Trade & Commerce

buying, selling and exchanging goods and services

The local Gringai people lived a self-sustaining hunter gatherer existence; although it is likely they also exchanged goods over a wide area, as it is known other Aboriginal groups did. While the Europeans who entered the Williams River Valleys did not recognise the rights of the Gringai to the land and so did not enter into any negotiations regarding this, the colonial government since the time of Governor Macquarie had instituted a distribution of blankets. From the colonial government’s viewpoint the blankets were in exchange for peaceful or helpful behaviour. Such blanket distributions were carried out by the local magistrates based at Dungog and Paterson in the 1830s and subsequently. Over time some surviving Aboriginals may have seen these blankets as an exchange for their loss of land, and at least one Paterson man threatened to walk naked through the town if the expected blankets were not given.1

In the 1870s, a number of instances of commercial activity on the part of Aboriginal people are recorded. This included selling honey collected from bush hollows at 2s. to 2s. 6d. per bucket: ‘For the last two or three weeks about twenty blackfellows have been encamped in Mr Stanbridge’s paddock, at the rear of the old Paterson Hotel, and have been chiefly occupied in getting honey from the trees in the bush, in which capacity they appear to be carrying on a very brisk trade …’ In another Paterson instance: ‘During the week we noticed one blackfellow hawking about beeswax for sale, in cakes which they had themselves manufactured, and which appeared quite as good a sample as that manufactured by many of our farmers’ wives. The blacks seem quite independent, and proud of their new avocation.’2

Although settled as an agricultural district, it was always the ambition of those who settled in the Williams and nearby valleys to produce a surplus which could be exchanged on markets either locally, within the Colony of NSW, or with Britain. Commercial activity was also needed to provide essential tools and supplies, and inns for accommodation. As a result, both Gresford and Dungog early developed as service centres for the farmers and pastoralists of their respective valleys, while Paterson and Clarence Town also acted as depots for the transshipping of goods onto Sydney and beyond. In 1828, on the eve of the granting of land beyond Paterson and also up the Williams River, there were six regular vessels carrying trade along the Hunter River to Newcastle.3 Such vessels could also go as far up the Paterson and Williams Rivers as where Paterson and Clarence Town are now sited, thus putting any produce that could be brought down the valleys to these river ports within reach of Newcastle and Sydney.

In the generation following the initial grants, a mixed farm economy developed in the three valleys based on a combination of convict labour and free settlers, with the convict element quickly dwindling after 1840. The main produce was wheat and various other grains, sheep and cattle, and timber.4 The pattern for both Dungog and Gresford was set from this early time, with these towns positioned at the centre of prosperous agricultural districts assuring their existence and gradual growth. Their relative isolation from larger centres and the coast also kept them from developing faster, while the size of the Paterson/Allyn Valley relative to the Williams Valley is reflected in the relative size of the two service centres.

The movement of goods to and from farms to the service centres of Gresford and Dungog and from them down to the river ports of Paterson and Clarence Town, was therefore the earliest commerce carried on. This movement began with each landowner providing their own drays and horses or bullocks and taking the goods of others for either a fee, for services in kind, or as a favour.5 Later, hired bullock trains would take the local produce over the bad roads to the ports of Clarence Town and Paterson, from which steamers would take the goods on to Newcastle and Sydney, returning with supplies, tools and goods for sale in the shops.6

The earliest commercial establishments recorded are hotels and inns, which required licences, although ‘sly grog’ shops, that is, unlicensed premises were also in evidence.7 In the 1854 census, four publicans’ licenses are reported in Dungog, two of which continue to this day, one in the same building.8 Paterson, Clarence Town and Gresford also had such businesses, as did Brookfield, positioned halfway between Clarence Town and Dungog. Public houses provided both drink and accommodation, while boarding houses were more suitable for women and families. Many boarding houses from the late 19th century are recorded and survive today as private homes.9

