Holloway’s Store: The growth of Norfolk’s town centre

When the Pitcairners migrated to Norfolk Island in 1856, their first homes were the buildings at Kingston, recently vacated by the penal colony. To this very day, Norfolkers refer to the Kingston area as ‘taun’ (town).

As time passed, the people began to build homes and farm on their grants of land ‘up country’. Many began small business enterprises, usually home-based, to meet the needs of the community. The first real cluster of commercial enterprises was at Middlegate, near the school.

Establishment of the airstrip during World War II, and military presence on the island initiated enormous economic and social changes. Not only did aircraft bring increasing numbers of visitors, but Norfolkers wishing to visit the mainland were no longer obliged to make the journey by sea. The two way traffic brought about a great influx of new ideas, opportunities and stimulated a spirit of enterprise. This was also a time when Norfolkers had started to enjoy the luxury of more disposal income. Whaling activities, trade in local produce such as passionfruit pulp, bean, flower seed and frequent visits by Cruise ships in the 1930s had all served to free local people from the more subsistence lifestyle of the past.

The ‘boom years’ were also encouraged by the large numbers of new settlers who had come to take up leases on the old Mission lands, where they grew crops or established other enterprises.

Guest houses began to spring up along Taylor’s Road and nearby areas adjacent to the airport, while little shops and tearooms appeared, catering for the needs of locals and visitors alike. The origin of the name Burnt Pine is uncertain, but it was near the end of the War that it came into common usage in referring to the burgeoning township.

On the site now occupied by the Chinese Emporium stood the Holloway’s Shop. Leonard ‘John’ Holloway, an Englishman with a spirit of adventure, had come to the island in 1926 and had met his bride-to-be, Norfolk Islander Constance Quintal, on the trip over aboard the Burns Philp trader, ‘Makambo’. The Holloway’s returned to live in Sydney where they raised their son Ralph.

In 1946, Constance and John returned to Norfolk Island, lived in an old Airforce shed while they built their home on family land in Taylor’s Road. They took up employment as managers of a shop with the somewhat grand title, ‘The Sample Rooms’. This was a Haberdashery and Drapery business dealing in commodities which, in those days, were essential for clothing the family and fitting out the home. The Sample Rooms had been established by Fred and Madge Tattle in the late 1930s in a building which was formerly Lambert’s Cake Shop.

After a short time, the Holloway’s purchased the business from its then owner Walter McCoy, although the land and building remained the property of a group of shareholders. Gradually, the name, The Sample Rooms fell into disuse, and it became known as ‘Holloway’s’.

The Holloway’s extended the stocklines, developed new agencies and business contacts, and worked very hard to meet the increasing needs of the local community. At the time, a number of other shops and businesses were appearing. Next door, on the currently vacant corner, was Hopkin’s General Store, and on the other side, Austin ‘Cup of Tea’ Buffettsold woodwork and tortoiseshell souvenirs. Burns Philp established a second store on the other side of New Cascade Road, taking over premises formerly used by Needham’s, who moved to the site of the present Hillcrest Hotel. They acted as agents for Qantas. The old Burns Philp store at Middlegate became known as ‘Top B.P.’s’.

Many of these new stores were hastily built, or situated in homes or buildings originally meant for other purposes. Holloway’s Store was an old timber and fibro building with a front and side verandah. It was unlined, with a tin roof but no ceilings, and on dull days needed oil lamps for lighting. The area around retained a semi-rural appearance with fruit trees and ‘winey’ (tacoma) hedges growing in close proximity. Gradually, hitching posts for the horses were exchanged for petrol bowsers, as Shell and Vacuum Oil (Mobil) found their way to the island.

Mrs Beryl Evans, who came to Norfolk in 1950, and married Norfolker Owen, remembers those days well. Beryl worked in the adjacent Hopkins General Store. She says that retail work was physically demanding. It involved climbing on ladders to reach tall shelves, pumping fuel by hand from drums, and lifting sacks of bulk produce such as flour or powdered milk. In addition, one had to cope with the smell of kerosene and stockfeed, vermin, insects, wandering stock, and dust from the unsealed roads. Beryl recalls the havoc caused one time when a swarm of bees found its way into the petrol bowser!

In the ‘50s, Beryl operated tea rooms opposite Holloway’s, and had to rise at 4a.m. to bake cakes and pies for the shop, patronised by both locals and visitors, enjoying a day ‘in town’.

The transition into the twentieth century brought a new standard of living, but life continued to be challenging. Owen Evans operated a large truck, which had the contract to collect cargo from the wharf for both Holloway’s and Hopkin’s Stores. There were no large cranes, goods were loose and unpalleted, and security was almost non-existent. Beryl recalls that she would often be on the pier in the early hours of the morning helping Owen load cargo onto the lorry, while the children slept in the car.

Distance and isolation has always been an inhibiting factor in commercial development, with unreliable shipping services making access to supplies and markets difficult. It was John Holloway who pioneered the use of air freight, making the frustrating wait for goods and parts much quicker.

Many stores carried catalogues for mainland companies, and customers eagerly pored over them seeking to obtain modern and exotic items that had been unavailable in the small island community – the equivalent of today’s online shopping.

