Monday, 29 September 2014

Deitz Hardware - a Hamilton fixture

Guest blogger Sandra Hargreaves

Sandra Hargreaves is a Novocastrian who lives and works in London. She is the granddaughter of Charlie Reilly Deitz, who began working in the hardware store at 88 Beaumont Street, Hamilton [1] after World War 1. Reilly (as he was known) purchased the business in 1932 and after World War II, his son Charles Douglas Reilly (Doug, Sandra’s father) joined him. The Deitz family business was a Hamilton fixture for 42 years, from 1932 until 1974. Although the shop was always part of Sandra’s life growing up, her vocation has taken her far from hardware. Sandra specialises in the diagnosis of dyslexia, supporting dyslexic adults both in education and the workplace.

Deitz Hardware, 88 Beaumont Street, Hamilton c.1930

Photograph from the collection of the Deitz family



My grandfather, Reilly Deitz, had worked in hardware in the Hunter Valley from about the age of fourteen to help support his family after his father died. He had been accepted into Fort Street High, but could not go due to family circumstances. Instead, he delivered hardware from a Maitland store, pedalling his pushbike around the Hunter Valley. Then, after World War I and fighting in the third battle of the Somme, Reilly went into the hardware store at 88 Beaumont Street to help an ill war comrade, Frank Newey. Gradually my grandfather paid off the shop, enabling Frank, and later his widow, to have an income.

My grandfather was a very generous man and we found out after he died that he had helped many families in Hamilton during the Great Depression. He also bought houses for family members, including his mother, in his home town of Kurri Kurri.

Reilly Deitz was well known in Hamilton, as a member and grand master of the Masonic Lodge and also a member of Hamilton Bowling Club. He died at the age of 65 of a cerebral haemorrhage. There were so many mourners at Hamilton Wesley Church that they spilled out onto the pavement and street. A police escort accompanied the funeral procession down Beaumont Street and past the hardware store to Maitland Road, before proceeding to the Crematorium.

My father, Doug Deitz, joined my grandfather in the shop after returning from overseas service in the AIF in World War II. Da (as we called my grandfather) told him he had been waiting for him to come back so they could share the load. I remember my grandfather working part-time in the shop, doing the accounts, until a short time before his death in June, 1960.

Reilly Deitz and Doug Deitz at Doug’s inauguration as
President of Hamilton Rotary, 1957
Photograph from the collection of the Deitz family

The shop was always part of my life and I can remember being lifted onto the counter by my father or grandfather if ever I went in with my mother. When I was eight I attended RAYS, a Girls Fellowship at Hamilton Wesley Church after school, one day a week. After the meeting, I would walk down Beaumont Street by myself, meeting up with my father as he closed the shop and continuing home together. I remember an incident which really shocked me as I passed the Northern Star Hotel alone, late one afternoon. Two women were fighting outside the hotel, pulling each others’ hair and scratching each others’ faces. I saw beads scattered on the pavement where a necklace had been broken. I had never seen anything like this in my life and it had a deep impact on me.

I started doing small jobs in the shop in my last years at primary school, filling bottles with methylated spirits, turpentine and linseed oil for pocket money. Later I worked in the shop occasionally before Christmas and at busy times, but it was hard work for a young woman. At that time nails and screws were weighed on the scales and wrapped in newspaper, before being put into brown paper bags. I complained about what the nails and screws did to my hands. After completing my Leaving Certificate and while attending the University of Newcastle I worked first at Wynns, and then the Cooperative Store during my holidays.

 I felt something of a traitor to the family business, but hardware wasn't my milieu. I was lucky enough to read the poetry which my father would have loved to have studied, while doing my Bachelor of Arts degree.

My most embarrassing incident in the shop occurred one day when I was helping out because a staff member was sick. I was at university and my boyfriend came in with a friend and asked for a can of 'Black and White' paint. I thought it was a brand so went to ask Dad. Everyone in the shop roared with laughter! I wasn't suited to the hardware business. I am often reminded of this incident, by my husband Alan, who was the offending boyfriend!