By 1866, Dungog, with a population of 500 people, had two tanneries, two tobacco manufacturers and three hotels – the Royal, Durham and Settlers Arms.10 Poor seasons and floods by the end of the 1860s, however, led many to move further north, with shopkeepers complaining of the loss of trade and that the town was ‘empty’.11 By 1870s, commerce seems to have recovered: ‘We can also boast two bakery establishments, three public houses, two butcher’s shops, five general stores, a bank, and one saddlery business, besides a host of shoemakers, so you see besides having enough to replenish the inner man we can go a long way to satisfy the outer one too.’12 However, the dependence on bullocks to haul goods to the steamers at Clarence Town continued to limit development, especially in bumper years when extra punts and droghers were needed.13 Also the lack of bridges often meant roads were closed in poor weather, with agitation for bridges finally leading to some being built in 1875 along with new roads.14

Listed in the post office directory of 1872 under Dungog are 190 residents of Dungog town and its surroundings; the list includes a chemist, five storekeepers, four blacksmiths, five bookmakers, three wheelwrights, two tanners, four carriers, and a tailor, cabinet maker, tinsmith, saddler, draper, butcher and a miller. Clarence Town, with some 150 residents listed has no cabinet makers or tailors mentioned, but nearly as many bootmakers, as well as a shipwright, a vigneron and two bakers. Paterson, with 185 on the list, also has plenty of carriers and wheelwrights as befits a port town, as well as three laundresses and two dressmakers, and though only two storekeepers, three tobacconists. Gresford’s list of 112 shows the fewest commercial residents, with only two storekeepers, two blacksmiths and three bootmakers.15

Among the smaller settlements there was also a scattering of commercial establishments and operations. Lone storekeepers are mentioned at Vacy, Underbank and Lewinsbrook in the early 1870s.16 While Vacy reports only the one store in 1872, by the beginning of the 20th century it had expanded to include two general stores, a butcher, blacksmith and a bakery, in addition to the hotel that it had long had. Bandon Grove in 1919 had a sawmill and an orchardist, but no other commercial establishment is recorded at this time, though it did have a small shop that sold petrol in the late 20th century. Allynbrook, which was a major coach station, had a wine shop, wheelwright and coachbuilder. Brookfield had a general store and a blacksmith, Martin’s Creek a store and post office, and Dingadee, with its new rail sliding, had three teamsters.17

Clarence Town seems to have had at least an agency of the Savings Bank of NSW from 1857, and Paterson a bank also from an early period.18 Despite Dungog’s wider range of commercial enterprises, a bank did not establish itself there until the late 1870s. The Commercial Bank of Sydney operated in both Paterson and Dungog and then extended to Gresford in 1914 under the threat of another bank’s entering the field.19 Agricultural wealth and then the development of gold mines at Wangat encouraged the banks, with a second bank established at Dungog in the 1880s and also an Angus & Coote.

When Dungog acquired this second bank in 1884 with the Bank of NSW, many thought this a rash move in a town with a population of only 500. However prominent business owner Mrs Dark, whose premises the bank was renting at £100 a year, became the first account holder, followed by her storekeeper sons, Henry Charles Dark and Stephen Whiteman Dark of Clarence Town and son-in-law Joseph Abbott, also a storekeeper. Stephen delivered the safe for £1/8-, and this safe, costing £61/4, was the bank’s single most expensive item. The manager received £20/16/8 per month, plus a servant’s allowance of £2/3/4.20

The commercial people of Dungog, and few others with money to bank, can be seen from a list of the first account holders of the Bank of NSW:

Storekeepers – Darks, Joseph Abbott

Postmasters – Lazare Ahrenson (Wallarobba), Stephen Duggan (Underbank), T J Foley

Baker – T S Alexander

Builder – W J Boots

Auctioneer – Thomas Carlton

Publicans – Mrs Elizabeth Hill, Annie Johnson (Clarence Town)

Butcher – J A Jones

Surgeon – A W McMath

Gold diggers – J B Cameron, Andrew George, Lysaght & party

Dungog Gun Club

Brookfield Jockey Club21

The Bank of NSW was perhaps right in opening a second bank in Dungog and the following decade commercial activity seems to have much increased. Listed in Hall’s Country Directory at Dungog in 1899 are two Apiaries, Auctioneers, Bakers, Banks, Chemists, and Hairdressers, five blacksmiths and wheelwrights, fours boots and shoes establishments, five builders, three butchers, four hotels, two doctors and two solicitors, three tailors, two undertakers and ten stores.22 Just after the Great War, according to Sand’s Country Commercial Directory, Dungog was a very different place from the other towns of the three valleys. In addition to the usual bootmakers, bakers, general stores and blacksmiths, Dungog could boast three stationers, two chemists, a jeweller, a cordial maker, three hairdressers, two painters, four garages, two newspapers and even an electricity company. It also had a restaurant, an Oyster saloon, a music teacher and a photographer.23

