Thursday, 26 June 2014

Blatchford's Bakery

It had begun in the kitchen and lounge room of Eric Blatchford’s parents’ home. Eric was just 20, and unable to afford his own place, had brought his young wife Doris to live there. In this tiny space, a mouth watering variety of cakes, shortbread, sponges, and tarts were produced.

The next step was in 1931-32, when the  Blatchford bakery opened  behind their shop at 145 Beaumont Street, Hamilton, opposite the Wesley Church.

Advertisement for Blatchford’s Pastrycook and Delicatessen (1956)
Newcastle Sun, Monday 6 February, 1956 
clipping courtesy of Doug Saxon

The family business gradually expanded, catering to the population of Hamilton throughout the Great Depression and World War II.

During the Depression, Blatchford’s began a new line - meat pies. Costing one shilling and three pence, Doris and Eric were anxious about whether their customers would find them too expensive. They needn’t have worried – pies took off, customers loved them and pies have been a staple bakery item ever since.

Hungry BHP workers, patrons of the races and many Newcastle clubs, enjoyed Blatchford’s pies, sausage rolls and cakes. Grandson Chris Blatchford tells how each year before Easter, Eric invited the Catholic priests and other church ministers in to bless the dough for the Easter buns – a sure way to increase their saleability!

Eric ordered Newcastle’s first automatic doughnut machine from the USA - a source of fascination for passers-by in Beaumont Street.

The wholesale side of the business grew from horse and cart to bakers’ vans, with deliveries to the many small towns throughout the Hunter.

Doris and Eric had three sons - Don, Ross and Bruce. Don and Ross became apprentice bakers and fine pastrycooks. Bruce preferred office work, and the family bakery provided this opportunity for him.

Blatchford’s Bakehouse expanded to the building that had been Cherry’s Terrace, 102 Denison Street, Hamilton (n.d.)
Photograph courtesy of Newcastle Region Library

Sometime after Eric died, and the business was restructured, Doris was interviewed for an oral history project. The interview was conducted in 1989. [1]

I listened to the tape in the University of Newcastle’s Archives. What will the future hold for Blatchfords, Doris was asked.

‘It will always include pies and sausage rolls’, she responds with confidence.

Doris believed that Bruce’s son Chris would be the one most likely to keep the Blatchford baking passion alive. At the time of her interview, Chris had just become apprenticed in the family business, at age 17.

‘He wants to be the best pastry cook in Newcastle’, she says. I hear pride and affection trembling in her voice.

At school Chris had been introduced to new tastes and textures. He had plenty to trade – pies and custard tarts for exotic sweets brought for play lunch by the sons of Greek migrants. For the first time in his life, he experienced delicate flaky pastry drenched in sweet syrup, crunchy nuts and crumbly fillings, the exotic flavours of orange and lemon zest....

Chris was not far into his apprenticeship when the 1989 earthquake struck.

‘We thought BHP had blown up’, he recalls.

The main bakehouse in Denison Street was badly damaged. Despite warnings not to enter the building, Chris ran upstairs to retrieve the takings. Money was counted in the front room and kept upstairs in Eric’s apartment. The Army was on the spot, quickly, wanting to demolish the building, but it survived. The business didn’t.

Still standing - Blatchford’s Bakehouse after the 1989 Newcastle earthquake
Photograph by Medical Communications Unit, courtesy of Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, Australia

Bruce and Ross dissolved their partnership, with Bruce going his own way to re-establish himself at Warners Bay. Chris continued his training at Edgeworth.

Chris Blatchford’s journey was to take a few twists and turns before he found his real passion, food. Today, he is Executive Chef at boutique coffee roaster Belaroma Coffee, in Manly Vale, Sydney. He runs the kitchen for a 90 seat cafe, with a sous chef and apprentices, creating elegant dishes such one I found on the March menu - a light grilled nectarine salad with buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomato, basil and grilled sourdough. Not quite pies and sausage rolls... yet Chris is vehement in honouring the family tradition that nurtured him.

All I have comes from Dad, and Grandpa. Dad was a great teacher. He was a hard taskmaster, and he taught me to work hard’.

 The last visit Chris made to see his grandmother Doris in a nursing home is seared in his memory. She’d been unable to speak for some time. Rushing there straight from work, he’d not been able to change his clothes as usual. He stood before her, his work boots covered in flour. Doris looked down at them.

