The University of Newcastle, Australia

Community stories keep the memory of iconic ‘The Store’ alive

Friday, 27 September 2019

Memories and stories from members of the Newcastle community of the iconic co-operative ‘The Store’ have been captured and digitised by the University of Newcastle in an oral history project.

The Newcastle & Suburban Co-Coperative Society Ltd at its Charlton (now Hunter Street West) premises, [1914]
The Newcastle & Suburban Co-Coperative Society Ltd at its Charlton (now Hunter Street West) premises, [1914]. © John Lamb Collection, University of Newcastle (Australia)

Twenty oral histories from past employees and community members and more than 300 archives have been collected and digitised to commemorate and celebrate the legacy of The Newcastle and Suburban Co-operative Society Ltd, known locally as ‘The Store’.

“The closure of The Store left a lasting impact upon many people in the Newcastle community,” said Dr Ann Hardy, Living Histories Coordinator at the University of Newcastle.

“There are so many rich and wonderful stories to tell of a place that really was a central hub in our city, and in the wake of the former Hunter Street site being renewed the University of Newcastle is proud to be able to play a role in keeping this unique part of Newcastle’s history alive.”

The Store was established in Newcastle in 1898, and the main store building opened in Hunter Street Newcastle in 1906. In 1974, at its peak, The Store operated 15 other retail branches, had 98,000 members and employed 1,450 workers across its operations.

It provided groceries, retail goods, and services including a health fund, funeral fund, travel agency, credit union and a barber shop. The Store was the biggest and most successful co-operative society Australia. Eventually, increased shopper mobility and competition from suburban centres saw The Store close on 10 April 1981 after 83 years of service.

The collection and digitisation of the stories and artefacts were carried out by a team from the University of Newcastle’s GLAMˣ Living Histories Digitisation Lab at the Auchmuty Library. The project involved several students who carried out hours of interviews and waded through materials such as carefully tended newspaper articles, treasured mementoes and dog-eared photographs, through a valuable work-integrated learning project.

Bachelor of Arts student, Deborah Waddell said the experience had given her a real opportunity to see first-hand how and where everything she learnt as a student is applied in the workplace.

“This project gave me great insight into how a community history is recorded, shaped and shared, and as I look to gain employment in the archives sector, it has allowed me to gain a greater understanding of the industry,” said Deborah Waddell.

The Store Oral History Project was funded by DOMA, produced by the University of Newcastle’s GLAMˣ Living Histories Digitisation Lab and the Vera Deacon Regional History Fund, and managed by Artefact Heritage.

“DOMA is proud to support this collection of stories,” said Sean Kearney, Development Project Manager at DOMA.

“While development helps our city move forward, we must respect our heritage. DOMA is planning a number of initiatives to record the history of The Store site in addition to these oral histories. We have preserved artefacts from the site and will include interpretive artwork on the site.”

The Store Oral History Project is available at www.newcastle.edu.au/thestore


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