This tumultuous decade, both in economic and political outcomes, was one of the most trying times for the Queensland Shopfitting Industry. It included the great 1974 Brisbane/Southeast Queensland flood that decimated retail and manufacturing business properties as well as domestic homes.

There was the election in December 1972 of the Whitlam Government into Federal Parliament, a recession, mortgage rates at 17.5%, with business lending rates higher, wages in a dramatic climbing cycle, materials costs rising daily and cost of homes doubling, as well as skilled labour shortages. In Queensland there were industrial action/strikes occurring daily and protesting university students holding marches in Brisbane City streets in agitation against the Vietnam War and the Bjelke-Petersen State Government.

Through all the turmoil, it proved to be a record decade for major shopping centre construction, with the local shopfitting sector having possibly greater workloads at that stage than for the following decades.
The following shopping centre openings took place in Brisbane during this period:
1970 – Indooroopilly Shoppingtown in the western suburbs and Garden City Shopping Centre in the southern suburbs
1971 – Brookside Shopping Centre in the north-western suburbs
1979 – Mt Ommaney Shopping Centre in the western suburbs and Carindale Shopping Centre in the eastern suburbs.
The regional shopping centre openings were as follows:
1970 – Original Nathan Plaza in Townsville, and Booval Fair
1977 – Original K-Mart Plaza, Townsville, Westridge Plaza, Kirwan Townsville
1977 – Pacific Fair Shopping Centre, Broadbeach Waters Gold Coast
1978 – Sugarland Shopping Centre, Bundaberg
1979 – Caneland Shopping Centre, Mackay, and Kawana Shopping World, Sunshine Coast.

There were also many smaller shopping centres opening in this period throughout the state.
These centres had major growth expansion works in the following years, to meet population growth and infrastructure requirements. All these centres continue to provide a great source of turnover for the shopfitting industry in the state.

Indooroopilly Shoppingtown was the first Westfield constructed centre in Queensland, so there was much trade apprehension at the time, as the local shopfitters had never been exposed to the Westfield build process. When opened, Indooroopilly Shoppingtown was promoted as being the largest shopping centre in the Southern Hemisphere. It was an awkwardly accessible 4-storey structure, built on a previously suburban housing block site. The centre had renovations and expansion upgrades in 1998, and a major expansion in 2014 with the addition of a further 120 stores and the inclusion of some international brand stores.

Being built 16km away at the same time as Indooroopilly and fitted out soon after, the Garden City Shopping Centre at Mt Gravatt was constructed by Hooker Projects and pre-sold to David Jones who opened with a 3-level David Jones Department store. It also opened with a 2-level McDonalds and East Department store, a Woolworths store and a large Brisbane City Council Library, as well as numerous specialty stores. It was managed by AMP Limited, until being purchased by Westfield in 2003.

This centre has been through seven extensions/expansions and department store relocations. The last major expansion was in 2012, and included two department stores, another supermarket and a further 100 specialty stores, making a total of 470 outlets. It has recently been embroiled in a local battle over the re-naming of the centre.
There were approximately 100 QLD shopfitting companies trading at the time of the original construction of the above two centres and the third, Brookside Shopping Centre, only a matter of six months later. No doubt, there must have been some assistance from our shopfitting comrades south of the border to achieve the completion of these centres on time.

Some of the shopfitting shelving display system manufacturers/suppliers trading at that period were:
H M Cowdroy
Bevlyn Industries
Modern Merchandising
Sylvan Wire Works
Apex Displays
Keylar Shelving
A few signage companies of the time:
Albert Smith & Son Pty Ltd Signs
Victor Day Signs
Daynite Sign Industries
Neon Corporation (Aust) Ltd
Plastic Products Agencies
Regent Sheet Metal Works
Reno Plastics & Signs
Brisbane Mirror Sign Co Pty Ltd
K Cunningham

A more comprehensive list of shopfitting/sign/sheet metal companies in QLD from that period is available on request.
The local supplier of Formica and Coronite board at this time was Realhome Pty Ltd, based at Rocklea. They also produced vanity units and toilet partitions. The owners were brothers Chris and Roger Bell and were well known in the industry. Formica purchased the company from the Bell Bros. in 1977 and relocated Formica to Colebard St Archerfield. Realholme as a company remains and still manufactures toilet partitions and joinery items.

Paramount Distributors were the local supplier of Laminex products until Laminex set up a larger distribution centre in their own right. Gibbs Bright were selling board products as well as timber to our industry. Sharp Plywood were manufacturing veneered board products and DAP board. Brims were producing plywood and pressing veneer products. Austral Plywood were manufacturing plywood at their Tennyson Plant. Bretts were still producing plywood at Windsor as well as making joinery and selling hardware and timber.

A couple of small shopfitting companies to commence in Brisbane in 1971 were Parker and Turner based at Pentex St Salisbury and R J Cecil Shop & Office Fitting at Bowen Hills. Parker and Turner had been at Christie & Walker and then went to Robb & Brown. There was possibly a connection between G James Glass and Aluminium and Parker and Turner.
Robert Cecil had been Alec Hartley’s first apprentice at J A Hartley Shopfitters and his business ran until recent times.

As well as fitting out traditional outlets, a new phenomenon was emerging –one that to this day provides work for our industry – the revolution of fast-food takeaway outlets. With the arrival of some overseas entities such as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, Hungry Jacks, Red Rooster, and McDonalds, came their own take on the branding of new and different fitouts to our shopping centres. Fortunately for shopfitters, most of these brand names keep renewing their images to entice a new wave of customers.

In 1972 (when little of Queensland’s History was highly valued), an iconic Brisbane landmark hotel, Lennons, was relocated from its long-standing George St address to a new high rise building at 72 Queen St, the former site of the Old Brisbane Town Hall. Local shopfitters were kept busy fitting out ground floor and lower floor specialty stores and cafes and the top floor restaurant /nightclub.

By 1973-1974 it was said that the new supermarket outlets across the country had at that stage captured 50% market share of retail trade.
In January 1974, South-East Queensland was severely inundated after a cyclone crossed the coast north of Brisbane and brought further non-stop rain, causing major flooding to towns from Gympie to the New South Wales border. As many as 14,000 homes were flooded in greater Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast, the Gold Coast canals and Ipswich. As well as the damage to homes, suburban shopping centres, Brisbane Central City shops and offices were under water. The Gold Coast was cut off from Brisbane by the Nerang River. Unfortunately, many industrial areas were also severely damaged, so before the rebuild/fitout works could commence, new machines as well as materials had to be sourced. Such was the devastation, that it took months to get industry reorganized, shopping centres back up and running and homes starting to be repaired.

In 1974, all workers under federal awards were granted four weeks paid annual leave, and in 1975, quarterly wage indexation was introduced.
In the mid-70s, a young cabinetmaker/shopfitter began in business as part owner of W R Emery at Fulcher Rd, Red Hill (on the current NRL Broncos site). His name was Les Wilson.
Les had served his apprenticeship at Crafts Furniture & City Joiners, then moved on to Wattle Products to become a leading hand at an early age. In 1978, he took total ownership of the W R Emery business and moved the business to the current location at Moorooka. At that time, he renamed his business Les Wilson Detail Cabinetmakers.

Les soon became well known and well respected for his honesty and immense knowledge of the industry, receiving most of his workload through well-known Brisbane architects. He had notable national clients such as Just Jeans, National Bank, ANZ Bank and Wendy’s Ice Cream. The business also carried out works for hotels, jewellers, fashion stores, professional suites and food outlets. Les had a close connection with McDonalds on their new outlets and the updating of their existing stores.

Over the years, Les usually had an average of 15 tradesmen and apprentices with many of his employees remaining loyal for 20-30 years. He was passionate about our industry and served on the Queensland and national IFA (then ASOFIA) committees and enjoyed attending many national conferences and being among his fellow shopfitters. He was awarded the QLD Icon of the Industry by his peers in 2009.
When considering retiring from his business, Les advertised the business for sale and – according to Les – out of the people interested in purchasing, there was one stand out applicant who he wished to sell to. That person is still the current owner, Mick McLoughlin. The business was sold to Mick in October 2003, with Les retiring 6 months later. Sadly, Les passed away in 2020. The business is now known as Bencee Fitout & Constuction.

A source of quality shopfitting works from 1975 onwards was the fitout works to international airlines and international shipping lines’ sales offices as overseas travel became more affordable and boomed as a result. It is said a million people a year were travelling from Australia then and it has continued to increase, until Covid times. Many travel companies have since opened in shopping centres and high streets. Domestically, the 2-airline system was predominant, and these airlines had outlets at larger regional towns as far north as Cairns, with fitouts that were updated from time to time.

In 1975, colour television arrived in Queensland and there was a need for specific retail outlets that only displayed the varying new cumbersome television sets. These stand-alone stores seemed to only last for a few years, as the product became mainstream in time.

Pacific Fair Shopping Centre was a new centre built on what had been swampland at Broadbeach Waters, and opened in 1977. The design layout was a far cry from the ultra-modern style of the current centre. Most of the retail outlets were external/open-air and the structures were designed to certain themes, which the shopfitters were expected to follow. There was the Olde England zone, South Pacific zone, New Orleans zone, French Quarter and Australian Colonial zones. There was also a Fisherman’s Island, Cotswold Village and an Indian Tepee Village. Altogether the concept worked and was a great drawcard for the Gold Coast tourist market as well as being well accepted by the locals.

The concept was to give shoppers a trip away each shopping day. Pacific Fair was developed by the Hooker Corporation and the Australian Guarantee Corporation and managed by AMP.
The centre has had numerous expansions over the years with a major 2014 overhaul to give it a modern appearance, to attract the thousands of tourists to the Gold Coast as well as the surrounding local community, making it a destination centre as well as a public transport hub.

In 1978, an Italian inventor, Dante Bini, arrived in Australia and was engaged to build a shopping centre using his reinforced concrete domed ‘Bini Shells’ method of construction. It was to be named Space City Shopping Centre, at Kallangur, about 40 minutes north of Brisbane. Six varying-sized concrete domes were interconnected, poured on balloon supports, then raised. This usually took just over an hour to reach finished height. The centre and Bini’s domes attracted national publicity as it was his first such attempt to construct a shopping centre and the first in the world.

To start with, the domes were a nightmare for shopfitters trying to design and then make joinery to fit the dome shapes. This challenge flowed through to the retailers, in making their surrounding walls meet the product requirements. Unfortunately, the complex was not a success – it closed in 1985, and was demolished a few years later. As an idea, it drew the crowds, mainly to look at, but sadly not to support the retailers.

Recently, I was surprised when I stumbled upon evidence of The Shopfitters Association of Queensland from 1978. It was in the form of a Certificate of Membership. I had heard that there was a loose connection to the Master Shopfitters Association of NSW at that time but didn’t realise they were organised enough to have support from a registered local industry association, the Queensland Confederation of Industry based at Wickham Terrace, Brisbane. At the time, they seemed to have about 20 member companies, with Stan Lewis as President. He was responsible for setting up of state body. They kept advertising as a state body until 1984, by which time all members had transitioned to the recently formed National Australian Shopfitters Association.

In 1978, there were two start-up shopfitting companies at Slacks Creek south of Brisbane, both of which grew and traded for many years. One was Shopfitting Services, started by Roger Harmer, and because of previous experience, he soon engendered a name for quality, which helped with the growth of his business. Some of his customers were Goldmark Jewellers, OPSM, Jon Le Court Hairdressers, Prouds Jewellers, Mathers Shoes, Cue, Witchery and Dotti. Shopfitting Services offered in-house design, as well as quotations on designs provided by clients. As the business grew, it was purchased by Malcolm Hicks and Bob Metcalfe was employed as General Manager. In 1995, and in expansion mode, the business was relocated to a company purchased building at Kingston.  Bob Metcalfe eventually moved on to start his own shopfitting company, The Shopfitting Solution and then later became the national agent/distributor of Demodeks, a European retail feature metal shelving system and the Demodeks Pharmacy automation system.

Rowe Furniture (later to be known as Rowe Shopfitters) opened in a factory at Machinery Drive, Slacks Creek. The business was started by Adrian and Jenny Rowe and after a few years growth, the business moved to their large factory at Production St Beenleigh. Rowe Shopfitters carried out retail fitouts throughout Queensland and interstate as well as office fitout projects. They were a major player in newsagency fitout works, in conjunction with greeting card companies, with Golden Casket and the Lott. They offered in-house design to their many customers and were a well-respected company employing many apprentices over the years and were always good supporters of ASOFIA with Jenny and Amy (their daughter) serving on the State Committees. Most of the family members worked in the company at some time over the years.

When Adrian and Jenny retired in 2012, their son Robert purchased the Beenleigh factory as part of his foray into becoming a major player in the fitout sector, nationally. Daniel Rowe (another son) now has his own project management company and makes use of local shopfitters on his varied projects. In October 1979, Kawana Shopping World opened (then known as Kern Shopping Town), being the first major shopping centre on the Sunshine Coast. The centre was built by the Kern Corporation for owners BHP and Shell and opened with Woolworths, Big W, Rockmans and 40 specialty stores. Once again, the centre has undergone expansion as the surrounding population grew, with a 2002 new food court area and a Bi-Lo store. In 2014, another 70 specialty stores were added and, in 2017, a 10- screen cinema was included. Mirvac became the owner and manager of the centre which now has 4 major tenants, 6 mini-majors and 160 specialty stores.