With the coming of the railway in 1911, both Paterson and Clarence Town suffered commercially as transport by ship declined. Clarence Town had also been affected by the tobacco tax, four floods and the depression even before the new railway damaged its river trade. This river trade in goods and passengers meant that Clarence Town had a number of Inns and Hotels, such as the George & Dragon Inn (1842 – 1887), the Fitzroy Hotel (1861-1888), the Commercial Inn (1861 – ?), the Ship Inn (1866-67 – ?) and the Crown Inn (burned down 1912). After this last hotel was destroyed, its replacement of 1913, the Erringhi Hotel, remained Clarence Town’s only hotel, as it does today.24

Earlier commercial establishments were closer to the docks and included, around 1900, a general store and produce store. There was also a butcher shop, blacksmith, saddler, and mixed business shops. The former George & Dragon Inn became, in 1887, Ah Kun’s Fruit & Vegetable shop until well into the 20th century. Most vegetables came for market gardens to the east of the town, and a skating rink inside a wooden floored barn provided entertainment.

In Sand’s Country Commercial Directory 1919, Clarence Town is recorded as having two stores, a saddler, tanner and butcher, as well as a coachbuilder and a teamster, two blacksmiths and two timber merchants; also one hairdresser, a fruiter and a hotel. In addition, four residents are described as graziers, five as dairy farmers and 40 as simply as farmers.25

By the 1950s, most of these stores had gone. Morgansen’s store since 1859 had burned down and the blacksmith’s shop was abandoned, along with its former shed for painting sulkies. Dark’s Store, which operated from the 1920s continued to run until 1983, and was where Shaw’s Bakery is now established. Christopher Robard’s clothing store operated from the 1930s until 1959-60 and was next to Shaw’s. A cinema (the Empire Theatre) operated inside the School of Arts building from the 1930s until 1962-63. At least one garage was established and the Bank of NSW had a branch here from 1925 to the 1970s. No chemist appears to have ever established itself in Clarence Town.26

By the 1950s many people began to fear that Clarence Town might die. As one elderly resident at the time is reported to have said: ‘There are 400 people in the town and 1,000 in the district,’ he said. ‘When I was a boy the town had a population of 640. We had two flour mills and a sawmill, five hotels, seven shops, and a skating rink. Now we have one hotel and two shops.’27 Since the 1980s there has been a reversal in Clarence Town’s population decline contributed to by many factors. Most significant have been new residents working in Newcastle who are prepared to commute. The result has been a series of new shops established since 2001, with the reliance on cars over shipping positioning the revitalized shopping precinct away from the river and closer to the Dungog-Raymond Terrace road.

In the Sand’s Country Commercial Directory of 1919 only the one Gresford is listed, where is found the Butter Factory, along with two general stores, a motor service, two auctioneers, a butcher, a blacksmith and a hotel. As well, 38 farmers, five dairymen and seven graziers are listed as residents.28 By 1929, Gresford and East Gresford had a Stock and Station Agent, hairdresser, hotel, two general stores, two bakeries, a garage, two butchers, a shoe shop and a saddler store. By 1947, the main change was an increase in the number of garages and ‘refreshment rooms’, as well as the existence of taxi services. By this time there was also a cinema, called the Garden Theatre, which ran until 1954.29 At the beginning of the 21st century, Gresford, including East Gresford, has a small general store, a garage and a cafe as well as the hotel it has had since before the coming of the car.