My father Doug Deitz was also well known in Hamilton and was active in Hamilton Rotary for as long as I can remember. He became president in 1957. Dad, like his father, was always willing to help people and I remember him going in to open the shop on Sundays to provide something for a tradesman, even though it was his only day off. He also worked long hours after closing at night and on weekends.

Doug Deitz c.1970s
Photograph from the collection of the Deitz family

My father was an unlikely recruit into the world of hardware. His passions were music and poetry; nevertheless he was the proprietor from 1954 to 1974, including 14 years after Reilly’s death.

My father’s great love was music and he sang as much as his work in the shop allowed him. He had inherited this gift from his mother's family, the Pryors, and indeed his mother's brother, Jo Pryor, was known in the Hunter Valley as ‘the singing policeman’. There was nothing Dad loved more than singing, with his family and friends. My father and his closest friend, bank manager Geoff Collins, loved singing on Saturday nights accompanied by a former neighbour Melva Burns.

‘My operatic father’ – a youthful Doug Deitz, undated
Conspirator in Verdi’s opera 'The Masked Ball'
Photograph from the collection of the Deitz family

The hardware store entered a new phase when Dad became a founding member of Mitre-10. This enabled the participating hardware stores much greater buying power at  a time when competition was increasing and affecting sales. Dad received an award from the group for his work, and was very proud of what had been achieved.

Mitre-10 In the Beginning: Interview with Douglas Deitz, Newcastle Region
Australian Hardware Journal, March 1984
Clipping from the collection of the Deitz family

Finally, in 1974, the time came when Dad needed to retire. Both daughters had trained as teachers and there was no family member to help him as he had helped his father. The business was bought by long-term employee Noel Herbert, who changed its name to Hamilton Hardware. Noel greatly modernised the shop, introducing self service and check outs. Pre-packaged items had become the way forward. The days of weighing nails were past!

I have another connection with Beaumont Street. My maternal grandparents Stan and Levina Brownsmith ran a Cafe Milk Bar at 12 Beaumont Street from 1935 to 1939, just as Australia was coming out of the Great Depression. The whole family worked in this business and lived in the adjoining residence. With its proximity to Hamilton Station, the Cafe was a favoured breakfast haunt for the local taxi drivers as well as a supper venue for the patrons of the Regent Picture Theatre on the corner of Maitland Road. I can remember my father reminiscing about courting my mother in the Cafe over milkshakes! They were married at the Hamilton Wesley Church on 2nd September 1939, the day before war was declared. After the marriages of my mother Joyce and her sister Jean, the Café was sold in late 1939.

The cafe milk bar in which Doug Deitz courted Joyce Brownsmith, his wife-to-be, has been replaced by this building (2014)

And as the memories keep coming, I think of the last line in The Great Gatsby –
‘So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’ [2]

The retail genes seem to have disappeared in the generations that followed. However, Dad's great love of music has been born again in his grandsons. Alexander Hargreaves is an opera singer and director, currently working in Sydney, while Stefan Hargreaves is an academic music master and assistant house master at Tonbridge School in the UK.

It is a blessing of our times that these young men  have been able to follow their passions.

The 1989 earthquake damaged the Mitre-10 hardware store
The Deitz business had been sold in 1974. Doug Deitz died in March 1990,
not long after the earthquake
Photograph by Clarice Eyre, from the collection of Lorraine Castle

Unattributed photographs by Ruth Cotton.


Thanks to Sandra Hargreaves for writing this guest post, to the Deitz family for photographs, and to Bob Donaldson, who connected Sandra to Hidden Hamilton.

Sandra Hargreaves’ profile is here.

Two related posts which mention Deitz hardware  are


[1] Corner of Lindsay and Beaumont Streets, present site of Priceline Chemist.
[2] F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The American's Wife

It was a house everyone admired – an elegant, two story residence at the west end of Hamilton – belonging to the Americans. A medical doctor, Silas Rand, and his brother Thomas Rand, a dentist, had their practices there, and their homes. They’d grown up in Minnesota. Their house had once been a Turkish bath house. Visitors reported pipe works still visible on interior walls.

Hamilton Turkish Baths c.1961, prior to demolition
Photograph from personal collection of Vita Fraser

The Baths had been built in 1879 by Francis W Reay, catering to ‘the well to do, and ladies.’ Reay, a medical herbalist who’d made money on the goldfields, quickly became a man of influence, and Mayor of Hamilton in 1887. The services available in the Baths have been described here.