In 1979, Carindale Shopping Centre opened in the eastern suburbs of Brisbane (then known as the suburb of Belmont) which was changed to Carindale, the name of the surrounding housing estate. It was developed by SGIO (State Government Insurance Office) and at the time of opening was the largest shopping centre in Brisbane. The original 50% ownership was purchased by Westfield in 1999 and is now managed by Scentre Group.

In October 2010 the centre went through a $300 million redevelopment and over the next two years, approximately 80 new outlets were added, with the inclusion of some international fashion brand stores and a new Brisbane City Council Library. The centre is now regarded as one of the largest in Australia with over 450 specialty stores, a source of ongoing works for the local shopfitting fraternity.

In 1960, Queen St Brisbane City was still the centre of Brisbane shopping, however following the opening of Chermside Drive-In Shopping Centre in 1957, the floodgates opened, with news of suburban Brisbane Shopping Centre openings and planning of others throughout the State.
This was the beginning of the end for the much-loved ‘corner store’.

With the opening of suburban shopping centres, more shopfitting companies were required and continued to start up, with tradesmen coming from carpentry and joinery or cabinetmaking backgrounds at that time. Unemployment was at 2.6% and in 1961, The Commonwealth Arbitration Commission granted three weeks of annual leave to all workers.
Apprenticeship training in the Queensland TAFE system for the shopfitting companies was based on either carpentry and joinery or cabinetmaking courses which remained in place until the 1990s, with the advent of industry required relevant training for the students.

In 1960 and with much fanfare, Myer Coorparoo Shopping Centre opened as the first suburban shopping centre on the south side of Brisbane. This suited local families, saving them from travelling to the city or Fortitude Valley by tram or having to find a carpark for their car to carry out their shopping. The centre had three levels of shops and carpark. Over time, the centre became run down and was finally closed in 2014, then demolished in 2015. It was replaced by the modern Coorparoo Square Development consisting of apartments, restaurants, retail, and a cinema.

At that stage, Myer had a large shopping centre in the western Darling Downs country city of Toowoomba on the drawing board, and it eventually opened in 1962. The successful centre went on to have further major expansions in 1996, 1999 and 2017.Also in 1960, a drive-in shopping centre named the Big Top Centre opened at Logan Road Mount Gravatt, the first of 4 drive-in centres to open in the Logan Rd Mt Gravatt areas in the years following. The fourth and largest being the first stage of Garden City Centre to open in 1970.

Around this time, the lifestyle of Queenslanders was changing forever, with the introduction of black and white television into their homes and the new craze of 10-pin bowling alleys from America arriving in Brisbane. The bowling alleys were and still are a source of fitout work for shopfitting companies and associated trades throughout the State. Chipboard/particle board was introduced to the shopfitting industry in 1960 and soon made a difference to the way items were set out, cut out and assembled, proving a game changer for the manufacturing processes. This enabled speedier and simpler production of all cupboards, counters etc with the introduction of beam saws, table saws and break down saws. Unfortunately, the bonding of worktops etc. was still a slow process with the use of casein glue, until years later when the use of contact adhesive with spreaders was introduced. Sprayable contact adhesive was still a fair way down the track.

Another addition to the way shopfitters operated in the early 1960s was the introduction of aluminium shopfront sections and aluminium partitioning suites. To become proficient in the use of these products, the shopfitters had to purchase machines to cut and drill the new materials. It didn’t take long for many shopfitters to add shopfront and partitioning works to their offerings, which many have retained until today. Specialised partitioning companies developed over the following years.

In 1960, a shopfitting company commenced trading on the Gold Coast, one that was to trade until 2001 and which along the way became an institution for local shopfitters seeking employment for the work they carried out. Harold Lowe was 21 years old when he started his company, he had carried out his apprenticeship training with Chicks Joinery at Surfers Paradise. The first Lowes Joinery factory built by Harold was at George St Surfers Paradise and as the business grew, a larger factory was established at Green Glen Rd Ashmore in 1979. After further growth he then built a ‘state of the art’ factory at Supply Court in Arundel, opening in 1989.

Many of the current shopfitting companies on the Gold Coast have owners who are proud to say they carried out their apprenticeship at ‘Lowes’. The successful business had approximately 50 employees at one stage, including seven estimators, an accountant, project managers, factory staff, and installers carrying out fitouts for many national brands throughout Australia and New Zealand.

Some of the Lowes Joinery many and varied clients were Strandbags Group, salons for Stefan across the country, Angus & Coote, Wallace Bishops, Hardy Brothers, Tom Browns Menswear Stores, Rothwells Menswear Stores, Katies, Arpel, Handbags International, Mathers, and Ken Done stores. The company’s last project was the Canberra Museum and Art gallery in the ACT. Harold’s legacy lives on with those who worked with him and were exposed to his special skills and knowledge of the shopfitting industry, knowing there will never be another like him.

Outside of his business, Harold competed in off-shore power boat racing, building some of his own boats such as ‘Lowes Ego’ and completed the Pacific 1000 from Cairns to Brisbane on more than one occasion. Between 1985 and 1995, Harold and crew were Australian Champions (class 2) seven times. He also loved driving and participated in the Porsche Targa in Tasmania and in his downtime was a prolific photographer.

Another character who was to open his factory business in 1960 was Robert Dunlop OAM. He was apprenticed at the age of 13 to Charles Kuffer, (a cabinetmaker from Switzerland) to a 5-year indenture at his Chester St Fortitude Valley factory. Apparently, he was a hard taskmaster but a young Robert was determined to learn some of his master’s varied skills. He stayed on for a further five years after the completion of his apprenticeship, before he had to go to war in New Guinea.

After the war, he worked for Kuffer for a few years before deciding to commence his own business for a time, from his home.
When commencing at his factory at Hayward St Stafford, he would carry out fitout works in retail/cafes and special furniture orders. As well as learning his cabinetmaking/shopfitting skills, he also learned woodcarving and fine timber skills, something he became renowned for worldwide. Robert carried on with a mixed order book into the 1980s with a crossover workload to pay the wages and he would take commission pieces to satisfy his master craftsman skills. In conjunction with a Danish designer, they produced a line of furniture from his Stafford factory, which sold into Denmark and the Middle East for many years. He made furniture for the High Court of Australia and a large amount of joinery for Australia’s new Parliament House in Canberra, including the Prime Minister’s suite as well as in other parliament houses around the world.

One commission he was particularly proud of was the Speaker’s Chair for the Isle of Mann Parliament.
As Robert’s factory was around the corner from mine, he would make some items for my business and we would help him out with things he didn’t want to get involved with. I always knew if I went around to his factory to discuss a small project I would be there for an hour or more, as he always had so many stories to tell. I knew also that I could drool over some special piece he was currently putting his heart and soul into, lying amongst the specialty timbers around the factory.  He continued working daily into his 80s, and his skills and knowledge were lost on his sad passing in 2014.

In 1966, another long-standing family shopfitting business, Kro Panels, was established in support of the parent company Krogh Constructions, situated at 17 Mackley Street Garbutt Townsville, in which Colin Krogh – as a builder – was the sole owner and sole director. Krogh Constructions was one of the largest privately-owned building companies in rural Queensland with a staff of around 100. At that time Kro Panels was involved in providing panels for demountable buildings to the mining community. However, the business soon also turned its hand to cabinetmaking to provide joinery to the building projects Krogh Constructions was involved in. Kro Panels then expanded its clientele and it was then decided that the business would move to a new site at 27 Mackley Street Garbutt.

It was in 1971 that Graham Jackson joined the Kro Panels team as a qualified cabinetmaker. Graham moved through the ranks to become a leading hand in the company. It was decided in 1982 that Krogh Constructions would close, as competition in this industry became harder due to the increasing number of southern entities entering the northern market, and Colin wanting to pursue other business interests. This would have meant that any business under the construction umbrella would also close. It was then that Graham approached Colin to keep the cabinetmaking division going. In doing so, Graham became a partner in Kro Panels, with Colin now becoming a silent partner.

Graham grew the company into a shopfitting business, taking over the internal fitout side of the business that Krogh Constructions had previously provided. The business was also granted its own builder’s licence at this time, with Colin being the nominee. Clients such as all the major financial institutions ANZ, NAB, Westpac and CBA were coming to Kro Panels for their fitout needs throughout North Queensland. Also, minor financial institutions such as Mt Isa Mines Credit Union (turning into Qld Country Credit Union which is now Qld Country Bank) were now also becoming clients of Kro Panels. Other projects during Graham’s tenure included exhibitory works at Longreach Stockman Hall of Fame, Richmond Air Show 88, Australian Pavilion Expo 88, Ford Pavilion Expo 88, Birch Carroll Coyle (Townsville, Darwin and Toombul Brisbane) and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Aquarium in Townsville.

Kro Panels provided major joinery works for hotel groups such as Sheraton Casino Townsville and RSL. The Education, Health & Defence Government sectors were also major clients. Fitouts for many clients in shopping centres was a major part of the company’s operation. During these periods Kro Panels consistently had 30 employees, ranging from labourers, apprentices, and trades people with various duties. All the apprentices participated in learning the skills of cabinetmaking, polishing, partitions, ceilings etc, which is knowledge that a shopfitter should obtain. During this time Graham had KroPanels become a member of ASOFIA and was involved with the Association as the North Queensland representative.

Paul Krogh (Colin’s son) became an apprentice in 1984, and Chris Jackson (Graham’s son) became an apprentice in 1986. Paul finished his apprenticeship and relocated to Brisbane in 1987. Chris remained in the company structure working his way to being a tradesman, then onto a site supervisor. Paul was approached by Kro Panels in 1994 to relocate back to Townsville and take up a position as an estimator, which he accepted. Paul tendered on a project in Cairns which was the refurbishment of a 10-storey hotel. Kro Panels won the tender in which Paul then moved to Cairns to become the site manager during the construction period. While there, other works were successfully won and completed as the major project progressed and finally finished. Chris remained in Townsville as one of the site supervisors.

In 1999 Graham decided to retire and this would mean the business would cease to operate. Paul and Chris decided to purchase the business from their fathers, with Paul becoming the nominee for licence purposes, and within three years they had also purchased the office and workshop buildings. Paul also took up the role of the NQ representative for ASOFIA until 2004.
From 1999 until 2009 the business operated in a similar fashion from the previous years, providing fitouts for national clients such as Pizza Capers (prior to being part of RFG) and Optus. This took the build sites to other areas such as ACT, Victoria, NSW and NT. Clients such as Cowboys Leagues Club & many other hotel groups kept a large amount of works local as well.
The GFC did not really affect the business too much, but Paul and Chris decided to take a different direction to accompany the type of works they were already involved with. This included providing Cat 1 works for shopping centres such as Stockland, Dexus and SCA (in North Queensland). This also incorporated general maintenance for the centres.

Due to personal reasons, Chris decided to leave the business in 2020 and Paul became the sole owner and director of the company. This arrangement still stands today, with the business providing the same scope of works which started in 1966. Kro Panels is a longstanding member of IFA, Queensland Master Builders Association and Townsville Chamber of Commerce.
Another long-standing Brisbane Shopfitting Company was Burke and Lewis. It seems that Noel Lewis and Graham Burke met as workmates whilst at Christie & Walker Shopfitters (it is unclear if they carried out their apprenticeships there) and then at Robb & Brown Shopfitters after the merge, around 1962. They started soon after and their first factory was in one of the Igloo sheds built by the Americans during the WWII in the inner suburbs of Brisbane, they had an old FJ ute and not much more. As the business grew, they applied for and received a State Government loan with which to purchase a building on Fison Ave Eagle Farm, which they moved into in the early 1970s. Apparently over the years Noel was heard to say many times it wouldn’t be possible to start a business these days with nothing. They carried out fitouts in their early days for a young Stefan Ackerie as he commenced on his journey of opening over 100 hair salons, but they had to forgo his works as Stefans’ fitouts became too numerous for them to handle. They carried out university joinery works, barristers’ office fitouts (mainly in solid timber and veneer construction and some Government office works). They also carried out retail works including some Coles stores and numerous other types of outlets.

They had apprentices, one being Richard Holloway, who had started out as a labourer and went on to become a mature age apprentice in 1972. Richard says they believed in owning everything and didn’t lease anything and he believes that came from the era when they had started trading. Richard says they were kind to him as he had lost both his parents early and he considered the ethics and standards of integrity they had in business and private lives helped him in life and will always respect and think kindly of them. Years later, Richard left Burke & Lewis to work for Duncan’s Building Supplies and later CSR, and talks about dealing with Stan Lewis and Alex Hartley, some of the Icons of our industry. As well as dealing with them in their businesses they were also on the Queensland Division of ASOFIA Executive together. Richard himself was rewarded as an Icon of our industry in November 2016.

Unfortunately, in 1962 Australia decided to become involved in the Vietnam War, so once again the federal government called upon the youth of the country in 1965 and reintroduced 2-year National Service for 19-year-olds in a ballot system. If you had completed your apprenticeship you had to register your name and then hear if you had been called up in the monthly ballot – many who did so carried out 6 months initial training and they were shipped off to Vietnam where, unfortunately, many lost their lives or were severely injured. After the 2-year National Service period many went back to their trades.