The Bakehouse,’ she said, clearly. Her last words.


Thank you to Chris Blatchford for updating his family story, and to the University of Newcastle Archives for access to the oral history recording with Doris Blatchford. If you have additional photos or information to share about this story, please email

Since this story was posted, the University of Newcastle has digitised the interview with Doris Blatchford which is referenced here. The interview was part of a wider project of some 200 oral history interviews conducted by Open Foundation students under the guidance of lecturer the late Margaret Henry. It can be heard on

[1] History of E.H. Blatchford, Wholesale Pastrycook and Caterer, University of Newcastle Community Programmes Department. Interviewee Doris Blatchford.  Interviewer Mladen Lazic. 10 September 1989. Lecturer Margaret Henry. Held in University of Newcastle Archives and quoted from with the permission of Chris Blatchford.

Friday, 13 June 2014

A Macedonian Story

‘When my son was in London’, Bill Bozinoski tells me, ‘he went to where the Aussies were. Here in Newcastle, I go where the Macedonians are’.

For Bill, whose Macedonian name is Blagoja, that place is Beaumont Street, Hamilton. He explains :

‘I feel comfortable here, secure. When I walk along the street, I’m sure to bump into someone I know for a chat.’

Bill no longer lives in Hamilton, but he is ‘at home’ in Beaumont Street. Yet he is as far as one could imagine from the stereotype of the migrant who has struggled with a new language, and clings to the past. Educated and articulate, Bill has thought deeply about the forces that led his forefathers to emigrate, the burden they brought with them as they left a divided country, and their endeavours to restore a Macedonian identity based on language, traditions and culture. He’s even written a book about this with long time friend and Hamilton artist, Vlado Krstevski.

‘The Fourth Generation’ by Blagoja Bozinoski and Vlado Krstevski
Cover design by Vlado Krstevski

Bill and Vlado came to Australia as young men in their twenties. In 1967, they’d attended the same high school in the cultural, educational and commercial city of Bitola, in the Republic of Macedonia. Until they bumped into each other at a function in the hall at the Macedonian Orthodox Church of St Mary’s, Broadmeadow, each had no idea the other was here. Thus began a friendship that continues to this day.

The two men were part of the third and largest wave of Macedonian emigration from what was the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Fleeing economic stagnation and a Communist regime, more than 4000 Macedonians settled in Newcastle between the 1950s and the 1970s. Mayfield, Tighes Hill and Hamilton were popular choices to live as they were close to jobs in heavy industry.

It was not until the end of WWII that the Macedonian population in Newcastle was large enough to support a more organised community life. A committee was formed in the 1960s to help newcomers and to raise funds to build a church. Meetings were held in the Transport Workers Recreation Centre, in Hamilton.

The consecration and opening of St Mary’s Church in August, 1970 was a critical milestone, providing a point of focus for the community. Special celebrations at Christmas, Easter, and other religious feast days, as well as weddings and christenings brought the community together. A sports club was formed, and bus trips and picnics were organised.

In 1984 Bill and Vlado published the first non English publication in Newcastle, a Macedonian magazine called Kopnez.[1] Generously supported by local businesses, it was sent to 570 addresses, most of these in Hamilton.

Around this time, Bill was appointed as an Ethnic Health Worker in the NSW Department of Health. This was his opportunity to develop the capacity of the Macedonian community through establishing groups that would bring Macedonians together around shared interests and cultural traditions.

One of Bill’s first tasks was to find a venue for BHP retirees who gathered afternoons in Gregson Park, Hamilton. ‘Sometimes it’s too hot, or too cold’, they told him. ‘Sometimes it rains.’ They were following the age old European custom of men gathering in the village or town square.

‘In any village back home’, Bill tells me, ‘there will be three or four spots where people will gather. You can always find someone to talk to. And there will always be a good story teller in the group.’

First Bill found a room for the men in the Migrant Resource Centre; when the group expanded he found a larger venue in the Madecodian church community centre.

Over time, an array of groups have flourished around the Macedonian community centre at the Church – there is a Pensioners Group, a Day Care Centre for ageing Macedonians, and a Women’s Group. There is the Magic Football Club, the Suns Football Club and a cricket group. Special interest activities include dancing, music, and chess.