The baths passed into the hands of the Rand brothers probably around the early 1900s, but were not operated as baths from then on.

After graduating from dentistry in 1904, Thomas Rand followed his brother Silas to Australia. Silas was already settled in Newcastle.

Thomas Rand graduated in dentistry from Northwestern University, Chicago, 1904, joining his brother Silas in Newcastle soon after
Photograph from personal collection of Susan Kemp

At some point, a young woman by the name of Ena Newsome Cheers became housekeeper for the brothers in their large residence. Ena had grown up on a grazing property near Frederickton on the Macleay River near Kempsey, New South Wales. The youngest of nine children, she was probably around twenty when she took up the housekeeping post.

Thomas and Ena married in 1912. It was not unusual for young women without further education to be sent away from home to work as housekeepers or governesses, and even to marry within their employer’s family.

In an early variation of ‘a farmer wants a wife,’ that happened to my own mother. She married one of the sons on the isolated country property where she’d been sent to work as a ‘companion’ to a girl just a few years younger than herself.

Thomas and Ena’s first child, Howard Ainsworth, was born within a year of their marriage. Seven years would pass before the arrival of their second, Beulah.

Ena Newsome Rand (n.d.)
Photograph from personal collection of Susan Kemp

Newcastle resident Susan Kemp, granddaughter of Thomas and Ena, has researched correspondence between her grandparents, medical records  and other family history to piece together Ena’s story.[1] She writes poignantly:

‘I only met my grandmother, a total stranger, once, possibly in 1960-61, shortly before her death. My mother had care of her on a day’s leave from Stockton Hospital. She was a simple, little old lady who was in need of basic care such as clothing, hairdresser and dentist. She played the piano beautifully by memory for us for hours. She cried when we took her back to the hospital as she wanted to stay.’

How did Ena’s life come to this?

In early 1919 the first cases of the deadly pneumonic flu were diagnosed in Melbourne. An epidemic followed, and in Newcastle alone, 1500 people were hospitalised, and 500 lost their lives. Hamilton council chambers became the site of an inoculation centre. [2].

Ena was called to Sydney to help care for a favourite nephew, who was ill and asking for her. Returning on the train, Ena wore a mask and was already feeling unwell.

As a complication of the pneumonic flu, Ena appears to have contracted encephalitis. This can result in a complete personality change, with the person exhibiting bizarre behaviour with neurological and psychiatric symptoms. Paranoia, aggression and violence are not uncommon.

It was at this point, probably in 1920, that Thomas moved his family to the farm he and Silas had bought at Mutdapilly, south of Ipswich in Queensland. Thomas had been advised that the fresh country air might help his wife.

An episode of Ena’s unpredictable and dangerous behaviour occurred in relation to 16 year old Madge Bernasconi, who had been employed to help with the children. Ena became jealous of the young girl, tried to set the house on fire, and had to be locked in her room for safety.

Things did not improve, and on 24 February, 1922 at the age of 34, Ena was admitted to a private mental asylum in Ipswich. Howard would have been 9, and Beulah just 2.

Howard and Beulah Rand feeding chickens at the Mutdapilly farm
Photograph from personal collection of Susan Kemp

Ena spent three years in the Ipswich asylum, with another 450 patients. Ena’s medical notes suggest that she was ‘bright at home, fond of music, sociable but suspicious...(diagnosis) Insanity attributed pregnancy and influenza in 1919.’

It was a time when medications for mental illness were not available, and emphasis was placed on a pleasant environment for patients, including areas for employment, recreation and exercise. Susan writes:

‘At this time she was striving to be reunited with her family:”I am trying to get out for the sake of the children’’ and to maintain her identity:”Will you bring the photo of me in evening dress and let them see what I was.”’

In the early 20th century, a shift occurred in the treatment of the mentally ill, with more women and those with neurotic behaviours being institutionalised, often for long periods. Ena became one of them, with a diagnosis of ‘Hypochondriacal Melancholia’. Melancholia was a common diagnosis for women at the time – what we know of today as clinical depression.