Around this time, designers were starting out in the industry, after completing newly introduced courses and then offering their talents to the shopfitting trades. This was a new way of doing business, instead of the shopfitter having to knock on an architect’s door and tender for a project, which the architect then project managed. Some shopfitters interviewed the designers as they were completing college and took them on as staff who, in most cases, became the link with the customer.
Decimal currency was introduced to Australia in 1966 but it was decided that Australia would not go metric until 1974. At that time the average weekly wage was $43.05.
There were plenty of housing projects commencing but the banks were not being helpful with loans, leading to Building Societies coming to the fore. The fitouts of the Building Societies generated good workloads for shopfitters throughout the state, which was ongoing until the credit crunch of the mid-1970s. As there was growth in the communities, new stand-alone bank branches were being opened, creating work for the industry.

The new King George Square branch of the Commonwealth Bank, designed by Conrad, Gargett & Partners Architects was completed in 1966, having been built by Concrete Constructions. Supposedly at the time, the building had the largest banking chamber of any bank in Australia. The large total meterage of counters, all marble clad, was constructed and installed by J A Hartley Shopfitters of Brisbane.

In 1967, a new suburban shopping centre was opened at Toombul, once again being built by Westfield. It was named Toombul Shoppingtown and was the first shopping centre built in Brisbane with air-conditioning. It opened with two department stores, a Coles supermarket and 60 specialty stores (one being Brisbane’s first Darrell Lea store). It was typical of the Westfield Centres built then and later by having a fountain feature in a predominant location of the main mall. It had many extensions and remodels over the years, with new replacement department store traders and re-branding. It had the first 8-screen multiplex cinema in a Brisbane shopping centre, which was a major drawcard until Chermside Shopping Centre upstaged Toombul with a modern 16-screen multiplex cinema complex in 1999, that point alone causing a shortfall in foot traffic to the centre.
Toombul seemed to trade quite well until the nearby Chermside Centre had further major upgrades, which was a huge drawcard.

Toombul Shoppingtown suffered from the start, with its location on a flood plain, and to make it worse a creek flowing alongside always flooded the lower carpark during any larger than normal storm. This also created a problem in enticing new retailers as well as customers. The centre suffered from many floods and finally its location was to be its demise with the 2022 February Brisbane flood – with three days of torrential rain – causing irreparable damage to the whole complex. Current owners of the site, Mirvac, are working on a plan for the future of the closed site.

In the 1960s most shopfitters of the time in Brisbane would deliver their product to a French polisher for final finishing and at that stage would only go so far as shellac for their in-house finishes. In Brisbane, there was a large company set up in Fortitude Valley that would turn over large amounts of the local shopfitters’ finishing works. The company was Ellaways French Polishing, made up of two brothers, Stan and Fred Ellaway. They traded for many years until shopfitters became more adventurous and started doing their own polishing and painting and, in time, installing paint booths. Ellaways finally left the industry and opened Ellaways Music Stores in Brisbane’s northern suburbs. A French polisher by trade, the well-known John Mortimer had completed his training in the 1960s, and later joined Wattyl and Colourite. With his knowledge, he was responsible for helping guide many shopfitting companies in the setting up of their in-house polishing and painting processes and helped sort out problems with finishes, until his retirement in 2006.

The late 1960s saw the start of the fashionable trend of female boutiques, which sold the first wave of the Carnaby Street Pop culture clothing craze coming from the UK. In Brisbane City, the first large stores for this market were Splendiferous and Brazila with expensive young trendy fitouts and, of course, the loud music of the new super bands from overseas. There was also

Mimi’s fashion accessories basement store, complete with a café, a major drawcard at the time.
These stores were trendy and were using new clothing systems and fitouts, forcing the shopfitters to keep up to date with the latest materials and finishes.In 1969, Woolworths developed the first large modern drive-in shopping centre on the Gold Coast, named Sundale, adjacent to the Nerang River at Southport on a 12-acre site. The 3-level centre opened with Queensland’s first Big W department store, a Woolworths supermarket, 45 specialty stores, a cinema and 7,500 carparks. The centre was fitted out by Brisbane shopfitters and Gold Coast shopfitting companies of the time. The centre was popular with the locals as well as tourists, straight off the beach in bikinis, as the centre would provide entertainment by visiting singers/bands/celebrities and fashion parades and a large slot car track area as drawcards. The centre traded well until opposition from firstly the development of the inviting Pacific Fair in 1977 with a larger number of retail outlets and then the close by Scarborough Fair in 1983. It ceased trading in 1990, was used for markets for a time and the empty building was demolished in 2003. In January 1969 the Conciliation Arbitration Federal Commission awarded shopfitters working on shopfronts an extra $7.40 per week.

As a new decade came around, society was trying to reduce its memories of WWII and, with the post war economic boom having an impact on daily lives, thoughts of a bright future were everywhere.

Petrol and food rationing, which started during the War, finally ended. The basic wage was 8 pounds 6 shillings for men, with the female rate set at 75% of that. There was a serious shortage of building materials but with 170,000 refugees from war-torn Europe, on top of an ongoing migration rate of 70,000 a year, there was plenty of available labour, causing the federal government to greatly assist with projects. They also halved the training time for apprenticeships, making the available labour certified more quickly.
At this time, the great Australian ‘Wool Boom’ was beginning, so the people in country towns and surrounding properties, at last, looked forward to better income, something which was to last for decades. Around this time, advertisements by shopfitters appeared in the major provincial town newspapers.

Unfortunately, in the mid-1950s, with the start of the Korean War, Australian troops were once again called upon to assist our allies. At this time, all males reaching the age of 19 years were required to undertake compulsory national service; for some this would have happened just as they were finishing their apprenticeships.
After the war, the American influence remained, with shops introducing new consumer products for the home such as steam and dry irons, refrigerators (instead of ice chests), and washing machines.

At the same time, new Italian cafes introduced espresso machines and delicatessen stores to the market.
Greek families were still opening cafes and restaurants throughout the city and Fortitude Valley which, at that stage, was an upmarket shopping hub, as well as country towns throughout the state. The Greek families were also opening picture theatres, fish cafes, inner-city coffee lounges and upmarket restaurants, and they dominated the fish markets until the late 1970s.
Christie & Walker Shopfitters kept receiving a mention in fitout works in the city, and probably a lot of country towns too.

By 1955, the inner city was once again thriving, and many large projects were under way. The renowned Piccadilly Arcade was one such project built at this time. From Queen St to Adelaide St, it housed a range of tenants across its three levels. It was promoted as having a tram stop at each entrance and the arcade’s air-conditioning was worth a key mention, as many of the other well-known arcades did not offer air-conditioning at that time. It traded until 1987 and in that time many well-known Brisbane café/restaurant owners opened their first stores within, as well as many modern fashion boutiques, with it being a source of ongoing projects for shopfitters. There was Peter Hackworth’s Primitif Café and later Prim 2, Brisbane’s first beatnik hotspot.

Peter went on to open many funky cafes, such as The Great American Disaster, then restaurants Scaramouche and Cats Tango to name a few and still has a hand in developing new and interesting projects for Brisbaneites such as Eat Street. His projects have always created interesting fitouts for local shopfitters.
In Queen St, the 1200 seat Majestic Theatre was demolished and rebuilt as the Odeon Theatre, which operated until 1981, when it was again demolished to make way for the Wintergarden Shopping Centre on the combined site.

Unfortunately, many projects were being held up by council health/plumbing departments and fire authorities, until all the approval steps were satisfied. There also continued to be strikes, which upset daily life and work in Brisbane.

In 1952, a young shopfitter – who had a few years earlier completed his apprenticeship – saw an opportunity to start his own business in Brisbane. This young man was Stan Lewis, who went on to become an Icon of the shopfitting industry. He carried out his apprenticeship at DK English Shopfitters at East Brisbane. His first venture, Brisbane Mirror and Joinery Works, where he employed 20 staff, was doing mainly glazing works for Bevlyn Industries. In 1957, Stan supplied and installed many shopfronts to the new Chermside Shopping Centre, which was the first modern ‘drive-in’ shopping centre in Australia. He liked to tell the story, that as it was a drive-in shopping centre and with the usual tight completion timelines on site, he used to work on his shopfront installs into the night under the headlights of his truck. He also supplied and installed shopfronts in the Brisbane Arcade.

Stan then went into a glazing and joinery business with a partner in New Guinea, which was to last four years. With the same partner – in 1972 – he commenced Quality Shopfitters at Strathpine. This eventually became Quality Industries, manufacturing shopfitting, joinery, aluminium windows and traded as glass merchants with a staff of 125. Next came True Image Mirrors in 1977 on the Gold Coast. After selling Quality Industries in 1980, the next venture he commenced with his partner was Budget Shopfitters, which later became known as BSF Group, also at Strathpine. This once again had a glass division known as Costless Glass.
Another business he formed in 1987 was Budget Boardworks, which cut and processed flat panels and post-forming of bench tops. In 1999, BSF Group purchased the shopfitting company Arkell and traded as BSF Arkell for a while.

Unfortunately, in 2013, 60 years of Stan’s extensive experience and devotion to the shopfitting industry was lost, when BSF ceased trading. Stan had Icon status awarded to him by ASOFIA in 2009. He had employed over 100 apprentices during his time in business, many of whom went on to establish their own companies. He was a great stalwart of the National Shopfitting Association (now IFA) and had been involved in the formation of the Shopfitting Training Curriculum and a great supporter of TAFE.

At the start of researching information for the History of Shopfitting in Queensland, I had been trying to arrange a meeting with Stan Lewis as we had become friends as members of ASOFIA over the years, and in having to fly around the country together to attend National Council meetings. We also both had an ongoing goal that apprentices should receive relevant training. Karen, Stan’s daughter, arranged a date to meet and discuss the history at the family home. Also at the meeting was Les Wilson who had commenced Les Wilson Detailed Cabinetmakers many years earlier and both had a world of knowledge about the industry. Les was unable to drive, so Mick McLoughlin (now the owner of Les’ former company) drove him to Stan’s to attend the discussion/lunch. Both Stan and Les reminisced about their days in the industry and were forthcoming with their knowledge of the history.

I received a sad call early the next morning from Karen letting me know that Stan had passed away suddenly during the night but had made the comment prior to bedtime that he had a ‘very happy day’ in that we had all met and been able to discuss the industry that he loved so much. Another long-lasting company servicing the shopfitting industry, which commenced trading in the early 1950’s was Bevlyn Industries. Their first factory was in Merivale Street, South Brisbane until they moved to larger premises at Wacol in 1967. They manufactured wire fittings as well as stripping and brackets. The business was taken over in about 1970 and became Bevlyn SES, as the new owners had a business known as Storage Equipment Systems. In 1980, they took on a Dexion sales engineer David Kemp, hiring him as Sales Manager for Bevlyn SES.

They took on a wide variety of work and included a customer base of retailers such as Myer, David Jones and McDonell and East, who all required top quality work. Bevlyn SES also had the cool-room storage range of ‘Marlboro’ shelving, a trade name they had purchased. They were also agents for Tegometal, a German based shelving system manufacturer. In 1988, Dexion purchased Bevlyn SES, and rebranded as Dexion Retail and retained David Kemp as General Manager.

A short time later, David Kemp left Dexion and with partner Sam Chotai, established a manufacturing company known as Brisbane Display and Shopfitting, with the knowledge that the shopfitting industry required ‘just in time’ production and supply methods. The company went on to be known as BDS, employing more than 100 staff and with branches in all States. They did powder-coating and chrome plating to all custom-made shopfittings made locally and were a large part of the Shopfitting sector for many years. With the decline in Australian manufacturing and pressure from cheaper, imported product, BDS ceased trading around 2020.

Another business to start at these times was Ingrams Joinery Works situated at Bundamba. They specialised in built-in furniture and church and school fittings. In the 1980s they moved into a factory at Beenleigh, where they became involved in the shopfitting sector and today are known as Ingrams Fine Joinery & Cabinetmaking, specialising in shopfitting and commercial joinery carrying out projects Australia wide and have now traded successfully for over 70 years.

There was a daily newspaper story on 22nd November 1954 about Robb & Brown Shopfitters’ holding company, Robbs Industries. The story was headed ‘No Dividend from Robbs’ and went on to say: “Robbs Industries, Builders and Shopfitters, will not pay a dividend for the year to September 30. Dividend for each of the two preceding years was 4%. Last May, directors forecast substantially reduced profits for the year.” This followed serious floods in the Lismore district, their head office location. Nothing seems to change, with many floods inundating the town before and since, and with Brisbane shopfitters having to refit many of the Lismore Central Shopping Centre stores after suffering three floods to the town in the three months following Christmas 2021.

