The Saturday morning sausage sizzle has fizzled in locked-down Melbourne. Shopping at a hardware store wearing a mask is sterile and coldly efficient. Under the click-and-collect model, you drive into a car park and goods bought online are put into your boot.
My mind races back to Goulburn, to the dusty timber yards and paint shops that popped up like mushrooms and disappeared just as quickly. I miss those characters behind the counter who injected more warmth into a transaction than any sauce-soaked sausage sandwich.
Regular readers will recall my recent column about leaving Goulburn in 2018 with my wife, Franki, only to be confined by a strict stage-4 lockdown during the COVID-19 outbreak in Melbourne. Whenever I think of hardware in Goulburn, I see Bill Griffin in Donahue’s, with the noisy paint-mixer shaking four-litre tins and customers surrounding the chatty paint guru.
“Well, hello, Shirley Temple,” he would say on a Saturday morning, greeting my daughter, Rebecca, a toddler with blonde curly hair. We’ve never forgotten him. Older readers will remember Bill on the end of a microphone belting out rock’n’roll songs with The Ramblers alongside Des Goddard, Robbie Liddle, Barrie Simms, Tony Clout and Terry Bowden. They practised at Bill’s parents Alvie and Grace’s home in Cowper Street. The family had a grand piano.
As a taxi driver, fireman shovelling coal on steam trains, retailer with wife Marcia at their lighting shop, Chrystalee, and for most of his working life a hardware staffer at Knowlman’s, Godfrey’s, Donahue’s, Paul’s and Mitre 10, Bill became the go-to man for generations of hardware customers.
For many years, the Griffin family’s Sunday roasts were shared with the Emery family. From his boyhood, Bill knew Marcia Emery from when she was a five-year-old. When she completed school, she left Goulburn for several years to work in Wollongong.
She returned to Goulburn one Lilac Time long-weekend and saw Bill and The Ramblers in the Lilac Time Hall.
Their friendship from childhood turned into a romance.
“Bill asked Max Thoroughgood at Geissler Motors for a job for me and he said yes,” says Marcia. “Eric Brown was service manager; he was always in overalls.”
Bill and Marcia married the following year and they are now in their 60th year together.
Bill says Marcia’s mother, Maude, was wonderful. She ran boarding houses near Radio 2GN and at ‘Brackley’, the old home the council flattened to make way for the Goulburn Civic Centre. Marcia says her father, Selby, who worked at Roger’s, cooked breakfast for the boarding home’s boys.
Bill recalls leaving Knowlman’s and working for Godfrey’s hardware. “Peter Godfrey called me in one day and sacked me,” he says. “I got the shock of my life. The reason was I couldn’t get on with another bloke at work. And I couldn’t, he didn’t know his job.”
Grace Bros offered him a job in the electrical department the next day, and soon after, Donahue’s manager George Cunningham offered him a job back in hardware. He was there for the next 22 years.
These days Bill still enjoys camaraderie from his days in hardware.
“When Marcia goes down to the mall, I sit outside and my old customers come over for a yarn,” he says.
Bill’s sister, Pauline, says he was the older customers’ favourite.
“If they bought anything a little heavy, he would say, ‘Leave it here, I’ll bring it around later,” and he would deliver it after work,” she says.