For some years Gwalia had two general stores – V.B and M.M Mazza and the Co-Op which was owned by the locals and managed by Jimmy Caruthers. Harry Gray was the town butcher. There were two churches – Anglican and Catholic. Maurice Reilly was headmaster at the state school and Mother Xavier superior at the Dominican convent. There were four boarding houses including the purpose-built mine mess run by Mrs Saunders, a pokey two-roomed doctor’s surgery, the Australian Workers’ Union hall which doubled as the picture theatre, and the swimming pool and football oval. For a time Ernie Sheer had a pie shop opposite the State Hotel. Mr Sheer was missing part of one arm from halfway between the elbow and wrist. I believed it when I was told he lost his hand in the mincing machine.
In the early 1950s shops traded all day Saturday and a half-day on Wednesday. They closed every day for an hour from 12.30 while the staff went home for lunch. For a time, the Co-Op, which was Beria’s preferred store, traded on Sunday. Sadly, through lack of patronage, it closed its doors at the end of 1957. While the rest of the town was enjoying Christmas Eve around the tree in the park, a neighbour broke into the Co-Op and helped himself to the remaining stock of Onkaparinga blankets, Actil sheets, pillowcases, towels, kitchen utensils and, according to Beria,‘anything else he could get his hands on. She won’t have to buy anything for years.’ Beria laughed the next day when his wife told her what happened. Just as the thief was loading the stock into boxes an old Aboriginal man appeared out of the darkness. ‘He got such a fright, he nearly shit himself. He gave the old boy some tobacco from the shelf and told him to piss-off!’
With no competition, Vic and Melda Mazza put their shop on a jinker and moved it to the centre of the town. The Mazzas were an astute hard-working business couple and the shop made them arguably the richest family in the town. Vic believed in a day’s work for a day’s pay. ‘Don’t’ stand around idle,’ he used to say. ‘Even if there is no one in the shop there’s always something to do.’ When he thought I was spending too much time talking to Peggy Garbellini while she was meant to be working he told me to buy what I wanted and leave.
Both the inside and outside of the store were impeccably maintained and commercial travellers said it was the cleanest shop in country Western Australia. The raised gravel verandah at the front was swept and watered each morning. There was no air-conditioning and canvas blinds were lowered when the afternoon sun hit the front of the shop. The staff cleaned the windows of their department every day using Bon Ami, a compressed white power which was applied with a wet cloth. The residue of dry white film was removed by rubbing with newspaper or a clean cloth. Bob Mazza polished a thick plate glass front door so expertly it became invisible in the sunlight. A traveller, thinking it was open, tried to walk through and hit his head.
Mazza’s was a three-in-one walk-through mini-emporium: groceries, fruit and vegetables; men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, haberdashery and mercery; and confectionery and newsagency. The household furnishings were stored out the back and for a premium price you could order anything you wanted. My father bought a Silent Knight kerosene refrigerator, the tank of which had to be filled once a week. Mazza’s delivered the kerosene in a returnable four-gallon drum.
The haberdashery and mercery section was in the centre of the shop and the dark brown linoleum was polished to a sheen. The bulk of the stock on sale was English. The range of J.P. Coates’ plain and variegated blue, mauve, lemon, pink, green, red and brown fancywork threads hung in twists from a small spiked revolving stand on the end of the counter. I turned it slowly, marvelling at the kaleidoscopic colours. Rolls of paper-backed pure satin ribbon in every width and hue of the rainbow, cards of Beautron pearl buttons, imported cotton lace and fine silver threaded organdie scarves were carefully displayed. Meticulously stacked bolts of dressmaking fabric were displayed on shelves behind the counter. A yard-long brass dressmaking ruler and polished to a glint, was screwed into the edge of the counter. Twice a year Vic and Melda went to
Perth on a buying spree. They stocked leading brands: Leroy dresses, Sportscraft skirts and Merle slippers – ‘the best in Australia!’ Beria wore Maxwell brassieres which came in white and tea rose. The concentric machine stitching stiffened and pointed the conical shaped cup. Pelaco and Whitmont shirts, Marshall shoes, Casben sportswear, and Jantzen bathers with its red diving-girl logo. John Brown and Crestknit fine wool jumpers and cardigans started at £5. Before I left for boarding school my father bought me a pale aqua Crestknit jumper with a black fleck and silver thread, and finished with a shawl collar. Made from the finest merino wool, I wore it for best.
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