Paterson’s relative proximity to the larger centre of Maitland, even after the decline of its river port function, has greatly influenced its commercial pattern. This has allowed a number of businesses to maintain themselves throughout most of the 20th century, such as Crouch’s Garage from the 1920s until 1990, selling cars and serving farm machinery, and more recently providing agricultural equipment as Stockers and Partridge. A business which commenced not long after 1900 was Auchett’s which was a centre for the packing of oranges as well as a buyer of hides, to which people from as far away as Salisbury on the Upper Williams would bring their rabbit skins.30

The role of Paterson in 1919 as a centre for the commercial sale of fruit and transshipment in general is seen in the Sand’s Country Commercial Directory of that year. Paterson had a number of fruiterers and fruit merchants, as well as the Farmers’ Union and the Fruit Growers Association. It also had wood merchants, two teamsters, four blacksmiths, two stores and a coach proprietor, along with a baker, hairdresser, butcher, tailor, bootmaker, a bank and two hotels. Other residents included ten graziers and over 40 farmers.31

The Hunter Valley Dairy Cooperative had a milk depot at Paterson for a short period before bulk milk came in the mid 1960s; with the site becoming a base for Hunter Valley Power Lines and later PowerServe. The Presland family has operated a trucking business in Paterson since the mid 20th century and there were livestock sale yards near the Railway Station also until the 1950s. A bank continued in Paterson until 1979 which is now a B&B/restaurant. As in Clarence Town, the decline in local businesses reversed as the Paterson District began to become a home for people commuting to Newcastle, Maitland and the Hunter Valley mining districts. This change was marked by the erection of new shops in 1987.32

Dungog’s commercial district is the most developed of all the towns within the Shire and within this Dark’s Store represented the largest commercial operation from its centrally located premises on the corner of Brown and Dowling Streets. J A Wade first operated a store on this site until Henry Charles Dark established his own store here in 1877, which he eventually called the ‘Hall of Commerce’. The original cottage building was replaced by the first section of the present building, designed by local architect C H Button, in 1897. At the time it was considered by some that ‘the edifice is too elaborate’. Elaborate or not, this building was extended in 1919, and again in 1926. By this time it was the largest general store in Dungog, and continued operating until the 1980s as a Dark family business.33

In the first decades of the 20th century, the commercial districts of the three valleys began to change with the introduction of many new technologies, foremost of which was the motor car. Horses and bullocks had always meant saddlers and blacksmiths, and these businesses were gradually replaced by garages and mechanics. This occurred very gradually in some cases, with the last blacksmith shop in Dungog closing only in 1980. The development of the motor car not only established motor garages but also led to taxi operators who at first met trains and ran groups up to the Barrington Guest House. By the 1950s and 1960s taxis had became quite numerous until they also gradually faded as personal car ownership increased. Bus companies, however, have survived, mainly through the need to move school students to the now far fewer schools and for charter use.

While Dungog was expanding and prosperous in the 1920s, many in business there felt the need to widen Dungog’s commercial base and efforts were made to increase tourism. These efforts were centred mainly around the promotion of the Barrington Tops and led to many ventures such as touring companies, taxis to meet the trains, and hotels and boarding houses located in the foothills of the Barrington Ranges. Tourist Leagues were formed in Dungog, Gresford and Maitland, which mostly demanded better roads for access to the Barringtons, including in one case to enable health sanitariums for TB to be established.34 One result was the well-known Barrington Guest House:

Mr NT McLeod, Proprietor of the Royal Hotel, Dungog, who has a keen eye to business and has seen the necessity for catering for tourists has decided to build a modern up-to-date hostel right at the edge of the brush, under the shadows of the mountain. So great was the demand in the past for accommodation that many people were precluded from going to the wonderland of the north. In his new building which is now in the course of erection there will be accommodation for 40 guests. Electric light, hot and cold water, a sewerage system will all be installed. There will be a big dance floor and wide verandahs. A wireless plant will keep people in touch with the outside world. Mr McLeod is also building tennis courts which will be electrically illuminated at night, and he is not forgetting golfers, because he is putting down “putting greens” for them.35

The 1920s also brought cultural change, and one that had a major impact on the commercial area was the growth of women’s hairdressers. It was not unknown for women to visit hairdressers, at least in large towns, though perhaps in a separate room.36 However, it was in the post-war world that the word ‘hairdresser’ changed from describing smoke-filled, billiard table holding domains of men – usually with the word ‘Sports’ before it – into something similar to the modern concept:

Bobbed hair and the other fancy “cuts” that have become the craze with the fair sex, have revolutionised the hairdressing trade. In a town with an effective population from a hairdresser’s point of view that used to be only one half – the male half. Now, however, the effective range is 90%, and is still increasing. Dungog always had four or five barber’s shops in the pre-bob days, and at the present time only has four. The new trade has meant increased staffs to cope with the business. Messrs G & E Dark have installed a lady hairdresser in the store, and are the latest to take out a hairdressing license.37

The impact of the motor car on the commercial operations of the valleys was upheld by the continued improvement in travel due to more bridges, better roads and the growth in two car and more families. By the end of the 20th century these developments meant that the large regional centres of Maitland and Raymond Terrace, and even the cities of Newcastle and Sydney were within a day’s travel. Commercially this has meant that not only bootmakers but shoe and most clothing shops have disappeared completely from within the Shire, going the way of Indian hawkers and commercial travellers.

Similar factors have also led to a gradual withdrawal of many commercial services, or at least their downgrading, and banks in particular have left many of the smaller centres. In East Gresford, the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney, which had built a traditional bank and manager’s residence as late as 1961, became, as the National Australia Bank, an agency in 1994.38 Paterson no longer has a bank, Clarence Town has a post office agency and a branch of a building society and in Dungog, the Bank of NSW remains only an agency of Westpac, though both the NAB and Commonwealth Bank continue to have branches there.

Heritage Survivals

  • Tourist sign monument (Dungog)

  • Former boarding houses

  • Blacksmiths, Bootmakers shops/sites

  • Former bank & managers residences

1 Sokoloff, Aborigines in the Paterson Gresford Districts, p.24 & Maitland Mercury, 27/6/1863, p.5.

2 Maitland Mercury, 2/5/1871, p.3.

3 The Australian, 14/3/1828, p.2.

4 See 3.2 Agriculture, 3.4 Pastoralism & 3.5 Forestry.

5 Cook to Colonial Storekeeper, 27/3/1837 (Dungog Magistrates’ Letterbook). See also 3.9 Transport.

6 Hunter, Wade’s Corn Flour Mill, p.10.

7 Moffatt to Mackenzie, 7/3/1834 (Dungog Magistrates’ Letterbook). See also 7.2 Law & Order.

8 Williams, Ah, Dungog, p.6.

9 Williams, Ah, Dungog, p.32.

10 Baillier’s NSW Gazetteer and Road Guide, 1866.

11 Dungog Chronicle, 10/7/1923, extract from Manning River News, 1868.

12 Maitland Mercury, 10/12/1877, p.5.

13 Hunter, Wade’s Corn Flour Mill, p.25 & Maitland Mercury, 8/4/1871, p.2.

14 See 3.9 Transport.

15 Greville’s Post Office Directory for 1872.

16 Greville’s Post Office Directory for 1872.

17 Sand’s Country Commercial Directory 1919.

18 Maitland Mercury, 10/11/1857, p.3.

19 Collison & Handcock, Gresford 170 years, p.68.

20 Bank of NSW centenary supplement, Dungog Chronicle, August 1984.

21 Bank of NSW centenary supplement, Dungog Chronicle, August 1984.

22 Hall’s Country Directory and Gazetteer of NSW, 1899-1900, p.83.

23 Sand’s Country Commercial Directory 1919.

24 Ian Lyall, interviewed 28/3/2012.

25 Sand’s Country Commercial Directory 1919.

26 Ian Lyall, interviewed 28/3/2012.

27 The Sunday Herald, 3/6/1951, p.13.

28 Sand’s Country Commercial Directory, 1919.

29 Gresford Businesses – 1929, 1947, 1949, 1968.

30 Cameron Archer, interviewed 9/4/2012 & Rita Boswell, interviewed 5/3/2012.

31 Sand’s Country Commercial Directory, 1919.

32 Cameron Archer, interviewed 9/4/2012.

33 Williams, Ah, Dungog, p.36.

34 Hartley, Barrington Tops, pp.18-19.

35 Dungog Chronicle, 15/7/1930.

36 Maitland Mercury, 20/12/1884, p.4.

37 Dungog Chronicle, 23/7/1926.

38 Collison & Handcock, Gresford 170 years, pp.71-72.