The UBD Business Directories from the time includes some information on shopfitting businesses of the 1950s. They advertised as ‘Shopfitters’, not Cabinetmakers from Brisbane to Central Queensland and through the decade more companies seemed to evolve:
1950 Brisbane 14 companies
1950 Toowoomba 2 companies
1955 Maryborough I company
1955 Mackay 2 companies
1955 Ipswich 4 companies
1958 Maryborough 5 companies
1958 Toowoomba 4 companies
1958 Gympie 2 companies
1958 Murgon 1 company
1958 Dalby 1 company
1958 Bundaberg 4 companies
1958 Redcliffe 1 company
Brisbane approx. 20 companies

There were probably a couple of companies in both Townsville and Cairns at the time and as previously mentioned there were shopfitting and cabinetmaking companies who advertised independently that they also carried out shopfitting works. So, a conservative estimate of companies carrying out shopfitting work in Queensland in 1959 would be 75.
Architect firms of the time who would tender out projects to the shopfitters were:
Conrad Gargett
Robin Gibson
Curro Nutter Charlton
Powell Dods and Thorpe
Peddle Thorp

In 1956, DH Gibson opened a Brisbane office of U-Rect-It (URI) supplying shopfitters with their own developed stripping and bracket fittings and steel shelving systems. They were able to offer to shopfitters, having their own company name stamped on brackets, a great marketing sales ploy at the time. In about 2004, the stand-alone URI outlet, held a large part of the market until 2004 when they were merged back into the DH Gibson fold.

Probably the biggest new thing to hit the shopfitting industry in Brisbane and possibly Australia at the time was the construction of the Allan & Stark Drive-in Shopping Centre at Chermside, the first in Australia. It was designed to suit the 100,000 people living within 4.8 km of the 28-acre swampy site that was subject to flooding.

A revolutionary idea for its time, it was described as ‘an island of retailing in a lake of parking’. Allan & Stark was an established Brisbane City Department Store (est. 1885) and after the War the owners could see that people wanted to drive to town to do their shopping. However, parking was a problem in Brisbane City, hence the idea that everyone could drive into the centre or catch a tram or bus, whichever suited.

The opening day on May 30, 1957, changed retailing in Australia, with 15,000 shoppers arriving to shop at the new centre. There were 700 car parks and the air-conditioned centre had the Allan & Stark Department Store, Brisbane Cash and Carry Supermarket and 25 specialty shops in an arcade and mall.

There were not that many shopfitting companies in Brisbane at the time, so it would have been a busy time for them all. The land was subject to flooding, and the centre suffered three major floods in 1985, 1994 and 1997, which eventually was overcome with upgrades to the centre and by the local council as they upgraded nearby creeks and drainage. Allan & Stark sold out to Myer in September 1959 and, in December 1996, Westfield purchased the centre from Myer. In 1966, Woolworths had purchased the 32 Brisbane Cash and Carry Stores throughout Queensland to give them entry to grocery stores and opened their large Woolworths grocery outlet at the centre. Unfortunately for Woolworths, their Chermside store was totally destroyed by fire in 1972, the first of three major fires to the complex that followed in 1978, 1993, and 2006.

The centre has had six major expansions in 1966-67, 1974-78, 1985-87, 1998-2000, 2005-2006. The last major upgrade/expansion was completed in 2017, opening as ‘The New Westfield Chermside’, which included a handful of international brand stores. After the constant expansions, the centre now has an offering of 515 stores over 38 acres. It’s the second largest regional shopping centre in Australia by number of stores behind Chadstone Shopping Centre and is said to be Australia’s second busiest Westfield Shopping Centre. With adjoining facilities, the centre is now a community hub for North Brisbane and has created ongoing prosperity for our industry since its 1957 opening day, as well as introducing our industry to all the latest trends, materials and methods of construction necessary with each quality upgrade.

In 1959, a young 21-year-old Alec Hartley commenced JA Hartley Shopfitters at 161 Knapp St Fortitude Valley. He had completed his 5-year apprenticeship at Penny’s (a department store in Brisbane with its own workshop). Coles bought out Penny’s chain of stores during his apprenticeship.

Alec soon made a good name for his business by providing quality workmanship for the architects involved in shopfitting at the time. This gave him a varied client base that put him in good stead for the future as he grew both the name and the business. In the early days, he carried out café/restaurant/clothing stores, bank works and many fitout projects at the old ‘igloo’ Brisbane Domestic Airport terminal. By the time he moved on from his first factory to the larger 51 Longland St Fortitude Valley premises in 1967, he had created his own design department as well as a paint shop and metalwork section. This was good timing as there were large shopping centres being proposed throughout Queensland and the Northern Territory.

At the opening of Toombul Shoppingtown in 1967, Hartley’s fitted out six stores. At the opening of Indooroopilly Shoppingtown in 1970 Hartley’s fitted out 12 stores. In 1970, they fitted out Brisbane’s first Beer Hall in Queen St City named Peppers, which was fitted out in authentic timber claddings, fittings, tables and chairs and a working entry drawbridge. As well as the new shopping centre works, Alec was fitting out high end menswear and female clothing stores, jewellery stores, pharmacies and newsagencies in Brisbane and throughout the state.
In 1973, Hartley’s fitted out approximately 10 stores at the new Casuarina Shopping Centre in Darwin, only for it to be totally devastated by Cyclone Tracy on Christmas eve 1974. They also carried out pharmacy works at Gove, all of which had to be transported by ship from Brisbane. They also completed bedroom joinery works to a new muti-storey building on Hayman Island, which had to be shipped from Mackay.

In 1977 Hartley’s were involved in the fitting out to many stores at the new Pacific Fair Shopping Centre on the Gold Coast, where most stores were in outdoor locations at that stage. Many more stores were fitted out in the following years, with all the various extensions to the centre.
In 1987, Hartley’s finally moved to a building that they owned, at 154 Arthur St Fortitude Valley where they remained until approximately 2006. It was here that they suffered a large factory fire, however they were able to overcome this hurdle and remain trading at this address.

In 1988, Hartley’s fitted out concession stores at the new Brisbane Domestic Airport building and won an award for the development and use of Corian product heat bent on counters and bulkheads.
In 1989, Hartley Shopfitters designed and fitted out the first Coffee Club outlet, at the Eagle St Pier Brisbane. The association with Coffee Club lasted many years as the group expanded from Queensland across Australia then to 14 countries.

At this time Alec was also constructing Irish Bars in full and exporting them to Japan where they would be fully assembled. In 2006, Hartley’s made their final factory move to a new building at 250 Abbotsford Rd Bowen Hills. Alec Hartley believed in employing and training apprentices; although a hard taskmaster he produced many quality apprentices over the years, some of whom have gone on to produce their own successful businesses (yours truly being one of them). In 2011, ASOFIA bestowed on Alec Hartley an Icon of the Industry Award, in recognition of outstanding service to the Shopfitting Industry. Alec Hartley retired soon after having been in the industry for over 60 years.

In 1938, as Queensland remained in the grip of world-wide depression, the Queensland government had to continue to generate employment by creating projects for the community. At that time, it was large projects like the new Story Bridge and the Somerset Dam, with the Brisbane City Council soaking up 50% of relief work.
The drums of war were becoming louder in Europe, leading to a sense of unease in the Brisbane population of 335,000 at that time.
Limited workloads were continuing for shopfitters, with a few new stores being fitted out in the city and Fortitude Valley, and advertisements appeared in the local papers noting the shopfitter who was involved with the contract.

A state directory of the day shows that there were 16 shopfitters in Brisbane at that time (obviously there were others not in the directory), and three in country towns (although more than three were featured in advertisements of the time). There were 19 cabinetmakers in Brisbane and 57 in regional towns, with 21 joiners in Brisbane and 19 in the country towns, with the majority having capabilities to carry out shopfitting requirements. Unfortunately, one of these shopfitting companies, Eldridge and Williams, situated at the corner of Hope and Peel streets, South Brisbane, had their factory totally destroyed by fire on the morning of 17th May 1938. No doubt, all these tradespeople were learning how to use a new product on the market known as ‘Laminex’. It was a life- changer for the finishing of benchtops to counters, cupboards, tables etc. At the time, the cutting, gluing and holding down with clamps of the Laminex as the glue dried overnight, then the trimming by hand in preparation of either an aluminium or stainless-steel edging, was very labour intensive.

Another item of significance for the time for our industry, was the introduction of the ‘fluorescent light’. This new, wonderful method of lighting fitouts of all sorts, would give a far better presentation of a store, as well as the products on display.

As the economy was slowing down with the fear of war, an entrepreneur took a gamble and opened another drawcard, Milk Bar, this time in Wickham St Fortitude Valley. Mr Ken Meekin, with overseas experience and success in California and Sydney, was now going to enhance his reputation by opening ‘The Brown Derby’ Milk Bar, along similar lines to his previous store in Queen St. The fitout was carried out by Taylor Christie Walker Shopfitters of Newstead (later to be known as Christie & Walker).

On the 3rd September 1939, Prime Minister Menzies gave a national broadcast to the Australian population announcing that Australia was at war with Germany, and this, of course, continued until the cease fire in August 1945. On the same day as Menzies’ announcement, the shopfitters had completed the fitout for the opening of the Wallace Bishop Arcade in King George Square. This iconic jewellery store and arcade was a meeting place for generations of Brisbanites.

Not long after, on the 26th October, a special café and ballroom named Princes, was opened in Queen St. The fitout was carried out by E J Grigg & Son Pty Ltd, a shopfitting company that was established in Brisbane in 1889.
Despite the announcement of war, a large landmark project was completed and opened in 1940 at Bowen Hills near Fortitude Valley. It was named Luna Park Ballroom, which soon after became Cloudland Ballroom, as the supposed mimic of Sydney and Melbourne’s Luna Parks didn’t quite work out. With a beautiful fitout for its time, the building went on to have an illustrious role in Brisbane’s social history until 1982.

In the early 1940s, it seems that cafes, restaurants, and night clubs in the city thrived during the war years. This created jobs for newcomers after having suffered devastating losses during the Great Depression, and would have filtered down and included many members of our industry. Such works would have been a little more productive and welcome, as they were also making and having to fit thousands of blackout timber security shutters, required to be fitted to thousands of shopfronts.
An interesting newspaper article on 23rd Sept 1943 headed ‘Shop Fronts Ruling’ read as follows:

“The Manpower Deputy Director (Mr F E Walsh) said yesterday that labour would not be made available for restoring shopfronts to their pre-war condition. Following the modification of ‘blackout’ restrictions, representations had been made by building and shopfitting firms for permission to carry out this work, he said. The matter had been discussed at the recent Melbourne conference of Manpower Deputy Directors, which had unanimously decided that no labour should be supplied for the work.”
One of the well-known shopfitting companies at the time, D K English, with their factory (and adjacent home) based at East Brisbane, succumbed to fire, a common occurence in those days. The fire was caused when the shopfitter, Mr English, was melting down resin with a candle, which rolled off a shelf into the back of his truck. The flame made contact with the petrol tank, of which he had previously taken the cap off to check the petrol. His home suffered major damage, however, the adjoining factory was saved.

In 1940 an old well-established family building company, E Chapman & Sons, which had started in 1869 in Brisbane, decided to separate their building and joinery businesses. Both operations continued to remain successful and, in 2005, the joinery section became an independent business from Chapman Builders Pty Ltd. The joinery business now trades as Chapman Joiners and is a well-respected cabinetry and joinery business which produces bespoke joinery solutions for residential and commercial building projects and on heritage joinery projects.
In 1940, Australia declared war on Italy. Thousands of families were interned until the end of WWII, particularly in Queensland, especially in the north, where they relied heavily on their hard-working labour.

Once America was forced into WWII, President Eisenhower decided to fight the war in the Pacific from a base in Australia. Brisbane became the headquarters, with up to 150,000 American servicemen arriving in 1941. Over the war period, up to 1.5 million U.S. servicemen were stationed in Brisbane at various camps on the Northside, Southside, Sunshine Coast and on the Moreton Bay Islands and some country towns.

To support all the servicemen during their out-of-hours recreation, many new cafes, bars, restaurants, and dance halls were opened, naturally fitted out by our trade. As a result, the city thrived with all the extra patronage and requirements (African-American troops were forbidden to cross the river into the city to attend exclusively white troops’ clubs). Even in these dangerous times, stars were brought into the country from overseas to perform for the troops. The American servicemen were on much higher wages than the locals, and had access to more luxuries. They also flaunted a carefree and flamboyant type of entertainment, including Jazz and Jitterbug, making it hard for the Aussie servicemen to compete. The basic wage at the time for Australians was around four pounds per week, with the American soldiers reported to be receiving three times this amount.

Over a couple of weeks of serious build-up, friction built between the American and Aussie soldiers, including a gun battle leaving two dead, in Townsville. On the night of 26 November 1942, an all-out riot ensued between the two groups in the Brisbane city centre, with a total of 5,000 involved in the night long fighting. This also led to one death and many serious injuries, and became known as the ‘Battle of Brisbane’. The overwhelming presence of service personnel made Brisbane a city at war. Uniforms were everywhere and residents lived their daily lives among them and the tangible evidence of “Fortress Brisbane”. For shopfitters of the time, the incident created work repairing shopfronts and damaged interiors, and there are photos of the shopfitters called in to repair the damage along Adelaide St after the battle.

Townsville, also with a large contingent of servicemen, was bombed three times by the Japanese in air raids. With the fear of invasion from the Japanese, a plan was developed to form the ‘Brisbane Line’, whereby the northern portion of Queensland above the Brisbane Line could be conceded. Due to this, a mass evacuation was undertaken, and women and children were moved South.

