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William and Alice Hacker General Merchants

Tribute to Marion Eaton

Marion Eaton 24-4-2009
Marion had a bright outgoing personality which was suited to interviewing people and getting them to talk. She also worked hard to build up the Chermside & District Historical Society.

Marion Eaton was a foundation member of the Chermside and Districts Historical Society Inc., and is a Life Member.

She lived in Zilllmere and accumulated an enormous amount of historical data on the area in and around Zillmere. Marion spent hundreds of hours interviewing people, following up leads, photographing, collecting documents and recording the data. The contents of the collection of large ring clip folders in our archives is a testament to her dedication and tenacity.

Some years ago Marion went to live in Sydney to be near to her family but she remained in contact with the Society. Very recently her health deteriorated and she is now living in a nursing home.

The research for the Hacker story was done by Marion as was much of the text for which we are grateful. Marion was the right person in the right place and acted decisively; without her work there would not be a record of the Hacker's contribution to the growth of Chermside and Districts.

Hacker Family from Germany

Johann Christian Hacker born Württemberg, Germany and wife Louisa settled at Clear Mountain in about 1891. They had seven children and only one, Fredrick, remained in the area.

Christian (Johann) and Fredrick were both carpenters and built many homes and at least two schools in the local area. One was the Clear Mountain School for which Christian tendered £88 ($176) for the school, two closets (toilets), and a 1000 gallon (4,546 litres) tank. It was to take six weeks to complete, weather permitting. The houses at the time were usually built in two parts, the living quarters and a separate kitchen which had a cast iron stove fired by wood. The separation of the buildings was a fire precaution.

William & Alice Hacker

William at age 14 went to work on a farm at Samsonvale but later went to Chermside and worked with the blacksmith Charlie Murr.

In about 1909 at 22 years of age he married Alice Guy, a seamstress (dressmaker) the ceremony being conducted by the Rev. Alexander Smith, Minister of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in her parent's house at Stafford rather than in the local church. (Nurse Mabel Cock was also married at home a few years later. Was this a local tradition or was it widespread?)

About this time he went to work with George Early in his general store which was on the site of the present Green Motel. This store was the first one in Downfall Creek and was opened by John Patterson in about 1870. William stayed with Early for about 12 years until Early died from injuries in a motor accident. Early's sons took over the business so William left and started his own store on the other side of Gympie Road

The Beginnings of the Store and House

Boot Sized Shop - Hacker
Bernie Hacker described William's first shop as 'boot shop size" - this is the best photo I could find Courtesy of John Oxley Library.

William had learnt the retail trade from George Early and had ideas of his own about operating a general store.

In about 1910 he borrowed a horse, bought a sulky, bought stock for the store on time payment and built a shed on a block of land. Bernie Hacker (Grandson) in his annotated, non-scaled, pencil drawn map describes the first shop as "a boot shop size". They lived in a house on Hamilton Road until they built their first house near the shop which Bernie described as "a workers dwelling" which, like the shop, was a very basic structure.

Thus started W. Hacker Limited, Gympie Road Store, Grocers & Produce Merchants on the corner of the future Bouchard Street where Beaurepairs now (2014) operates. In the first year of operation the business turned over about $3,000 worth of goods. (The weekly wage for a laborer was $4)

From Bernie Hacker's map it seems that a new store may have been built about 1930 but the photo showing the shop with a Thorneycroft truck in front, assuming that it was Hacker's truck and it is new, implies that the shop could have been built about or before 1927.

At one time a cyclone extensively damaged the store, but if was the new or old store is not clear; what is clear from the map is that there were two buildings used as the store over time.

Worker's Cottage - Hacker
A Worker's Cottage was a simple building.

Bernie Hacker above describes the first house beside the first shop as being a worker's house. There are still a few around in the local area and generally, they have been extended out the back and/or the veranda has been closed in. The additions were to accommodate a growing family.

Expansion of the Property

Bernie Hacker Sketch Map 1930s-1940s
Bernie Hacker was a grandson and would have had an intimate knowledge of the family history. Much of the text came from this map

Eventually Hackers acquired the block of land behind the store up to Kelso Street and bounded on the south by Hamilton Road, on the north by Wheller Gardens Retirement Home and on the east by Gympie Road.

This became the yard for up to 14 horses which the family used to pull the heavily loaded wagons and drays that went into the railheads and markets at Roma Street and South Brisbane to say nothing about the home deliveries. Kath Ballard writes: "The hackers used a wagon drawn by four horses to deliver goods on order around Aspley, Chermside, Zillmere, Geebung and Albany Creek. Groceries were delivered into kitchens and "feed" or produce into sheds. Hackers always had a 'poke' of paper containing lollies for the children."

Gradually trucks replaced the horses with the first one, a Thorneycroft, being purchased in about 1927; it was still in use when the shop was sold in 1964. The bodywork of the trucks was done by Hamilton's body works on imported chassis. Occasionally the horses were used to pull the trucks home when they broke down.

The Great War and Interwar Period.

The business prospered and even before 1914 the shop had been extended but there are no details.

