A group of dedicated Griffith history buffs have begun their most ambitious project yet – plotting the 107-year history of each shop or residence on every block of the town’s main street, Banna Avenue.
Marlene Gras, Ann Langford, Christina Morris, Clive Polkinghorne, Marg Hare, Anne Gribble, Marg Tucker and others from the Griffith Genealogical & Historical Society are doing the painstaking detective work that will eventually be published in a magazine.
“We’re looking through electoral rolls, troves, divorce records, obituaries, old newspaper clippings and Google Earth, and we’ll be going to talk to shop owners too,” Ms Morris said.
“We see a lot of stuff posted from people like John Robinson on Facebook, on the Old Griffith NSW Album. It’s not in chronological order, but we can piece it together from there.”
Ms Gras, aged 86, added: “The most important thing we are using is our memory.”
The group has drawn on extensive work from society matriarch the late Wendy Polkinghorne, who figured out who owned most of the blocks between 1916, when Griffith first became a town, and the 1970s.
For instance, she discovered that Lot 20 belonged to a Sarah Ann Rea in 1919, then changed hands among nine different owners before ending up as Codemo Bros Butchering Co Pty Ltd in 1974. The group plans to do the same thing for every lot.
Today, Banna Avenue is a bustling town centre full of cafes and restaurants. It’s the place to go if you want to meet your friend or colleague for a meal or coffee. But it wasn’t quite like that in the 1950s, according to Wendy’s husband, Clive.
“We didn’t really go out for coffee, that’s what yuppies did,” he said. “There weren’t as many restaurants, and people wouldn’t eat out that often. We ate at home.
“My parents and aunties and uncles would occasionally meet at Wallace’s Cafe on an afternoon to have a yarn. Garden of Roses was another place they might go for a meal and Mona’s Cafe was popular too.”
Garden of Roses was next to the popular Lyceum Theatre, a focal point of the street where people would go to see the latest movies and plays, before it was demolished in 1977.
“I worked there as a cashier and an usherette,” Ms Gras said. “It was wonderful.”
The 86-year-old said most of the action happened on the street itself rather than inside the dwellings.
“I remember going up the street with my daughter in the pram. She’s now 60. You’d stop and talk with everyone. These days, you go up and you’d be lucky to meet anyone you know.”
Ms Morris said back in the day, you’d find more clothing shops, tailors, repair places and the like, rather than eateries.
“If you wanted to get something fixed, it was easier to find somewhere.”
Anyone who has ever owned an allotment in Banna Avenue is invited to get in touch with the society to let it know which years you held it for, who was there before you and who took over afterwards.
The society is also on the lookout for new members so it can continue its work of preserving Griffith’s history and helping people connect with their family roots. Ms Morris, who at age 65 is one of the group’s young guns, said she’d like to see the next generation of history lovers get involved.
If interested, you can pop by the society’s office on Tranter Place (next to the Country Women’s Association) between 1 pm and 5 pm on Thursday, Friday or Saturday, during which time you can also call (02) 6964 8942. You can email info on your Banna Avenue residence via [email protected].