The 1942 state directory shows the first mention of Robb & Brown Qld Pty Ltd, with an address at 324 Queen St Brisbane. Robb & Brown went on to become probably the largest shopfitting company in Queensland for about 3 decades. They traded until 1974 at various locations, until finally having a large factory at Kangaroo Point adjacent to Evans Deakin ship building yards.
In 1953, their head company, Robbs Industries Ltd, based in Lismore, acquired the glass business formerly carried on by Taubmans (Qld) Pty Ltd in Brisbane. This factory gave them space for their building company, R & B Constructions, as well as the glazing division. At that stage, they had the shopfitting division, the glass division, joinery, fitouts to boats and ships, and Brandons Hardware. In the late 1950s to early 1960s, they purchased the well-known shopfitting company, Christie & Walker. They had a good name in shopfitting throughout the state and were quite involved also in office fitouts. It’s believed that the 1974 flood of the Brisbane River decimated their shopfitting factory and, in fact, the large tanker, the Robert Miller, that famously tore loose in the 1974 Brisbane floods and had authorities on a knife edge, was the last ship they fitted out. The business was soon after purchased by Dear & Flannagan, another shopfitting company in Brisbane, and moved to Albion premises for a time. In the years following, many of the shopfitters who had undertaken their apprenticeships with Robb & Brown or Christie & Walker started their own shopfitting companies.

The end of World War II for Australia was declared on the 15th August 1945. There was an expectation that once the troops were home, prosperity would return, but unfortunately, due to the Depression years and the war effort, there was an immediate shortage of materials and, more so, a large problem with a chronic housing shortage. This was so bad, that families had to live in makeshift housing camps, and even in tents. This lasted into 1950 even though the state government had imported prefabricated houses from France, Sweden, Holland and Italy.
A newspaper article from March 1947 recalls that, because of the shortage of timber coming from northern Queensland, there were delays in getting the materials needed for the manufacturing industries, for such items as ply/3ply, which also meant that up to 70,000 men could be stood down from their jobs.

It seems that the federal government at the time, after the end of the World War II, was proactive in many ways to help with gaining employment for returning servicemen, to help businesses, and at the same time the economy. They created the Commonwealth Employment Service which brought about many advertisements for engineers, architects, carpenters, electricians, cabinetmakers (at 12 pounds a week, if prepared to travel), and many other trades. The job descriptions requested previous experience and to note war service.

A company that started small at Pomona on the Sunshine Coast in 1919, underwent expansion and mechanisation in 1945, and has since kept up with modern trends, is HW Page. The successful company which, to this day, remains under the same family ownership, credits the key to their success to diversification efforts beginning in the 1950s. Over the years, the company has completed million-dollar contracts throughout and outside of Australia and, at one stage, employed 75 staff. They have always carried out their own steel fabrication and powder coating, as well as traditional wood working and panel manufacturing and design, and believed in the employment of local labour, whilst always maintaining several apprentices. They cater for specialty work in areas such as health, education for state and federal government departments, as well as resort hotels, law courts, casinos and recreational clubs.
In April 1948, there was a report in the daily newspaper of a huge fire in a shopfitting factory at Brunswick St Fortitude Valley, that had drawn a crowd of two thousand people. It was the factory of J Ellis & Sons and, unfortunately, they suffered thousands of pounds worth of damage, and two firemen were injured and taken to hospital.

With all the hardship following the end of WWII, in 1948 it became harder for all, with an amount of union agitation in Brisbane and throughout Queensland. Because of the left wing and communist union leaders – which were legal at the time – the community had to suffer many strikes, the longest one lasting 61 days. In 1948, the first local mass-produced car, the Holden, was launched. However, with the cost at the time, it’s doubtful that most apprentices – compared to today’s – would have been driving around in the latest ute. The male basic wage in 1948 in Brisbane was 5 pounds 14 shillings. For females, it was 3 pounds 8 shillings. As expected, there did not seem to be many stories of new shop openings in daily newspapers during these times, but there were advertisements calling for staff at Leutchford Shopfitters and by E J Grigg & Son Shopfitters.

In 1949, to help kick-start the local economy, the Queensland Chamber of Manufacturers staged the first Queensland Industries Fair at the RNA Exhibition Grounds. The aim was to provide manufacturers with a showcase for their products, and the event attracted more than 250,000 people during the 19-day event. On display, was locally-made heavy machinery and all sorts of equipment, with demonstrations by apprentices and ex-service trainees punctuating the trade displays. Even at that time, there were some local success stories of local companies exporting interstate and overseas. The fair was so successful that it continued until 1968.

Perry Brothers was a large wholesaling hardware/ironmongery business, well established at 201-205 Queen St Brisbane (on the site of the current Wintergarden Centre), supplying materials and tools to all the local tradespeople of the time. Eventually their premises stretched from Queen St to Elizabeth St. However, even this store was to be outgrown in time, so they decided to construct a building to contain their offices and much larger storage of goods for their many customers. The building was on the corner of Elizabeth and Albert Streets and was named Perry House. The eventual building – when finally completed – was ten stories in height, the tallest in Brisbane at the time. The business grew to be a large wholesaling enterprise and at the same time they continued to trade from their original Queen St premises. The building remains and in 1996 the building underwent a major redevelopment to become The Royal Albert Hotel.

In 1927, there appear to have been 36 shopfitting companies and 143 cabinetmaking companies in Brisbane City and surrounding suburbs. Many cabinetmakers also advertised their ability to carry out shopfitting works. In regional towns the numbers varied from 3-14, dependant on the prosperity of the local economy at the time. However, Brisbane shopfitters were, in the main, supplying full store fitouts to most regional towns, a practice that continued well into the 1980s –1990s.

Brisbane Central Business District underwent almost two decades of rapid growth throughout the 1920s and 1930s, with numerous high-rise buildings and shops being built. Of note, was the completion of the Brisbane City Hall, after 11 years of construction and the magnificent Regent Theatre, which was completed in 1929 and capable of seating 2,600 people.
The AMP Society Building in Queen Street was demolished, and the current ten-storey building was constructed over four years. At the start of World War 2, however, the American Army, led by General MacArthur, occupied this building as their Pacific Headquarters, as they tried to protect the Brisbane Line from the invading Japanese. Hence, when a Shopping Centre was installed at this site in 2009-2010, it was renamed MacArthur Central Shopping centre. There was also the construction of the beautiful Brisbane Arcade, the original T&G building in Queen St and the Treasury Building additions.

At this stage, storm clouds were gathering on the horizon, after Wall Street stock markets in America collapsed and worldwide trade was thrown into chaos, this era became known as the ‘Great Depression’. Locally, wages for those lucky enough to keep their jobs, were on ‘short time’ while their wages dropped 10% and by 1932, 32% of the Australian population was unemployed, a situation that remained until after the end of the Second World War. Families were on coupons for ration relief.

To make the situation worse, the Federal government introduced Sales Tax in 1930, a curse to the shopfitting industry as the rate increased over the years, especially in the 1970s. As well as being ambiguous to charge out on products, it proved difficult to administer, and was finally thrown out when the GST system was introduced in July 2000.
An item of interest when researching the shopfitters of the time was the office of the Brisbane and District Joinery Association, which had an office in Adelaide St. It’s good to know the shopfitters of that time had support if they needed it. As they do today with the Interior Fitout Association.

A great story is of a retailer, by the name of James Burns, who opened his first successful retail store in Brisbane. He decided to extend his business to Townsville and open another store. A couple of years later, he formed a partnership with one of his employees and they co-founded Burns Philp and Company Limited. In time they went on to become one of Australia’s largest retail and shipping operations. Both were knighted and James Burns, among many things, was Premier of Queensland for two separate terms.
In 1931, they decided to build their own department store in Brisbane, an eight-storey building from Queen St through to Adelaide St, with access to Edward St. The plan was to expand their wholesale business by means of a chain of retail stores and, after opening Penney’s in Brisbane in 1936, they went on to open 25 Penneys stores in Queensland from Brisbane to Cairns and in northern New South Wales. Their motto ‘Penneys saves you pounds’, was used in all their media advertising. The chain was sold to EB Coles in 1956.

Advertisements by Brisbane Shopfitters and Glaziers proudly stated they’d been selected to work on the Brisbane City Penneys store and, probably hopefully, on some of their stores that followed. Low & Company Shopfitters advertised that they made and fitted the shopfronts in Penney’s new premises, and RS Exton advertised that they’d carried out all the glass and glazing works.

The fit-out to the Penneys store had inviting displays of goods on long counters served by one sales attendant with a cash register, or on gondolas in the aisles. This introduced the idea of self service. On the opening day of the Brisbane City store, there was a large newspaper story in The Brisbane Telegraph, advertising the store. It mentioned the special finishes to the stepped counters and to the escalator sides. “They were finished in an ‘opalescent cream tinted quilted maple veneer’. This is a choice variety of the Canadian Rock maple, one of the Empire’s most beautiful timbers skilfully used in a restrained modern style”. Their modus operandi was that there would not be home deliveries or special orders, nor was there any pressure to buy – temptation seemed enough.

In 1936 the Federal Government included paid annual leave in a Federal Award, which ultimately flowed down to State Awards. In 1937, The Pig ‘n Whistle came to town. Situated on Queen St, it was promoted to the Brisbane public as a ‘new experience’. It was easy to find because of the ultra-smart lettering, the Carrara marble facade, the stainless-steel ventilators, the shining and fascinating refrigeration plant, Queensland timbers of the utmost beauty and comfortable leather lounge chairs. The store made juices from crushed fruit in front of the customers, which was added to nourishing milk to make delightful refreshing drinks. As far as milk bars go, this was something new at the time, along with all the latest equipment and fittings. It was the first in Australia to be opened to a full page spread in a metropolitan newspaper and broadcast by a radio station. The store was fitted out by Blair Cunningham & Sons Shop and Office Fitters of South Brisbane.

Also at this stage, a hairdresser and tobacconist started business at 288 Queen St. The owner was Charles A Spurgin, who advertised his store as having the largest, most up-to-date fitout of any salon in Queensland. It was very popular, noted for its cleanliness, and was able to keep 40 chairs working, making it the largest hygienic salon in Australia.
On the opposite side of Queen St was the office of Williams Johns and Co., the proprietor at one stage owned 30 restaurants and cafés in the city and Fortitude Valley.
Around the corner was Rowes Café and Dining Rooms at 235 Edward St and, in the early 1920s, it was extended to seat 380 guests. In 1925, a ballroom was built internally to the building, over a lower garage. In 1958, the building was converted into a shopping arcade, which links Edward St to Queen St, Adelaide St and Post Office Square. In the early 1990s, the arcade was totally refurbished by local shopfitting company Dear & Flannagan.

During the 1920s and 1930s, there were many new Greek restaurants/cafés in Brisbane City and in the larger provincial towns. There were upwards of ten in some larger towns, as well as some of the current premises being upgraded to the latest trends and the installation of the latest beverage-making equipment coming out of Europe.

It was almost as though there was a challenge in the restaurant trade to see who could beat the opposition, with architectural masterpieces, new uniforms for staff, and the introduction of orchestras, etc. to entice new customers. One such new café was The Astoria, “The most luxurious and up to date café in Brisbane,” according to Brisbane’s Café Beautiful, with the opening described as “The Event of the Year”. Designed by architects Hennessy, Hennessy and Co, the owners took a courageous step during a time of financial depression, to create an artistic triumph with its ornate pillasters, textured walls with recessed arches, a recessed glass illuminated dome to the ceiling and a mezzanine for the orchestra. The Astoria catered for 250 diners.
Another extensive fitout at 217 Queen St was for Christies Café, in 1938. A well-known meeting place in the city that existed until 1976. It was known as the ‘Cloudland of Queen St’, with its beautiful art deco theme modelled on continental lines, with the ground floor having space for 48 and the top floor café 104 diners. The orchestra played on a raised dais decorated with glass and chromium grilles and artistically illuminated by concealed neon lights in green, a colour new to the neon process. The interior of the café on each floor was lined with Carrara glass to a height of 4ft, and the remainder of the walls were lightly textured and off-set by heavily stepped cornices and coloured textured ceilings.

A feature of Christie’s upstairs dining was an open-air balcony, which was covered by an awning and brightly-coloured blinds, giving an uninterrupted view of Queen St. The fitout at the time cost £20,000 and the architects paid tribute to the standard of Australian workmanship. A list of the contractors involved was part of the Courier Mail press coverage. Although it’s unclear who the shopfitting contractor was, Christie and Walker Shopfitters fitted out other quality Greek family cafés in the city at the time.

In 1938, less than two years after opening Penneys department store, the full second floor of their building was devoted to the fitout of a new departure in restaurant design in Brisbane. Embodying the most modern layout and appointments of European cafés/restaurants, the most spacious of any in the state. The design of the café followed that of a famous Chicago hotel.
The luxurious layout combined both the buffet and loges (now referred to as banquet or booth seating), a long way ahead of anything previously attempted in Australia. There were 400 seats in the loges, having leather upholstered cushions made up of two, four and six seater loges, all numbered so that a favourite loge may be reserved. There were two separate buffet areas provided for the service of hurried diners, like a bar, with seating for 100 diners at each buffet. “The chrome-backed seats were designed to be self-centred, swinging out and back into position at the centre”. There were advertisements by all the varying trades who provided their services in the major fitout, but all the shopfitting works were carried out in-house by Penneys staff as they had created their own shopfitting workshop with employees, in the basement of the store.