It was in the late ‘50s that Mr Ken Prentice, who had begun operating a very successful tourist business in a house opposite the Hillcrest Hotel, was able to buy out the shareholders of the property and move his store into the premises previously occupied by Holloway’s. Prentices was the store “where you go broke saving money” and strongly promoted the duty free status of shopping on Norfolk Island. It was a thriving business, selling goods imported from Japan, including the ‘new-fangled’ transistor radios. Meanwhile the Holloway’s had acquired the valuable E.M.I. agency, catering for the growing use of technology in home entertainments.

A new Holloway’s store, on a slightly smaller scale, was built in front of their home near Rawson Hall. It continued to cater for basic family needs, like materials, threads and wools, and everyday clothing and household items. Con always had good supplies of calico and lace, because these were required by Beryl’s husband Owen, who used them to cover the simple coffins that he built in the island ‘Works’ depot.

Meanwhile son Ralph had returned to the island after many years at sea on Burns Philp trading vessels. Ralph and his father began a taxi business, using a 1932 Ford. Taxis were much in demand in those early days, when few folk could afford to run their own vehicle. Operators were required to provide a 24 hour service. Qantas, who operated the air services to the island, paid taxi operators 4 shillings per passenger to drive them to and collect them from the airport. Meanwhile, the locals without their own transport found the taxi invaluable for trips to Kingston where the Administration offices, the Liquor Bond and the Bank facilities were still located.

As an adjunct to the taxi business, Ralph began a garage, and had the agency for Ford cars. His auto mechanical services were much in demand as more cars gradually came onto the island.

Commercial development along Taylor’s Road reached its peak in the late ‘60s and the ‘70s, and the once rural area became almost unrecognisable. Fortunately, even today, the ribbon of retail stores and business is still punctuated and softened by the front fences of some homes, and by glimpses of hillsides and paddocks, with Mount Pitt as a backdrop.

Holloway’s finally closed its doors in I978. Con was in her early eighties. Demands and expectations had changed as Norfolk opened up to the world. Ready made clothing and curtains were now more accessible and affordable. The era of “make, make do, and mend” was disappearing. The Tourist industry was providing employment outside the home to both men and women, and there was no longer the time or leisure to sit and knit or sew for home and family. Importation of cheap goods from Asia, changing tax arrangements in Australia and New Zealand and increasing freight rates were making the prices of goods on the island less attractive.

The need for a taxi service had also been dramatically reduced, with many households now owning not one but multiple vehicles, and hire cars and tour buses meeting the sightseeing needs of visitors.

John died in 1983, but Con lived until 1996, just two months short of her hundredth birthday, having witnessed and been a part of enormous changes on her little island. The shop building was later rented out to a young couple, the Calders, producing and selling leatherwork, and for a short time later, to a lady selling wool. Today it is occupied by Norfolk Electrical.

Ralph Holloway continued to operate his garage, but today has just one single client relying on him to service his Ford truck. He does, however, still supply parts for many others. In fact, the old Airforce shed holds shelf after shelf of parts, all neatly labelled and arranged, for models of vehicles that have not driven on Norfolk’s roads for some decades. Ralph can identify practically every person who has lived on the island for sixty or seventy years by the make and model of the vehicle they drove.

A handful of those early commercial buildings remain much in their original form, such as Holloway’s Mark ll, and De Chesnes’ store. Many others are still there, with new names and owners, hidden behind altered frontages, re-cladding and extensions. The old Holloway’s Store, now the Chinese Emporium, and still in the Prentice family, was given a second storey, and was extended out to the street frontage. The front extension can still be identified by a change of floor levels within the shop.

Just a few of Norfolk’s senior residents may still recall Tattles, or LambertsCake Shop, Miss Rigby’s, Joe Jenkins Store at Middlegate and the shop operated by his son Jack Jenkins near the present Bounty Lodge. Those with nostalgic memories of the sixties will recall names such as: Browse About, Piccadilly, Goodlines, Nimpex, Goddards, Greens, Cree’s Milk Bar, Roy’s Chemist, Maxwell’s Bakery, Jenny Broads and Paris Boutique. Who remembers Fla’s Fashions, Red Rentals, Sheridan’s Produce Store, Lober’s Café, Rendezvous and Miltons?

Those pioneer retailers like the Holloway’s would be surprised to see Burnt Pine today, with its cattlestops on the perimeters, the kerbing and footpaths, the street lighting, and even a traffic Roundabout. But in today’s challenging times they may well be able to teach us something about facing change with optimism, and a degree of hard work and resourcefulness. Perhaps we need to re-visit their wonderful spirit of enterprise.


Image Credit: Holloways Store image provided for use courtesy of Mary Christian-Bailey


Article content disclaimer: Article first published in YourWorld, Volume 02 Issue 03, 2012. Please note that details of specific travel, accommodation and touring options may be outdated. References to people, places and businesses, including operating days and times may be have changed. References to Government structure and Government businesses/entities may no longer be applicable. Please check directly with businesses and/or Government websites directly rather than relying on any information contained in this article before you make travel arrangements.



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