Vlado began work in the coke ovens department at the BHP steelworks, but was quickly singled out for his artistic ability and put to work illustrating safety messages with cartoons.

Vlado Krstevski working on a characterisation (1980)
Clipping from BHP News, August 1980, from the personal collection of Vlado Krstevski

His caricatures, often of work mates, helped engage the men in safety issues. Dozens of his cartoons have been published in newspapers.

Cartoon reproductions from the personal collection of
Vlado Krstevski

Vlado studied art as a mature age student, and has been a practising artist ever since.

 Hunter Wetlands Centre: hand-carved totem poles designed by Vlado Krstevski are an attraction for walker
(Photograph from the personal collection of Vlado Krstevski

To commemorate the 1997 Newcastle Bicentenary of the discovery of the Hunter River, Vlado was commissioned to create sculptures to be placed throughout the suburb of Tighes Hill. ‘They have never been vandalised’, says Vlado. ‘It is the effect art can have on people.’

The friendship between Bill and Vlado is bound by shared experience as emigrants; their common interest in politics, society, art, writing, music; and a desire to help their community. Having grown up under a Communist regime, they found in Australia a remarkable equality, and an enviable democratic decision making process. They didn’t want to see narrow attitudes nurtured here.

Bill Bozinoski is grounded in culture and politics. He has held practically every office in the Macedonian community organisation, including treasurer, secretary and president. He’s built houses and units, leaving a tangible legacy to the built landscape of Hamilton and surrounds. His sense of identity and belonging is inextricably bound to this community, its activities and culture, including traditional Macedonian music and songs.

When Vlado first came to Newcastle, he went looking for things to paint that reflected his idealised memory of Europe. Unsatisfied, he began looking closely at his immediate surrounds, and started to ‘see’ differently. Now, he paints the city of Newcastle, and Hamilton, where he lives. ‘It’s amazing what is here’, he says, ‘when you really look’. It is this process of discovery that has gifted Vlado his sense of belonging.

Beaumont Street, Hamilton

Oil on canvas by Vlado Krstevski

In their different ways, both Bill Bozinoski and Vlado Krstevski are making unique contributions - to a mature Macedonian community that is affirming its identity in a new homeland, and to a richer multicultural Hamilton.

Bill Bozinoski and Vlado Krstevski (2014)

Beaumont Street, Hamilton
Oil on canvas by Vlado Krstevski

Unattributed photographs by Ruth Cotton.

My thanks to Bill Bozinoski and Vlado Krstevski for lively conversations, and to Lynn Mangovski for introductions.

[1] Kopnez can be translated into English as ‘yearning’.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The Italian Centre

It was an announcement that struck at the heart of the tight-knit community of Italian migrant families that had formed around the Italian Centre, in Hamilton.

The Italian Centre (or the Bishop Scalabrini Centre) had been operating since 1966, for almost forty years. The calling of the Scalabrini Fathers, founded in Italy in 1887 by the Blessed Giovanni Battista Scalabrini, was to nurture the religious life of migrants and refugees, especially in their destination countries.

The shock announcement that the Centre would close within a month - in April 2002 - was made to the community by Father Vito Pegolo and confirmed by official letter. Dated 28 February, 2002, the letter was signed by Father Anthony Fragolent, Provincial Superior of the Scalabrinian Congregation, and the Most Reverend Michael Malone, Bishop of the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese.

A shortage and ageing of priests, and shifting of priorities to migrants with greater pastoral needs, were the reasons cited for the closure.

Two buildings had been bought and demolished at 42-44 Beaumont Street, [1] and the two storey Centre built in their place. The Italian community had raised funds for the purchase, donating labour, materials and the use of equipment. It was a labour of love. The Scalabrini Fathers provided legal, interpreting and advocacy assistance for the community.

After the announcement, the Italian community was furious. A protest was held outside the Centre and media attended. Cinzia Saccaro, now the Ethnic Communities Council Coordinator for the Italian Health and Wellness Centre, became involved with the group trying to save the Italian Centre for the community. As the Order held the title to the building, legally it was theirs to sell. Yet the community felt angry and betrayed as the Centre in which they had invested so much was ripped away from them.