In 1938, City Joiners, based in Toowoomba, started out in business and, in the 1950s, they had 70 staff. At one stage, they traded as City Joiners Hodge. They still trade today, carrying out work all over Queensland, and have always had a name for producing a quality product. They have carried out million dollar fitouts and cater for specialty work in areas such as Health, Education, Government, RSL, Golf, Recreational Clubs, Resorts, Hotels, Law Courts etc. They have always fostered the employment of apprentices.

Also in 1938, under ‘Technical Trades’ in a daily newspaper, was an ad by the Polytechnic School of South Brisbane. It read ‘for Youth and Men’ and catered for 15 varying trades at their South Brisbane premises. The classes to be held in the day and at evenings in well-equipped workshops, which prepared the students for examinations under the Inspection of Machinery Act. It seemed that these trade courses could only have been preliminary trade skills, as a means of creating – eventually – further pools of tradespeople during the harsh economic conditions.
Once a week, in a daily newspaper, would be a page devoted to the latest finishing materials for homes, offices, etc. These consisted of wall and ceiling sheeting, tiles, carpets, timber and woodwork, but there was a permanent building exhibit in the basement of the AMP Building (now MacArthur Central Shopping Centre). Perhaps this was an early version of the home & building/design centres of today, with companies setting up their product in cubicles, as per current display methods.


In 1914, World War I was declared and 57,705 Queenslanders enlisted as part of the Australian Imperial Forces. Because of the war, local wages were forced to drop by 10% to assist with the war effort. During the 1910s, changes in café design occurred which produced the layout commonly seen between the 20s and 60s. These were the detailed shopfronts with a display window, a refrigerated milk bar with pastry and confectionery counter and a dining area, with the kitchen at the rear.

In 1912, the number of oyster saloons in the city had dropped to 17, as the changeover to Greek restaurants had begun. By 1920, there were 40 Greek cafés or restaurants in Brisbane/Fortitude Valley and by 1925 there were seventy outlets. Some were fitted out with the latest Wunderlich pressed-metal ceilings, ornate timber seating cubicles, Laminex tabletops, Craftex wall panels and some in art deco design, along with beautiful brass moulding glazed shopfronts. The cafés would open early and not close until 11pm, a precursor to the modern-day McDonalds. Families would go to the Greek restaurants prior to a night out at the cinema, or to a performance at one of the Majestic Theatres and then for a nightcap afterwards. There was further growth over the next 30 years throughout Brisbane and the provincial towns. A number of these cafés survived until late into the 1970s, as they remained popular destinations for couples or families.

In Queensland, Italian restaurants did not become popular until after the Second World War. There were fewer Italian families and they did not appear to have the organisational skills for a hospitality business or political support that the Greek families had prior to this. The Italians also suffered internment during the war years, especially in Queensland. In the early years, both the Greek and Italian communities provided some fine tradespeople to our industry.

Wunderlich was a company that opened a showroom in Brisbane in 1909, selling their popular pressed-metal ceiling panels, wall linings and metal framed showcases, especially to shopfitters.In a sales brochure at the time it said, “Write for our catalogue on modern shops or send us particulars of your requirements and our representative will plan with you, special fittings that will provide protection, improve the appearance of your goods, and increase sales”.

Ernest and Alfred Wunderlich had started business in Sydney in1893 and when their other brother Otto joined them from Europe, in 1908, they formed Wunderlich Ltd. At first, they imported their pressed-metal ceiling panels from Berlin but soon began making the ceiling panels and other shopfittings in Australia. They produced the pressed-metal panels until 1950s when they became unfashionable, however in 1983 production of the panels recommenced to meet the needs of restoration projects. Wunderlich later developed Durabestos wall sheeting and decorative interior panels, which were used by shopfitters and were manufactured at their suburban Gaythorne plant in Brisbane. They also developed and sold their aluminium shopfront/window glazing products to trade. They were eventually bought out in 1965 by Colonial Sugar Refining Co. (CSR), who were in turn bought out by James Hardie Industries.

Another well established and long-lasting company that supplied ply, veneers, timber, hardware, doors and later veneered particle board, which serviced the Fortitude Valley and the city shopfitting companies was Brown & Broad. Research shows that they commenced manufacturing at their Newstead base in 1908. They had a railway line crossing to busy lower Ann St/Breakfast Creek Road to their own railway siding well into the 1970s, much to the chagrin of traffic. Their former site is now part of the trendy apartments area opposite the Gasworks shopping precinct.

Only a couple of suburbs away in Windsor in 1912, a company that remains to this day was established: Bretts Timber and Hardware is a well-known South-East Queensland company that supplies our industry. To start with, it also had a railway siding, with timber supplied for the making of ply and other joinery products, as well as glass supplies.
Joining these elite long-standing companies, was G. James Glass in 1917, with the establishment of their original factories at The Valley and then West End. Joe Saragossi took over the helm of the company in 1958, following the death of George James, and the Saragossi family still owns and manages the successful company. In the 1970s they tried their hand at shopfitting but, from memory, this interlude did not last long.

At the end of WWI, as servicemen returned home to Australia the federal government offered those without work attendance to vocational colleges, in the hope that with some trade training it might assist them to attain employment. As they waited in the UK for transport back to Australia some were able to begin their training prior to leaving England.

In 1922, a Mr C Fraser commenced a modest small grocery store in Ann St, The Valley. This business quickly gained good patronage, so Mr Fraser conceived the idea of a self-service grocery store and in 1923 opened the original Cash and Carry store in Queen St The city. It was written at the time: “This store will be the largest and most modern self-service store in Queensland and will be fitted out in the most up to date manner. There will be a special provisions counter, where all smallgoods will be served direct from a special cooled glass room. There will be a special confectionery counter which will carry all the higher quality confectionery at the lowest possible prices. The grocery section will contain over 1000ft of display shelves, which will be stocked with quality food stuffs from all over the world.” This store opened just prior to a company in Sydney, so he was able to claim the first such system in Australia. In those days, most families still went into the city to carry out their weekly shopping.

The concept was immediately popular and grew throughout Queensland, ending up with 32 stores over the years and was one of the original anchor stores at Australia’s first shopping mall – Chermside drive-in shopping centre in 1957. Woolworths eventually purchased the 32 stores, giving them an entry into the grocery market locally.

As referred to previously, in those days, a lot of shopfitters tendered on work advertised by architects on behalf of their clients in the morning and afternoon newspapers. Some of those architectural companies are still around, having morphed into today’s well-known practices. In those days, some of the city architects also offered services such as valuing and engineering. One such architect was Lange Powell, who at that stage was in partnership with another architect named Chambers, and they traded as Chambers & Powell. Chambers was an extrovert and there is a caricature of him at a drawing board with the words “We design anything from a duck house to a skyscraper”.

Lange Powell was responsible for designing some of the well-known department stores, banks, hospitals, and retail stores in Brisbane – some that remain today. He liked to draw the retail joinery fit-outs and interiors and he was known to supervise the projects for his clients. He later joined with fellow architects Atkinson and Arnold Conrad, becoming Atkinson, Powell & Conrad. Over the years, this company morphed into the current Conrad & Gargett. In those early days, they designed stores for Woolworths and Coles; the first Woolworths was in Queen St The City in 1927. Lange Powell left this business and formed Powell Dods Thorp in 1938, which trades today as PTD Architects.

Just prior to 1920, a shopfitting company known as F H Leutchford began trading at 323 Wickham St Fortitude Valley and also had premises at 165 Edward St The City. This company was well-known across Queensland for their shopfitting prowess, especially their beautiful glass showcases with fine curved moulded brass corner glazing sections. There is a story in the Courier Mail of Friday 4th December 1936 that they had suffered a fire at their Fortitude Valley factory, but were soon up and running again, as there were ads chasing staff which appeared with regularity. They employed 60-70 staff and had their own metal shop, glass section, joinery, and paint/polish shop.

In 1939, F H Leutchford was named as the successful tenderer of large ‘extensive improvements’ to Cribb & Foote Ltd department store in Ipswich. Part of their contract was to supply and install the show window and shopfront works. The stepped shopfronts to Brisbane St. were 132 ft. long and 204 ft. long to the Bell St frontage, so quite a large contract. The company was purchased in 1977 by Silverwood and Beck and then traded as Silverwood & Beck Leutchford at Eagle Farm until closure in1985. With the demise of Silverwood & Beck Leutchford, John Cole, who was general manager at the time, along with Ron Cummins and other previous staff members, established Action Shopfitters at Eagle Farm in 1986. This was a successful shopfitting company which traded until 2020.

Another successful shopfitting company that commenced in the late 1920s was Taylor Christie & Walker. Their office and factory was at 14 Ross St Newstead. They later changed their name to Christie and Walker Pty Ltd. They were a well-known and respected company, which traded until purchased by Robb and Brown Shopfitting Industries in the 1950s. They also carried out in-house designs back in those days. Christie and Walker employed many apprentices over the years, many of whom later became well known with their own shopfitting companies.

Another business that was long-lasting and, at one stage, had 33 employees, was Brooks Joinery at 270 Gympie Rd Kedron. The two brothers, Les and Maurice Brooks, commenced as a partnership in 1927. Les had served his apprenticeship with the renowned Ed Rosenstengel at his Fortitude Valley factory, and Maurice at Norman Wrights Shipyards at Bulimba. In 1933, Brooks Joinery was established and the business prospered through the depression years and soon they commenced selling hardware as well to nearby industries.

At the start of World War II, their factory was declared a protected undertaking, so they changed their manufacturing to wartime needs, making work barges, motor rescue launches and bomb scows for the defence forces (Maurice’s boat building skills would have come in very handy). Les and Maurice dissolved their partnership in 1948, with Maurice continuing the joinery business and Les a separate, expanded hardware business, which traded until 1983. Keith Jesberg was manager when Brooks joinery closed down in 1968, and in 1970 he commenced Allkind Joinery at Rode Rd, Chermside, which is a successful business to this day, supplying quality joinery and retail cabinetry, office and bar works.

This article is a two-part series which follows on from previous issues about the shopfitting industry in Queensland from 1860-1900. We now continue the journey as we take a look at some of the industry ‘players’ from 1900 onwards in Brisbane and provincial towns.

The first decade of the 20th century finds the beginning of some shopfitting companies that are still trading today and of others that are long gone. Brisbane and surrounds had a population of 122,210 and was made up of 20 municipalities and shires. The start of this century threw a lot at our industry, as Brisbane suffered an outbreak of the Bubonic Plague in 1901, a call to arms for the Boer War in 1902 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914. This was followed by the Spanish Flu in 1919, which saw 40% of the population at that time infected and in quarantine. The Queensland border was closed and food supplies and building materials were in short supply.

Still, at that time most of the shopfitting factories were based around the central city (‘The City’), Fortitude Valley (‘The Valley’) and Newstead areas, as the first small privately owned electricity generating supply companies were also in and around The City area. It was not until the 1920s, after the Brisbane City Council was established, that electricity was supplied to the suburbs.

As we move in to the 1900s in Brisbane and other provincial towns, we find that there was a flurry of building works that commenced state-wide just prior to the turn of the century. Large department stores were built, many of which are still standing today. There were cafés, clothing stores and arcades developed with a new sophistication being offered to the public, some even had electric lights and “cool air”.

The arcades were a version of the shopping centres that were yet to come. Some of the early ones were:
Royal Exhibition Arcade Brisbane
Grand Arcade Brisbane
Royal Arcade Charters Towers
Town Hall Arcade Townsville
Town Hall Arcade Brisbane
Rowes Arcade Brisbane
Grand Central Arcade Brisbane
Royal Red Arcade Ipswich
Mayfair Arcade Brisbane
Tattersalls Arcade Brisbane
Blocksidge & Ferguson Arcade Brisbane
Wallace Bishops Arcade Brisbane
MLC Arcade Brisbane
Brisbane Arcade
Piccadilly Arcade Brisbane
Comino’s Arcade Redcliffe.

In Brisbane, one of the department stores was Finney Isles, who built a store at 196 Queen St in 1909, which later became David Jones premises. Alan & Stark built various individual buildings from 1881-1899 and one at 110 Queen St, which in 1970 became Myer, prior to the building of the Myer Centre in 1988. Hardy Brothers Building at 116 Queen St was built in 1881 and occupied by Hardy Brothers Jewellers from 1894 until they relocated in 2016. They were only recently bought out by Wallace Bishops Jewellers.

Palings Company building, at 86 Queen St Brisbane was built as 4 individual, identical buildings from 1885 -1919. They were well known throughout Queensland for the supply of musical instruments, sheet music and later vinyl pop records from the swinging 60s until 1986.

At the start of the 20th century, the Brisbane Town Centre was expanding, and stores were opening at South Brisbane and Fortitude Valley. At South Brisbane in 1886 the early department store of Piggot and Bierne was built in Stanley St but burned down in 1891. The Valley was developing quickly as another shopping hub, with access now by train and trams from the northern and southern suburbs.