Her sister Una Cheers sought Thomas’s permission to remove Ena from hospital and care for her in Una’s Sydney home.

Letter from Ena’s sister, Una Cheers, to Thomas Rand seeking permission to take responsibility for Ena’s care, 26 May 1925
‘I would rather see her dead than where she is’, writes Una
Photograph from personal collection of Susan Kemp

Ena was released into Una’s care, but the task proved too great. Ena was then admitted to Parramatta Mental Hospital. She was 37 years of age.

Hospitals for the mentally ill were at this time chronically overcrowded with inadequate accommodation; patients were under constant surveillance and lived very regimented lives. Female patients suffered violation of their privacy during bathing and dressing, as well as emotional and physical abuse. They wore standardised, shapeless clothes with no opportunity to take pride in their appearance. Sedative medications provided chemical restraint; forced seclusion was particularly feared by patients. Such practices were aimed at controlling behaviour in an often volatile environment.

Research Susan Kemp has undertaken suggests that Ena would have had electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or ‘shock treatment’ regularly – up to three times a week – her permission was not required. Often half a dozen people would be needed to hold the patient down. Patients were lined up to watch, knowing their turn would be soon.

Ena’s medical records documented delusions, restlessness, and conflict between her and staff members, sometimes to the point of violence.

In 1953 Ena was transferred from Parramatta to ‘new’ wards at Stockton Hospital.

Stockton Hospital in Newcastle had opened in 1910 in buildings that had served as a quarantine station. Originally a cheerless, inhospitable and overcrowded place, it was substantially redeveloped in the 1930s.
Portrait of three nurses from Stockton Hospital, NSW 1928
Photograph by F. Lucknam, Newcastle and Hunter District Society Archives, courtesy of Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, Australia

Susan learned something of what her grandmother might have experienced at Stockton from research, and interviews with people such as Marie Lilly. Marie was a nurse who began her training at Stockton Hospital in 1950 and worked there for nearly 40 years.

Marie Lilly outside the nurses’ home, Stockton Hospital, 1950
Photograph from personal collection of Susan Kemp

Staff knew patients as individuals, understanding their likes and dislikes. Patients were taken on regular walks and on outings such as to the Newcastle Show. They worked in the sewing room and laundry, had film nights in the recreation hall, and were involved in growing their own vegetables. In this village community type situation, they were protected from the outside world. [3]

Stockton Hospital (NSW), three years before Ena Rand’s admission
Photograph Newcastle Morning Herald, 26/9/1950, courtesy Newcastle Region Library

Ena remained at Stockton until 1961, and it would have been around this time that Susan Kemp first met her grandmother on day leave from Stockton. At the age of 73, Ena was transferred yet again, this time to the North Ryde Psychiatric Centre. It must have been a huge dislocation for her and she missed Stockton terribly, asking to be returned. Her stay would not be long. Ena had a fall, developed double pneumonia and heart failure, and died on 24 February, 1962.

While the laws had begun to change, providing for improved treatment for the mentally ill and reflecting changes in community attitudes and concerns, it was too late for Ena Rand. She’d been caught in the mental health system for almost 40 years, certified insane and thought to be incurable, unable to return to normal life.

And what of the family left behind?

Mental health institutions have been described as ‘the sanitizers of society’ [4] - able to relieve a troubled family of an intractable and embarrassing member. Coping with mental illness – for the affected individual, and for those who love them – is both intensely challenging, and heart breaking. Inevitably, there is a great cost to the family unit. Susan Kemp describes this:

‘In Ena’s situation, Howard and Beulah were separated and grew apart. My grandfather Thomas felt he could not raise a daughter on his own, and she was taken by one of Ena’s sisters to be raised in Sydney. Thomas lost a wife and a partner in life, and a daughter. Throughout his later life he remained a dignified, lonely gentleman dependent on his son Howard, my father, to whom he was very much attached. ....all his family (were) in the USA, except his bother Silas, who died in 1931.’
After more than a decade on the farm, Thomas returned to Newcastle  - possibly 1933/34 - to resume his dental practice in the former Turkish baths building. Probably by then, Susan speculates, he would have become resigned to the fact that Ena was never coming home. Meantime, his son Howard, who was about 18, would work with his father as a dental technician.

