15 August 2023

Riverina Rewind: From gramophones to guns, Hunters on the Hill had something for everyone

| Michelle Maddison
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shop in 1910

Hunters on the Hill had something for everyone. Photo: Charles Sturt University Regional Archives.

This week, the Museum of the Riverina takes us back to 1910 to peruse the goods for sale at one of Wagga’s longest-running stores, Hunters on the Hill.

Hunters was established by Irishman William Cowan Hunter in 1866 at the northern end of Fitzmaurice Street (now ”The Huntress” at No. 110 ). Major flooding in 1870 led to the business being relocated, two years later, to its current site opposite the courthouse, where it can be found today under the name Hunters 1866.

Today, Hunters is known as a leading stationery business, selling newspapers, magazines, cards, household decor, workwear and club merchandise.

However, in its early days, it was much more than a stationer. Under the name Hunter Bros Ltd (Hunters on the Hill), the store was a treasure trove of jewellery, crockery, toys, musical instruments, picture frames, firearms (casually displayed on the shop floor!) and sporting equipment.

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Throughout the years, Hunters has also specialised in various goods. In 1903, an advertisement in the Tatura Guardian (Victoria) boasted: “Miss Graham is making strenuous efforts to keep for this firm the place which they assert they have always held for district millinery – the lead … she shows an abundance of pretty things which open up great possibilities and a few tasteful ‘modes’. There are some nice black hats in this collection, one of fine chip with a ruching round the crown in soft black ribbon, a plaited tulle edge, and a wreath of dull green leaves. An admirable combination is of cream lacy straw, with clusters of nasturtium-red roses and a harmonising gauze ribbon. A dainty poke bonnet for a mite of two or three years is all white shavings straw, lined and trimmed with white faille Français (sic). Miss Graham has all sorts of millinery requisites, and will make and trim hats at the shortest notice, to enhance beauty or to beautify the plain. Go and see.”

The Daily Advertiser of Friday, 13 December, 1929, stated that it “is difficult to imagine a more pleasing lot of gifts than those to be found at Hunter Bros. Ltd. The four display windows are crowded with gifts for young and old of both sexes. Fountain pens such as have never been before in Wagga can be purchased with a written guarantee of a lifetime’s service. Books of all descriptions for young and old are arranged in almost endless shelves … Diamond rings and jewellery of every description can be purchased to suit any pocket, while silverware and xylonite ware add wonderfully to the glittering range of gifts. Cut glass and dainty china have prominence near the centre of the shop, and a better range would be hard to find. An abundance of toys of all descriptions is displayed. A special attraction for the children is found in Hunters’ assortment of wonderful single seater aeroplanes. What boy would not be the proud owner of the Spirit of St. Louis, which is displayed in the main part of the shop? Fishing rods, guns and rifles add to the huge assortment in this ‘House of Gifts’…”

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By 1930, Hunters was one of the oldest established businesses in the southern district of NSW. It was also one of the region’s most modern and up-to-date department stores.

The above photograph was taken for inclusion in a special feature, “Enterprise in Riverina”, published in The Sydney Mail and NSW Advertiser, 44 years after the store was established.

In 1910, the business was entirely under the personal supervision of Wint Hunter (a son of William Cowan). The principal departments at that time were jewellery, silver and plated goods, sporting materials, stationery, boots, glass and chinaware, toys and newspapers.

In 1909, a rapid increase in business had necessitated a considerable extension of the premises, with the addition of a photograph room, sports department, and circulating library, the latter being ”a most popular rendezvous for visitors”.

The display of jewellery, watches and silver goods was unexcelled outside of Sydney and Melbourne, while in the glass and china departments, the variety satisfied the most critical customer.

Mr Hunter was an enthusiastic sportsman and an excellent shot, and personally selected all guns himself. This was a ”sufficient guarantee of quality for his friends”.

With such an array of goods for sale at all times, was it any wonder that an employee sleeping in the flat above the store when the owner was absent was urged to sleep with a loaded revolver under his pillow to deter burglars!?

Take a close look at the photograph and see whether you can find the piano rolls, a rocking horse, and on the steps at the back, the face of an employee peering out from behind the goods!

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