The Irish connection was heavily involved in the development of department stores in their early stages. With Piggots establishing a store in Brunswick St The Valley and in Toowoomba. T C Bierne opened opposite Piggots (his former business partner) in Brunswick St The Valley. (Piggot had been T C Biernes’ employer in Ireland).
James McWhirter (a Scotsman) had also opened a small store in Brunswick St, but he had grandiose plans. To start with, he bought out Piggots Brunswick St business then proceeded, as part of his plan, to purchase 4 blocks of land at the corner of Brunswick St/Wickham St and Warner Sts. Eventually, his 5-storey building took up an acre of land and was the leading store in The Valley. McWhirter, being an astute businessman, fitted out all levels of his department store in the latest fixtures and fittings, mainly in silky oak timber finishes and had the renowned beautiful large, glazed shopfront windows along Brunswick St.

McWhirters directly imported many lines and pioneered free carriage of mail orders servicing all parts of Queensland. In 1955, Myer Emporium took over the McWhirters company. In trying to not be outdone by McWhirters, in 1902 T C Bierne constructed a large building opposite, with further extensions over the years. In 1956 the building was sold to David Jones.
On the other corner of Brunswick St and Wickham St, Overells Drapery established in 1901, commenced the building of their department store to oppose McWhirters and T C Bierne. This also was a successful business and established stores throughout Queensland. In 1956, the large American Group Waltons purchased the building and the business. In these heady years, the local shopfitting companies in Brisbane City, Fortitude Valley and Newstead were all kept busy manufacturing and fitting out these department stores and the associated specialty stores. In 1905, shopfitters were earning 9 shillings a week for a 6-day, 48-hour week.

At this time, the other large department store to be built in The City was McDonnel & East, at 414 George St. The company commenced in 1901 in leased premises, also in George St but soon purchased adjacent land and finally in stages, built what is now on the Queensland Heritage Register, along with the other 3 buildings mentioned above. By 1988, with strong competition from suburban shopping centres such as Westfield and with the declining reputation and quality of the suburb, The Valley had become much less desirable as a shopping district and all 3 department stores had closed.

McDonnel and East traded successfully until 1990 and at that time had stores at Garden City Shopping Centre at Mt Gravatt (a suburb of Brisbane), Rockhampton Shopping Fair, Nerang St Mall Southport, Surfers Paradise Holiday City Centre, Toowoomba, Warwick and Ipswich. They also closed the well-known Pikes Menswear store at the top of Queen St, which they had acquired. Pikes had commenced trading prior to 1900.

Prior to 1907 our industry Apprentices in Brisbane attended The Brisbane Technical College at 2 George St, The City. Then in 1907, plans were announced for a much larger modern Technical College, which was constructed in stages from then until 1956. This became QIT and later changed to QUT in 1987, as a University. The area is now known as Gardens Point Campus. In the 1960s the trades were moved out to campuses in the Northern and Southern suburbs of Brisbane, as well as to some Provincial Towns.

There were 34 cabinetmakers and upholsterers (as they referred to themselves) and 17 carpenter and joiner companies. Advertisements from the time, and because they had premises in The City, advertised as providing shopfitting, shop and office fitting and cabinetmaking services. It is interesting to sight these advertisements and the addresses of their factories, e.g. F W Thompson Shop and Office Fittings, Gilbert Place Queen St, opposite the Treasury Building, B Cunningham Builder and Shop & Office Fitter, 191 Elizabeth St and F H Marshall & Co. Builders and Shopfitters, 153-154 Elizabeth St, to mention a few.

Their only means of advertising their services were in the morning and afternoon newspapers, they also had to advertise for staff in the same newspapers. In the regional towns at this time there were generally 1 or 2 cabinetmakers or shopfitters, depending on the size of the town and evidence shows that if there were 2 cabinetmaker/shopfitters, then both advertised as the town undertakers. At that stage, Charters Towers, being a thriving Town, had 4 cabinetmaker/shopfitters, so it followed that 3 of the 4 companies were also listed as undertakers. In some advertisements of the time these companies advertised that they carried out the shop and office requirements of the town, as well as manufacturing coffins and carrying out burials, certainly an ‘upsell’ one could say.

One company name that keeps appearing in the research is R S Exton & Co. Robert Skerrett Exton was a prolific painter, decorator and glazier, who commenced business in Brisbane in 1882. The company also imported staff from the UK to assist with the production of stained glass works. They became famous for producing fine stained glass in the churches and cathedrals in Brisbane and throughout Queensland. They had purpose built their office/warehouse at 333 Ann St Brisbane City, the façade of which remains and is Heritage listed. They had a factory in Bowen St. The Valley and in 1919 they purchased another building in Wickham St. The Valley on the corner of Constance St and commenced their shopfitting and glazing department, which traded at that site until the 1970s.

They advertised that they manufactured all classes of modern shopfronts, showcases, banks, hotels and all general interior fittings, drawn sheath metal shopfront mouldings, nickel brackets, stripping for window fittings and all accessories pertaining to modern shopfittings and window displays. Their factory in Toowoomba also traded until the 1970s.
An R S Exton advertisement from the Brisbane Daily Mail in April 1922 reads, “Modernize Your Store, Success Depends Largely on Appearance. Shopfronts, Showcases and All Glass Counters Designed and Constructed for the Modern Businessman. Silent Salesmen that Work for You Day and Night.” Upon the closure of the business in the 1970s, several of the glaziers moved onto the likes of G James and the shopfitters to other shopfitting companies of the time.

Another company supporting the industry in The Central City area was the company S Cook & Sons, who had commenced in 1895 and remained in the area until 2001. They were electroplaters in nickel, chrome, tin, cadmium, zinc, silver, copper and brass. At one stage, they had 30 employees and the company, in the same family’s hands, still operates in a smaller way at the Northern Suburb of Arana Hills. A shopfitting company that was established in 1889 and still advertised until 1940, was E J Grigg & Son Pty Ltd. Their office and workshop was at Bowen St. The Valley, their advertising suggests they also completed many jobs in The City.

Another electroplating company in The City established in 1903 was A G Jackson Electroplaters. They carried out plating works for the industry but also had developed and patented shopfront window fittings. They also provided oxy and antique coppering and manufactured shopfitting’s to order.
In 1912, shopfitters were earning approx. 44 shillings for a 6-day 48-hour week. In the Brisbane 1912 Directory, there were 4 listed shopfitting companies, 38 cabinetmakers and upholsterers and 16 carpentry joinery companies and most offered shopfitting capabilities.
In 1912 the Brisbane business of T Early & Sons was established. Throughout the years they have been involved in producing freestanding commercial furniture, office fit-outs, and lift car interiors. The business still trades today and has been under the same family ownership all that time.

Also, in 1912 in Brisbane, a 7-week strike occurred and all factories, shops and hotels were closed down by 47 unions.
This has been reported as the world’s first strike. Around this time, a company by the name of D G Brims & Sons Joinery had started at Milton. They also had an adjacent sawmill and a business named Brisbane Aircraft & Automotive Engineering, where they made aeroplanes.

This business became prosperous during World War I, as they made products for aircraft and carried out repairs. They purchased land at Yeerongpilly in 1928 and installed a plywood mill as well as other manufacturing sections at that site. Later, in the 1960s they manufactured particle board products as they hit the scene and eventually rebadged as Brims Distributors, a business that lasted until the 2000s.
To be continued…

A s mentioned in the our previous article, the development of Queensland was heavily influenced by distance and time. The regional towns and hence shopfitters reflected the peculiarities of the towns which were influenced by the conditions that had led to their establishment. Relatively small populations led to shopfitters filling more than one role, e.g. W. Reed in Ipswich combined the role of cabinetmaker and undertaker!

Charters Towers
Towns up the east coast of Queensland in most cases began to thrive in the late 1800s, with the finding of gold and the setting up of the infrastructure to service the population explosions this brought. Most towns were situated on rivers and became port towns, shipping the gold or other minerals to the coast for export. All these towns required shopfitters to assist with the growth of stores, hotels, government offices etc, to cater for the booming population growth and the building of beautiful heritage style buildings.

Many of these have been preserved and a fine example is the beautiful inland city of Charters Towers where the Venus Gold Battery was established in 1872. Many miners became millionaires and the town thrived and at one stage Charters Towers was the largest town in Queensland. The Royal Arcade, a shopping arcade of fine shops was built in 1887, but with such growth from the gold mines, the arcade became the Charters Towers Stock Exchange in 1889. The town was described as having streets of fine shops and residences, cold air stores, telephones, electric light, gas light and electric fans. At one stage, the town had 104 hotels. As well as shopfitters, many well-known characters came to the town, such as Breaker Morant, Andrew Dawson, the first Labour Premier in the world and a man named Benjamin Toll.

Benjamin Toll started out as a builder, merchant and undertaker/embalmer as well as serving for a while as Lord Mayor, he also started a business as the Phoenix Steam Joinery works prior to 1893. He advertised and provided architecture ‘own designs’ (at Southern Prices), joinery of all descriptions, sashes, doors, shopfittings, mouldings etc. He had a factory in Mary Street and a showroom in a building he called the Bazzar (at 189 Gill Street, the main street), where he offered designs and hardware to customers. He had over 200 staff at one stage and was ahead of his time with ideas and methods. He also carried out upholstery, silverware electroplating and supplied and laid carpet. He stocked ironmongery, hardware, locks, and handles etc. This business lasted for many years, until he unfortunately was declared bankrupt, approximately 30 years later.

Also at that thriving time for the town, were other cabinetmakers/ shopfitters, cashing in on the fitout works to all the new buildings, such as the following:
• Arthur Curry
• Max Hilder – Gill Street
• A Falsett (a former employee of Benjamin Toll)
• A.J. Andrews – Gill Street
• G.H. Smith – Gill Street
During this exuberant time and dynamic period, many solid Victorian buildings (which remain today) were built by the city fathers determined to flaunt their wealth and, in terms of public architecture, is unrivalled in Queensland.
A common theme in many of the regional towns in that era I have come across is that the shopfitter also offered his services not only to make coffins, but he was also an undertaker in the town.

Maryborough is another town that benefited from a gold rush in 1856. It is one of Queensland’s oldest towns and was also a port city. At one stage in the early days, it was second to Sydney as an eastern seaboard port for timber, wool, meat, sugar and coal. The town was planned with wide streets in the centre, fine Victorian architecture, and the latest shopfronts and shopfittings, establishing itself as the shopping hub of the Central goldfields and very beneficial to the local shopfitting industry.

Maryborough, being blessed with surrounding hoop pine and cedar forests, had many timber mills supplying cabinetmakers and shopfitters at the time. Hyne Timber began in Maryborough in 1882 and still trades today, with plants up the east coast of Qld and in NSW. In Qld, by-­products of the mill are used by Laminex Industries and by Visy in NSW.

One early cabinetmaker/shopfitter was Denson & Wallace who commenced in 1875 in a factory in the central town area. They advertised that they could make shopfittings, sashes etc and could make to order ‘on the shortest notice’ (nothing has changed). They also offered to make shopfittings, doors, sashes at prices ‘that will defy competition’.
One of their competitor companies in 1875 was another Shopfitting company known as Henry Parsons. They advertised that they could make ‘shopfronts and fittings made to order’ and ‘every description of joinery work done’ as well as ‘plans and estimates given at lowest machine prices’. One of the stores fitted out in 1896 was a general store known as Brennan & Geraghty’s. This store remains today but as a Museum with original counters, bottles and boxes dating back to the 1890s.

Another museum but still actually trading as a pharmacy, is the former Gaydon’s Pharmacy in the nearby Heritage listed town of Childers. The pharmacy has the original polished cedar timber/glass counters and timber wall units, including old glass bottles, gold leaf lettering to signs, and Wedgwood mortar and pestles from the 1894 fit-out.

Townsville, the unofficial Capital City of North Queensland, has always been regarded as a working-class city. It was also a port city for the export of gold from Charters Towers and later bulk ore from Mt Isa. The town centre suffered many large fires in the early days. There have also been many cyclones and floods and it was bombed three times by the Japanese during World War 2. One could say the renewal of the Central Shopping District is forced by nature to occur regularly.

Ipswich is another town that was an early important port city, even though only 40km upstream from Brisbane.
Industry had to use the river to ship coal, wool, limestone and at one stage in 1858 it was considered as a possible capital for Queensland. Ipswich also benefited from having railway before Brisbane, so the town was a wealthy bustling area, well known for its fine architecture both used in city buildings and attractive shops. Also, because of the wealth at the time, there was a beautiful style of home known mainly only to Ipswich which was made from predominately low set local made brick with curved iron rooves and locally made cast iron lace features. Many of the old stores and houses are heritage listed.

Two companies carrying out shopfitting in 1885 have been found in advertising. E Meggitt in Bell St. Ipswich advertised that they had a workshop ‘for the manufacturing of shopfittings and joiners’ work’. They had also opened a showroom in Bell St. their advertising continued, ‘hopes by combining good workmanship with moderate charges the public will merit a share of their support’. W. Reed advertised as a ‘Cabinetmaker and Undertaker’ in Brisbane St. Ipswich, a friendly offer.
Ipswich had some large retailers and department stores, one such store that opened in1849 as Cribb and Foote, (becoming Reids in 1977) was a centre piece of the central shopping area, until the disastrous fire of 1985 decimated the whole central shopping district.