Father and son, deeply attached through the tragedy that befell their wife and mother, died within six months of each other, in 1957 and 1958 respectively.

For her part, Ena never forgot her children. In postcards and letters held by Susan, Ena constantly begged to hear from them.

Postcard from Ena Rand to her family
‘Love from Mother and tell Dad to come and get Mother’
Photograph from personal collection of Susan Kemp

Susan Kemp writes:

‘I don’t know if my grandfather (Thomas Rand) ever saw her again. Maybe he thought of Ena as being “dead” and that helped him live with the situation. I don’t know what contact my father had with her. It seemed after a time she ceased to exist.’

In her meticulous research, undertaken out of compassion for that ‘simple, little old lady who was in need of basic care,’ Susan Kemp has gifted her grandmother Ena Newsome Rand not just with her identity – so erased by the overburdened and often harsh system into which she’d stumbled – but also with her place in the family history.

Father and son: Thomas and Howard Rand at the Mutdapilly farm
Photograph from personal collection of Susan Kemp


My thanks to Susan Kemp for sharing her research and documentation of the story of her grandmother, Ena Newsome Rand, setting it in the context of the treatment of people with mental illness in Queensland and New South Wales from the 1920s to the 1960s.


[1] Susan Kemp 2008: An insight into the life of Ena Newsome Rand, 15 June 1888 – 24 February, 1962. Susan Kemp, Newcastle. Information and quotations have been drawn from Susan Kemp’s research, with her permission.
[2] ‘The Hunter Plague’, Newcastle Herald, Saturday 9/11/1991.
[3] Susan Kemp 2008, An insight into the life of Ena Newsome Rand, 15 June 1888 – 24 February, 1962. Susan Kemp, Newcastle, 9.
[4]  Dr Jim Gardner 1976, inside the cuckoo’s nest, Madness in Australia, Planet Publishing, Queensland. Quoting Braginsky & Braginsky, 1971.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Coming soon – the book Hidden Hamilton

There’s a big event coming up, for everyone who loves Hamilton, has a connection with Hamilton, or who simply wants to know more about one of the oldest suburbs of Newcastle.

The book Hidden Hamilton, featuring popular stories from the blog, will be published in November, 2014.


My publisher, Hunter Press (Mark MacLean and Christine Bruderlin) and I have been working extremely hard over many months to bring these stories to you in book form. That’s why I’ve not been keeping up my schedule of new blog posts, in case you’ve wondered...

Filled with historical and contemporary photographs, it’s a gorgeous production that will make an ideal Christmas gift. No, I’m not biased!

Invitations will go out closer to the time of the launch, but you may like to note the date: 5-7 pm on Tuesday 11 November, at Three Bean Espresso, Hamilton. Carol Duncan, of ABC Radio Newcastle will do the honours.

The launch will be RSVP, as it is a catered event, so don’t miss out. It is sponsored by the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, with sound by Fordtronic Video and Sound.

In the meantime, Hunter Press has a special pre-order offer for Hidden Hamilton on their website  here. Delivery is free, and it is an offer not to be missed.

I started this blog in May, 2013, six months after moving to Newcastle. The past 18 months have been a roller coaster ride for me – not only because of my own discoveries about Hamilton – but also because of the enthusiastic interest people have shown in what I’m sharing.

This has been a real community venture, with so many people contributing their stories and photographs, or helping in different ways. Local photographers Craig Smith and Matthew Ward have freely lent their time and expertise to re-photograph Hamilton sites that I'd just snapped on my phone. Through Facebook and Twitter, I am learning about the power of communities that spring up around common interests and passions, and how willingly people give and become involved.

When I first started to talk with Mark and Christine of Hunter Press about publishing a book, we agreed that we wanted to produce a quality product that would be beautiful to look at, to read, and to keep. At the same time, we wanted to set an affordable price. Enter Lynn Mangovski, who has been a tireless advocate of the Hidden Hamilton blog since it began. The result – generous sponsorship from the Greater Building Society, which has been in Hamilton for my lifetime – since 1945.

I hope you enjoy the book every bit as much as the blog, and thank you as always, for your loyalty and support.