Clarence River Historical Society president Pat James and member Mavis Robertson look through the Marcus Clark’s 1940s catalogue that was donated to Schaeffer House Muesum recently.
Clarence River Historical Society president Pat James and member Mavis Robertson look through the Marcus Clark’s 1940s catalogue that was donated to Schaeffer House Muesum recently. Jarrard Potter

DEX FILES: ‘Online’ shopping 1900’s style

WHILE online shopping seems to be the way of the future when it comes to purchasing goods, it's not new concept if you look at the process.

Perusing items on a two-dimensional platform, rather than in a shop, and then selecting and ordering what you want and having it turn up at your home a few days later was how they used to shop in the early 1900s well before the worldwide web took over.

The printed mail order catalogue was an exciting time in many Clarence Valley households for the decades throughout the 20th century, particularly those households that were isolated from main townships and their stores.

A copy of a 1942-43 Marcus Clark's (a store located in Central Square, Sydney) catalogue turned up at Schaeffer House Museum recently which brought back many memories to Clarence River Historical Society president Pat James and member Mavis Robertson.

Mavis remembered her mother ordering "anything they needed" from the catalogues in the 1920s and 30s, as day to day shopping proved difficult for the family as they resided on an isolated dairy farm at Stockdale.

"We lived nine miles down the river from Cangai so we never went to the shops in town. I remember not going in there for four years once."

Mavis said they would get catalogues from David Jones, Grace Bros, Farmers and McDonald & East and TC Burns from Brisbane posted out each season.

"Some of the catalogues came with samples of fabric and wool stuck inside so you could see and feel the products. My mother used to order a lot of material because she made all our clothes.

"You could buy anything from them. Anything you would find in shop."

Flicking through the pages of the Marcus Clark's catalogue revealed everything from the usual suspects like clothing, perfume and toys to homewares on an impressive scale including complete bedrooms suites and mattresses, Axminster carpets, Metters stoves and air-conditioned ice refrigerators called The Blizzard and The Kosciusko De Luxe.

"And they were all delivered to your door for free. It didn't cost much for freight back then. Not like it does today."

Mavis said the turnaround from filling out the catalogue order form, posting it to capital city and having your goods arrive at the Cangai Post Office was an impressive three or four days.

"Everything used to come up on the overnight mail train. They had post office workers sorting the mail and parcels while they were travelling."

Mavis said it was always exciting when something new arrived at their place. "Nearly everything I own now I bought from catalogues."

Pat James was about 10 and lived at Bourke in the 1950s and remembered how she and her family loved receiving the seasonal department store catalogues. "We all looked forward to its arrival, it was like window shopping in a book. You couldn't buy everything in town and they were lovely big, fat books full of lots of beautiful things."

Like a lot of commercial relics from the past, catalogues like these are becoming scarcer to find and it wasn't because people threw them out.

"After you would finish using them most of them were hung up in the toilet, not for reading, to use as tissue paper."



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