass cabinet contains wonderful memorabilia of our home-grown champion and tennis great Rocket Rod Laver.

At Rockhampton's Riverside Park, Rod is immortalized in a bronze bust figure, which was unveiled, with Rod Laver present, in 2002.

In the late 1950s, Bill Halberstater and family built and operated the local Tropic Picture Theatre.

Bill taught my brother, Pat Shanahan (aged 14), to be a projectionist. Another job for Pat was putting up the posters showing the coming movies.

This required him to ride his bicycle around Park Avenue while carrying a paint tin of glue and brush.

In 1963, television came to Rockhampton and this brought about the demise of the local theatre, which was then turned into a second-hand store .

Pat went on to be the projectionist at the Starline Open Air Drive-in Theatre.

Later, when a second screen was incorporated into the complex, it was called The Twin Theatre Drive-In.

It closed in 1992. In 1959 Vintage Go Carts used the Drive-In grounds for weekends of fun-filled races and good times.

 

One of Mrs Wehmeier's scrapbooks
One of Mrs Wehmeier's scrapbooks about Rockhampton's history Jann Houley

Before Darby Godwin and family built the Park Avenue Hotel on the corner of Main and Haynes Streets. Previously, on this allotment, sat a lovely big Queenslander, which my uncle Bob Brown built and owned. A sawmill was behind the house. Cut up tree blocks were delivered by Bob to the homes for wood stoves that were set in a tin fireplace with chimney attached.

When the Godwin Family opened the Hotel, Vince Conaghan was one of a small group of men who formed the Five Star 100 Work Club, which later become known as the Five Star Club. Raffles etc. were held in the pub and the money raised was given to schools, clubs etc. for sporting equipment, or whatever was needed in the community. The club still operates today. Each year, some of the members would organise to take children from Neerkol and St George's orphanages for a picnic to Bell Park, Emu Park.

Another great highlight organised by the Club in the early 80s, was the street parade when decorated floats, bands, decorated bicycles etc. paraded down Main Street. At the time, there was a bomber aircraft at the Airport and I believe John Tucker had a talk to authorities and asked them to allow the plane to fly over Main Street whilst the parade took place. This request was granted, to the delight of everyone who witnessed it.

To go into the city, you had to cross the Fitzroy River Bridge (opened on 1/1/1881), or its replacement opened in 1952. You could go over in the green, City Council Buses, or you could ride on your bicycle. You could also walk on the walkway joined to the railway bridge. The terminus for the buses was on the corner of Main and Alexandra Streets (traffic lights are in there today).

The public used the buses to go over town to the bigger department stores. East Street was a hive of activity with all the stores, pubs, and cafes. These included the Bluebird, Golden Gate, Majestic, and Rickarts Cafes, BCC grocery, fruit and butcher shops, jewellery shops and much more. And yes, we must not forget the Victory Theatre in the middle of the shops at the top end of East Street, near the Embassy Hotel.

 

Bernice Park Avenue history
Bernice Wehmeier now lives in Talbot Estate, Wandal Jann Houley

I lived in Park Avenue for 63 years (1941 - 2003) and, in those early days, family life was simple. You greeted folks with a smile or a chat, as you passed each other and you knew everybody in your street by name. People walked or rode bicycles to church, to the corner store or to the bakery, butcher or fruit shop to purchase fresh produce. There were no frozen foods in those days.

Jack Richter, Herman Wehmeier and Bill Kahl delivered fresh milk by horse and cart and the iceman would place blocks of ice into your ice chest in the days before one could afford a refrigerator. When you heard the bell ringing it was the pie man delivering hot pies etc. twice a week and, on Saturdays, the cakeman arrived in a van with sliding out trays of delicious cakes to buy.

The postman delivered mail twice a day on his bicycle and blew his whistle outside the house. The telegram boy delivered telegrams, which were short messages. In those days you could send a message of 14 words for 1 shilling/10 cents and each additional word would cost a penny (I cent). The Telegraph Department closed October 16th 1987.

There was a rail siding in Park Avenue where people could get off or on the train. Boom gates were later installed for safety reasons (1995). Living near the railway line, as a young child during the war years, we saw the troop trains carrying American solders and Army personnel. They threw threepences out of the train windows and you thought you were rich if you found any.

After the Rocky Show, the old steam train would head to Mackay with the dismantled rides and the animals in their cages etc . They were good memories of the Rocky Show.

The Park Avenue Credit Union, now the Capricornian Bank, was founded by parish priest, Father John Leahy. The credit union and the Park Avenue Trading and Co-operative Store operated from several shopfronts in Main Street, until a piece of land, next to the Catholic Church, was bought for the construction of the Park Avenue Mall. Then the credit union, the Co-operative store and several Main Street businesses relocated to the Mall.

I must also mention that Park Avenue was home to Glenmore Power Station (demolished November 1991), Cotton Ginnery, Peanut Board, Regal Bakery and the Carlton United Brewery

It is 15 years now since my husband Alan and I left Park Avenue, after rearing our family. We now live on the south side of the city in Talbot Estate, which we have enjoyed, and once again, we are living in a family friendly community. Lots of folks have passed on and, like myself, know their families will recall their growing up in Park Avenue and hope this brings a smile back to their faces.

All the best to those living now in the suburb of Park Avenue.

Bernice Wehmeier