Attempts to rebuild a financially successful and inviting space for customers and the Central Shopping Plaza for retailers since the 1985 fire, have not worked to date and as recently as a few months ago it was announced by Ipswich Council that a total rebuild of the whole central shopping area will occur as an inducement to regrow the shopping experience in the city.
The early settlers in the above port cities located the central business areas close to the rivers as required for trading purposes. However, in 1893, 1974, and 2011 in conjunction with yearly cyclones and high tides, all the eastern seaboard cities have suffered severely from flooding. On top of the major events, traditionally one or two cyclones will cause damage at selected towns as the cyclone crosses the mainland in the monsoon season. In some towns, shopfitters in Queensland have for years been manufacturing the fitouts in waterproof ply/laminated, only to leave during times of flooding. Some towns with imminent flood warnings have local transport companies ready to totally empty the shops of fixtures and fittings on semi-trailers to higher covered storage for three or four days, till such time as the retail precincts are washed and cleaned after the flooding has receded, then the job of reinstalling the fixtures and fittings begins once more. This, apparently, is cheaper than the insurance premiums.
To be continued.

A distinguishing feature of Queensland is distance.
Sydney to Bathurst is 200km, Melbourne to Ballarat a mere 115. By contrast, Brisbane to Townsville is 1,335km. The tyranny of distance meant that towns developed at a different pace and with different requirements. Because of that we have looked at separate history lines.

In about 2007, at an ASOFIA (now IFA) National Council Meeting, I suggested that we should attempt to collate some of the history regarding the shopfitting industry in Australia. At the time I made the comment, I was looking at my good friend Fred Ryder, of Ryder Shop & Office Fitting, who graciously put up his hand and offered to make a start on the project.
It soon dawned on us what a huge project this would be and that we may have to break the research down to a State-by-State collection of our industry’s history. I started the Queensland sector of the project in 2017 and soon realised the amount of research that would be necessary. Compounding the workload was my decision to begin in 1860.

It seemed fitting to begin the history of fitouts in the Capital city with a population at the time of 13,000. A desire to separate from New South Wales began to emerge, as Queensland’s economic significance increased, its productivity and population expanded and the people of Queensland began to realise the importance of Brisbane as a port and urban centre. Queen Victoria finally granted the new Colony of Queensland its independence from New South Wales on the 6th June 1859.

Although it may have been a good thing for the creation of employment/workloads of the operating shop and office fitters of the time, it was unfortunate for the shopkeepers as the early settlement of Brisbane Town suffered flooding in the town area in 1867, 1870, 1873, 1887, and then the Great Flood of 1893. This was all after the earlier Great Fire of Brisbane in 1864 when most of the earlier timber-constructed two-storey buildings with shops/offices were lost. So much for ‘nature’ creating healthy workloads for the shop and office fitters, as they were known even back in those early days.

The location of shopping has not changed since the early settlement days, with most of the nearby settlements’ population in those days having to carry out family grocery and other shopping/business requirements in and around Queen St. Brisbane Central, and nearby Fortitude Valley.

With the centralised location of the town, the development took place with all the major roads leading into the town, a problem that has existed until recent times.
The Queen St. of 1859 consisted of a dirt road with some two-storey timber buildings, perhaps with family living above their stores and a lot of single weatherboard cottages. The first Brisbane City Council was elected in 1859 and the city began to grow at a fast pace, which continued for the next 20 years or so and then a boom in growth from 1890 to 1900 which saw the construction of brick and stone. Magnificent buildings, some of which still stand today, housing well known retailers, banks etc.

A bumpy horse and cart ride was the main mode of transport, with the Brisbane river a busy source of supplies and shipping of products to other regional areas from the wharves along it. Horse-drawn trams began about 1870 running on the ground, then in rails about 1875 and, finally, electric trams in 1897.

Queen St. Brisbane was the first recorded town in Australia to demonstrate the use of electricity for street and shop lighting in 1882. As Brisbane grew, so did the number of shopfitting companies, as more permanent, modern, above two-storey buildings filled Queen St. and they required the latest shopfronts and shopfittings. There was grocery, drapery, ironmonger/hardware stores, hotels, banks, as well as government offices (some of which still stand today).

Also constructed were such iconic buildings as All Hallows School in 1866, Brisbane Grammar School in 1868, Brisbane General Hospital in1875, Brisbane Girls Grammar School in 1875 and Tara House (The Irish Club). Stores such as Finney Isles Department Store (now Queens Plaza Shopping Centre) commenced in 1864, McWhirter’s in 1898, Allan & Stark (later Myer) in 1896, Trittons in 1889. All these stores – and many more – were fitted out in the latest fittings, providing work for many shop and office fitting companies and valuable training grounds for apprentices over the past 140 years.

Finney Isles had a few store relocations from 1864 onwards but, eventually in 1910, moved into a five-storey building between Adelaide and Queen Streets, which was custom-built. The building featured innovative display windows on Queen Street, silky oak staircases, lifts decorated in lattice ironwork and silky oak, pneumatic tubes for exchanging cash, a roof-top water tower and a large generator providing electricity to the lights, lifts and pneumatic system. The building also had workrooms where it had 400 sewing machines, making their own clothing, as well as a manufacturing section, making furniture and their own shopfittings. This business lasted until the 1960s when it was taken over and became David Jones.

Another popular, early department store was Allan & Stark at 110 Queen Street. The original owners were James Allan and Robert Stark. It opened in 1899 after commencing trading in 1881 as a drapery store. The buildings and business were sold to Myer in 1961, continuing to trade under the Allan & Stark name until 1970.

Myer operated in the Heritage listed buildings from 1970 until 1988 when they moved across Queen Street to the Myer Centre.
Allan & Stark had the foresight to realise that the motor car was already a common sight and people were using it for their weekly shopping trips. They saw the need for inner city retail firms to rethink their future planning. They designed the first drive-in shopping centre in Australia, at suburban Chermside, which was opened in 1957. It was air-conditioned and surrounded by space to park 700 cars. ‘An island of retailing in a lake of parking’.

Also at that time were a couple of large timber/hardware companies that provided all timber/hardware requirements in Brisbane to shopfitters of the day, one being Finlaysons, a company that still remains trading to this day, and Campbells Timber & Hardware that was absorbed by BBC Hardware in 1995. Campbells also traded in provincial towns for tradespeople to purchase supplies from.

The early Brisbane shopfitting companies were based mainly around inner Brisbane Town, Fortitude Valley and South Brisbane to service the nearby stores and because of the availability of electricity being supplied by small private generating companies. Another reason was the availability of train services and trams to the town area (buses came later), so tradespeople could easily access their workplaces. The tradespeople would generally be dressed in bib overalls, with a dress coat over the top, a hat and, of course, a Gladstone bag. Some of the department stores had in-house shopfitting workshop facilities in their basement, manufacturing the required shopfittings and to carry out maintenance works as necessary. This method of major stores using local shopfitters to service town businesses continued until the 1950s.

Advertisements in the 1860-1900 period in the daily newspapers of the time offered the services of shopfitters or shop and office fitters. Perhaps this was the British influence, as even to this day in the UK and Europe, the Trade is well identified as such. I have seen advertisements of the time, for the auction of shopfittings, showcases, counters and shop and window fittings.
Employers in the 1890s looking for staff in Brisbane would advertise in both the morning and evening newspapers, except in provincial towns where there would only be a morning newspaper. The ads for tradespeople would appear under Professions, Trades etc. or in another column headed Situations Wanted. In 1886, the wage for a shopfitter for an 8-hour day, 6 days a week, was 8 shillings.

I have seen many advertisements for cabinetmakers, cabinetmaker apprentices and joiners, all normally in the central business area factories at that stage. Also, tradespeople arriving from overseas would advertise in these columns seeking employment and advertising their availability. The provincial town shopfitters and cabinetmakers would advertise their company’s services in the local morning newspaper weekly.

There were sawmills adjacent to most railway stations on the north side of the town that would service the shopfitters and cabinetmakers, as the logged specialty timbers came down from Mt. Glorious, Mt. Nebo and Mt. Mee. Other specialty timbers would be brought down from the North Queensland rainforests, or the now Gold Coast hinterland rainforests and Noosa River forests. Also, hardwood/softwoods/pine and cedar were supplied from the Brookfield area, where logs were carted to Rafting Ground and floated down Moggill Creek to the Brisbane River to sawmills at North Quay. There were also plywood mills attached to some sawmills, providing plywood sheets as well as timber, used to construct cabinets and counters in methods adopted until the introduction of particleboard in the 1960s. As well as the shopfitting factories in the inner-city areas, there were hardware suppliers, glass and metal fabricators and finishers with their factories supplying the local industries.

From the early days, architectural firms traditionally would assist the storekeepers with the design and layout of their stores as well as control the fitouts on-site, be they restaurants, cafés, banks, medical rooms, museums, schools, hotels, theatres etc. The architects’ supply line and control continued until the advent of designers with design practices in the 1960s. Some would say the professionalism of the relationship was lost at that time.

Some original hotels built and lovingly refitted over the years show the skill level of our tradespeople in the past and up to the present day:
The Victory Hotel – 1855
The Waterloo – 1880
The Post Office – 1876
The Alliance – 1888
The Embassy – 1864
The Wickham – 1885
The Norman – 1889
The Regatta – 1886
The Treasury – 1887
The Transcontinental – 1883
The Normanby – 1890
Prince Consort – 1887
The Breakfast Creek – 1889
The Orient – 1875
The Stock Exchange – 1863
The Jubilee – 1887
The Story Bridge – 1886
The Mansions – 1889
The Fox – 1874
The Osborne – 1864
Royal Exchange – 1876
The Newmarket – 1879

In the early 1890s, Greek migrants introduced oyster saloons to Brisbane City and some regional towns, as oysters were plentiful in Moreton Bay. As well as oysters, the menu often included lobster, fish and crab. The oyster bars were close to hotels and frequented mainly by men. Apparently, they often turned into ‘Wild West Saloons’, with some fiery times, and even murders. After the turn of the century, the oyster saloons were the start of what became a flood of Greek cafés in the early 1900s

In the early 1950’s there were many changes in the standard of living as society became more affluent and Australia developed as a nation with the economy on the move and almost full employment.

Apart from several major projects in the form of the Snowy Mountain Scheme and Warragamba Dam, there was new local car manufacturing gaining momentum, and this encouraged subsidiary industries to progress. There was a high degree of optimism and a feeling of stability throughout the nation.

Domestically people were able to afford a car, telephone and most importantly a refrigerator, replacing the old ice chest for the storage of food and thus changing the way shopping was done. No longer were items like butter, flour, sugar, tea, biscuits and milk bought in bulk weighed up by your grocer. All these products were now available prepacked by the suppliers, thus reducing the need for the grocer to serve the customer physically.

This led us immediately to follow the American concept of self-service merchandising with many smaller stores introducing free standing floor units [to become known as gondolas] and putting stock on open display. One of the first to go full self-service was the G&G Store at Hurstville in Sydney, but the fixtures were still made of fixed timber shelving.
A significant jolt to the established retail order was the quite rapid introduction into supermarkets of the products of previously stand alone stores such as butchers and green grocers. This was made possible by, and in conjunction with, the burgeoning commercial refrigeration industry and the introduction of pre-packaged goods.

Also at this point in time, the stripping and bracket method began its rise and with it came the first designs of module wall and floor fixturing. These were of great advantage to the retailer as shelf configurations could readily be changed without cost to suit seasonal changes or varying promotions, a practice which still applies in today’s marketing.

At first, the product ranges were very basic. However as demand grew and more focus on store layouts took place, there were many companies prepared to invest and develop a more sophisticated system. There was a concentrated move away from timber shelving to steel and then later to wire, thus creating a change in the type of companies now engaged in the fitout industry. The need for wire hand baskets, shopping trolleys and wire display aids gave birth to another lucrative industry.

Woolworths experimented with the new island floor fixture at the rear of a couple of Sydney stores, namely Dee Why and Crows Nest. It was not long before they had their first full self-service variety store at Beverly Hills in Sydney in October 1955, with the second in Carnegie in Melbourne the following year.

Retailers as a whole realised the many advantages of this self-serve/self-selection type of merchandising and were quick to adapt their layouts to accommodate this open selling method. This resulted in improved sales and enabled the rationalisation of staff numbers.

Womens and menswear stores, shoe shops, hardware stores, newsagencies, liquor stores and finally pharmacies all moved to similar types of layouts utilising open displays and a centralised cash wrap area. Most also used the module concept. Even the large department stores gradually gravitated towards this form of merchandising with great success.

Myer Melbourne was one of the first to trial slotted stripping and brackets when they applied it to some existing fixtures and set the pattern for the future.
The introduction of self-service initiated the most transformative era in retail as we know it, requiring some dramatic and fundamental changes, with more emphasis placed on store layouts as they adapted to the emerging merchandising trends.

Increasing affluence led to newly expanded product categories, and these were also not immune to self-service. Television came to Australia in time for the 1956 Olympics.
Many major retailers expanded their design and store layout departments, while the smaller traders sought outside help. Many would see this as the start of a specialised store planning sector, although many shopfitters still had staff that could offer this service to their clients.

Initially, existing fixtures such as tables and garment racks were modified and used in the new store configuration as a stop gap solution, but as retailers gained confidence whole new suites of fixtures and fittings were designed. Most of these utilised slotted aluminium and steel sections based on modular systems. This new style of fixtures inevitably required the shopfitting companies to make significant changes in their methods of manufacturing to embrace the use of the metal componentry. This continues today with added refinements.