Protestors outside The Italian Centre, and letter to the Editor 
express community anger
Newcastle Morning Herald, 15 March 2002, clipping from the collection
 of Cinzia Saccaro

For decades, the Centre had been a social and spiritual hub for Italian-Australians living in Hamilton and nearby suburbs.

Upstairs was a large function room and kitchen. A chapel was tucked into an alcove at one end, and a stage was at the other.

Musicians on stage entertain the crowd
G. Marchiori, D. Bucci, A. D Abruzzo
Photograph from the collection of Silvia Saccaro

Family dances were held on Friday and Saturday nights. ‘They were real family dances’, Cinzia tells me. ‘Parents, young people, kids. Everyone went. Many met and married after attending these dances’.

Dancers at the Italian Centre
Angelo and Lina Candia; Antonietta Carraro and Pietro Bandiera
Photograph from the collection of Silvia Saccaro

A second recreation room with a pool table, juke box, pinball games, and a quiet area for draughts and chess, was a draw card for young people. 

Already, the function room was being hired out for functions such as weddings and parties. 

To further increase revenue from the building, the recreation room became a restaurant in 1974.

The Italian Centre Restaurant on Beaumont Street, Hamilton
Photograph courtesy of Newcastle Museum

By 1979 a separate space had been created downstairs for the Chapel.

During the 1980s, the emphasis in the Centre began to shift to the welfare of ageing Italian migrants. The Ethnic Communities Council funded a Coordinator to ensure access to health, well being and social support services. Antonietta Carraro was the first appointment to this position in 1986, visiting elderly Italians who needed social contact, advocacy and support. Activities expanded to include meals, first provided by volunteers; later a cook was employed.

Antonietta Carraro (R) was the first Ethnic Communities Council Coordinator appointed to The Italian Centre in 1986. Cinzia Saccaro (L) is currently in the role, 2014.

In addition to this service, the Italian Centre also housed a small office on the ground floor of the building which was run by the Italian Community Worker. Bus trips to places of interest (especially with an Italian cultural connection) and a monthly social function were organised. This role also become heavily involved in providing advocacy for the community and help with completing various items of paperwork especially in relation to the Italian pension. This service has relocated to Broadmeadow.

This small office was also the seat for the Italian Vice Consul who provided assistance to Italian nationals with various legal and passport issues. That function is now in Carrington.

The potential loss of the Centre and all that it offered was a blow to the Italian community. As the sale of the building dragged on, negotiations continued for an alternative venue. Finally, one was found in a hall next to the Saint Laurence O’Toole church in Broadmeadow.

Bishop Michael Malone (centre), Monsignor Hart to his left and Father Francesco Lovatin and Father Vito Pegolo (at right) officiated at the final Scalabrinian mass in the chapel at the Italian Centre on 14 May, 2002.
Photograph from the collection of Silvia Saccaro

After a three year battle to save the Centre following announcement of its closure, the move to Broadmeadow was made.

Silvia Saccaro and Luigino Carraro with the salvaged Italian Centre 
dedication plaque

Today, between the Associzione di Pensionati Italiani in Newcastle (APIN), the Ethnic Communities Council (ECC), and the Italian Welfare Organisation (IWO), Italian community volunteers together with paid workers organise social activities for over 100 ageing Italian-Australians from the Italian Centre at Broadmeadow.

Twice a week in the day care program, clients enjoy a three course meal cooked by volunteers, and play bingo or cards during the day. The majority are in their 80s, some in their 90s.

 Day care volunteers
(L-R) Matilde Pigliocampo, Silvia Saccaro, Domenica Di Prinzio, Lisa Lampe, Giovanna Bonfanti

Cinzia is in awe of the strength and resilience of these ageing Italian-Australians. This is the last of the Italian generation that will need support linked to their cultural origins.

‘They’ve been through two wars and the Great Depression, they’ve migrated to a new country, struggled with the language, worked incredibly hard,’ Cinzia says. ‘Physically and mentally, they are so strong, so resilient’.

Even the loss of their beloved Italian Centre has not diminished these survivors. Drawing on that remarkable well of resilience they have, once more, adapted to change.

Unattributed photographs by Ruth Cotton.


My thanks to Cinzia Saccaro, Silvia Saccaro, and Luigino and Antonietta Carraro for sharing this story and photographs. 

[1] 44 Beaumont Street is now occupied by The Village Newcastle, and was formerly Cafe Giannotti.