9 May 2023

Back when the family grocer served the neighbourhood: David Chalker tells his family's story

| John Thistleton
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Black-and-white photo of Bruce Muffett sitting on the steps of the Chalkers shop during its heyday.

Bruce Muffett from Kinghorne Street sitting on the steps of the Chalkers’ shop during its heyday. Photos: Chalker family.

Before the arrival of supermarket chains that snatched much of the enterprise from neighbourhood shops in Goulburn, David Chalker watched two family-owned ventures thrive in the 1960s and ’70s, built on thrift and hard work.

His grandfather had a poultry farm and his parents had a small mixed business. His grandfather George Steele kept about 1000 laying hens on a large plot behind his home in Victoria Street. The land on which four open chook sheds and a workshop stood later became an extension of Murray Street.

Growing up with his two brothers and sister, one of his favourite times was visiting Pop Steele’s poultry farm. His grandparents George and Ida moved into their Federation home at 20 Victoria Street soon after they were married in 1923.

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Behind the home, a fig tree produced fruit so sweet David can still almost taste it. Beyond the fig and other fruit trees George grew corn, peas, asparagus and potatoes, which flourished from the chooks’ manure. In the workshop shed, George mashed up chook food and cleaned and boxed eggs for sale.

“Dad would take Pop Steele and me down to the railway station to pick up boxes of chicks early in the morning, we would take them back to the poultry farm, and he would put them in heated conditions,” David said.

Pop Steele worked hard until the day he was found dead in his workshop in 1973.

Before opening a shop, David’s father Bruce had joined the Navy when he was 17 and was a stoker on HMAS Swan in the Pacific Theatre until his discharge in 1946. His future wife Peg Steele was working as a milliner when they met on a Rogers Social Club trip to Bundanoon.

George and Ida Steele on George and Ida Steele were married in 1923 and moved to 20 Victoria Street soon after.

Bruce and Peg bought their shop in 1951 at 403 Auburn Street, around the corner from St Nicholas Anglican Church.

“Our lounge room fronted the shop so we could sit and watch television and keep an eye on the shop,” David recalled.

The Chalkers always had fresh milk and bread. “They used to have banana cases at the front of the counter, tilted up and there would be fresh bananas and apples and oranges in all of those,” David said.

“We had lollies of course, and kids would come in and get a couple of shillings worth of lollies. They had one of those little pinball games out the front, the kids used to line up there and put a penny in and you ran the pinball around the game.”

David and his brother Graham were paid a shilling and ninepence a week for their help. “We would go out on our bikes around to the customers and collect their orders,” he said. Bruce would pack the groceries into boxes and deliver them to customers’ homes with his son.

Next-door neighbours Vince and Barbara Duffy became close friends as well as regular customers. Other regulars included the Muffetts, who lived on Kinghorne Street, the Hurrells across the road, the Woods family, and two of Peggy’s sisters. They married two of the Penning brothers, Don and Ron, and lived next to one another further down Auburn Street.

The shop closed on Sundays when the Chalkers went to church around the corner, but this never stopped people calling at the back door if they ran short of milk or something else.

old photo of two children

Bruce Chalker grew up with his two brothers and sister (Joyce, pictured on the left).

“Charlie Muffett was often a visitor to the back door because he would run out of Log Cabin tobacco. He’d say, ‘Brucey I’m out of my tobacco’,” David said.

When much of the business was lost to the chain stores, the Chalkers closed their shop.

“Dad worked as a kitchen hand at Kenmore Hospital,” David said. “Mum was in the kitchen at St Pat’s College for many years. Neither of them had qualifications, just experience,” he said.

And what an experience that must have been.

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