11 January 2023

Shaws' love of lasting quality became a driving force

| John Thistleton
Start the conversation
Woman in lounge room

Pamela Shaw with a bureau chest of drawers made in Australia as a one-off item. She spent much of her working life handling antiques and studying the materials and styles that indicate their age. Photo: John Thistleton.

Geoff Shaw once changed gears from being a mechanic on the state’s motor-racing circuit to restoring rare antique furniture. He had met his future wife Pamela while ballroom dancing in Bowral. They toured the racing circuit together, and later launched a completely new venture in fine antique furniture in Goulburn.

That’s when a stroke of luck helped them become a household name in Goulburn. One of Pamela’s contacts in Bowral who worked for real estate agent Westbrooks told her they stored old furniture from people who had used it to pay their rent.

“We had a look at the store and it absolutely blew our eyes wide open,” Pamela said. “It was everything we needed. So we did about eight trips in the van backwards and forwards. We bought a whole shed-full of furniture.”

In the early 1970s, Shaw’s Antiques rented a long, narrow shop in Goulburn’s main street next to Hoyts Theatre before buying a building at 127 Auburn Street.

Drawn to the restoration side of antiques, Geoff carefully learned how to repair, strip, stain and French polish furniture. It had to be right before he would allow it in the showroom.

Meanwhile, Pamela read widely as well, discovering in reference books only a slight difference between Victorian and Edwardian periods but a huge difference in their styles and value.

“Handling things is the way to learn,” she said. “Just pick something up and feel it.”

Until the business became profitable, they lived off Pamela’s wage. She found work after approaching accountants Manfred and McCallum, armed with a reference from her former Bowral employer.

“Geoff would be in the shop early, working. I would go down at lunchtime and dust and clean the shop,” she said.

“Then I would go back down at 5pm when I finished (at the accountant’s) and do more work. Waxing the furniture and keeping it looking good in the shop was important, so I did all that. It was hard work for 10 years until we felt comfortable that it was going to be a goer.”

Man and his van

Geoff Shaw in his element, visiting properties in search of antique furniture. Photo: Shaw family.

Acquiring chairs that needed reupholstering, Geoff came across Ben Seagar, a retired farmer in Goulburn who was looking for another occupation.

“He did our upholstery for many years,” Pamela said. “We were so lucky to find Ben, he was very good, very reliable.”

Practical furniture such as chests of drawers, comfortable armchairs and dining tables turned over quickly, while several rare pieces never made it into the shop. Instead they went to the Shaws’ place, where they are still enjoyed today.

READ ALSO ‘Use it or lose it’, says owner of teetering Lilac City Cinema

There is an English oak coffer, made about 1730 in the pre-wardrobe era, a small Georgian oak corner cabinet with a carved shell centre, an 1880 cedar chest of drawers with mother-of-pearl inserts in the knobs, and perhaps the most remarkable and extremely rare piece: a bureau bookcase made by Farmer and Company, Sydney.

Made of Australian pine, musk and ribbon and satinwood, the circa-1870 bookcase in beautiful condition came from a descendant of Hamilton Hume the explorer, Frank Hume of Frankfield, Gunning.

“We did a lot of homework and Frank Hume was very helpful,” Pamela said. “He could remember when it was delivered by Farmer and Company. They had made it in their workshop in Sydney, it wasn’t just a buy-and-sell piece. That’s what makes it so valuable, because it is so unusual.

“Geoff used to spend the weekend going out to farms, knocking on doors and saying he was interested in buying. Crawling around old shearing sheds, he found quite a bit of stuff, generally in pretty poor condition.”

Geoff’s restoration work was thorough – the finished product had to be right. On reflection today, Pamela wishes he had worn a protective mask while using chemicals while working, because it was exposure to these that ultimately took his life.

Man and woman with awards

Members of the Society of Antique Modellers, Pamela and Geoff Shaw with trophies from one of the society’s events. Photo: Shaw family.

When the Hume Highway bypass of Goulburn in 1992 threatened to divert passing traffic from their business, the Shaws moved to Boxers Creek Road, north-east of the city, where they placed a huge sign in a front paddock to keep their name in front of prospective customers on the busy highway.

After Geoff died 23 years ago, Pamela continued their antique business for another eight years, before selling up and moving back to Goulburn. Today, a leafy garden surrounds her home, where history-laden timber furniture and Royal Doulton and Webb and Corbett crystal glass honour people who made and appreciated timeless craftsmanship.

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Do you like to know what’s happening around your region? Every day the About Regional team packages up our most popular stories and sends them straight to your inbox for free. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.