The outbreak of the Great War in 1914 led to increased business with the arrival of troops for training in the two large paddocks of Chermside; the Light Horse in Marchant's Paddock and the Infantry in Sparkes' Paddock (7th Brigade Park)

However the war also brought tensions for the German immigrants. Some people who thought they were being 'patriotic' started harassing any German migrants or in fact, anybody who had a German name. Marion Eaton recounts an ugly incident involving a Hacker dray which was passing along Brunswick (a German name) Street in the Valley carrying produce from the city markets; a group of young male 'patriots' (thugs) stopped the dray and then overturned it spilling the contents on the road; much worse happened in other parts of Australia.

The three boys attended Chermside State School between about 1907 and 1924 and all joined the business on leaving school. The 1920's was a generally prosperous period and the Hacker business grew.

The 1930's saw the Great Depression which caused many businesses go bankrupt and close down but, with hard work and long hours, the family managed to keep the shop open.

A Larger Shop

Hackers New Store  C 1920s
This shop replaced the 'boot shop size' shop but when is unknown. It was very likely to have been there in the the early post World War 1 period on the site indicated in Bernie Hackers map. The original photo is much larger than this resized photo and clearly shows electricity connections on the apex of the gable. (See comment below.)

The building was very basic as befitted the style of early Chermside. A practical 'tin and timber' building with wooden steps in front a veranda with earth floor facing what looks like an unsealed Gympie Road. There might have been some bitumen in the middle of the road.

The skillion on the left is probably the stock food section and is high enough for the dray to back up to the big door and be easily loaded or unloaded.

The man and woman in white could have been William and Alice Hacker while the two in the dray may have been two of the boys.

(Electricity Supply) The Kedron Shire Council commenced electricity connections on the 2nd Nov 1923 - certainly at Buhot Street, Geebung (Qld. Government Gazette) (Marching to the Trains p.24)

Assuming that the electricity supply would have come along Gympie Road, it follows that the photo of Hacker's shop could have been taken earlier than the 1923 date above.

A Larger House

Hastie family home before removal
Mr. & Mrs. George Hastie with Miss McNeille on the veranda. The photo is dated 1903 and shows a very up to date and expensive building. The grand staircase would have been quite expensive.

Located behind the shop and facing Hamilton Road was the house of Mr. & Mrs. George Hastie which the Hackers acquired possibly when they bought the above block of land and when the family was growing in the years before the outbreak of war in 1914. The house was shifted to the north side of the shop facing Gympie Road where it became the Hacker family home. (See Bernie Hacker's map above.)

Hacker Make Over of Hastie House
The renovated Hastie house becomes the Hacker family home. Quite an improvement on a Workers Cottage.

This house became the home for William and Alice for the rest of their lives. The boys married and built separate homes, Charles and Sydney in Hamilton Road with Eric in Kelso Street. Thus the family remained working together in the shop and living within easy walking distance of each other.

Hacker's Extended Store C 1925

Hackers Extended Store C1925
The extension is the long part on the left of the photo. See earlier photo above. Gympie Road still looks the same while the electricity pole was probably there in the earlier time. The proliferation of wires was mainly for telegraph lines as well as electricity supply. People From Left: 4th Alice (Amy) Hacker, 5th Charlie Hacker, 6th William Hacker.

While this photo was dated C 1925 I wonder who owns the Thornycroft truck. They bought their first Thornycroft in 1927; which date, probably does not matter much either way!

The sign on the new extension reads Sherwin Williams Paint Guaranteed for every painting purpose.

Stock Kept in pre Supermarket Days

Hacker Sales Docket 1960
A Sales Docket was always issued to a customer when a sale was made and paid for. It was a written version of the printed receipt issued by the check out assistant at the present super markets. The shop keeper or assistant carried a pencil behind his ear or in her hair, wrote each item and its price. added them up, took the money, gave change from the cash drawer or the mechanical till, wrapped the goods, tied them up with string and snapped the string with their fingers. They did all this while chatting with the customer, whom they knew. George Reid, another shopkeeper used to refer to his two daughters, Coral and Rona, as the editors of the Stickybeak Gazette; they collected and disseminated the local news.

The following description of goods etc., was characteristic of the business till the early 1950's.

In the early days very few items were packaged, chocolate, some items in tins or cans, bottles of drink; most goods were kept in bulk, weighed and served in brown paper bags as the customer needed.

Large jars of lollies were prominent on the counter, but most items were on bare wooden shelves behind the counter where the grocer or shop assistant could easily reach them; the floors were bare boards with a few wooden high chairs for the customers to sit while their orders were filled.

Butter came in specially made 'butter' boxes of pine carrying 56 pounds (25.4 Kg) of butter. Hackers used enamel basins with two butter pats and would scoop out the butter into 'boats' made of thin plywood which were lined with grease proof paper and sell them to customers. Some customers would bring their own basins to the shop to collect their butter. Wet bags were wrapped around the butter boxes when the contents softened due to summer heat.

Keeping drinks and other items cool in the summer was difficult without refrigeration; blocks of ice could be brought from the local ice works, if and when there was one. Otherwise wet cloths draped over the items or they could be stored in a wet safe, sometimes called a drip safe.

Cheese came in 40 pound (18.14 Kg) blocks, was cut in half and had to be cut in smaller blocks as the customer ordered. In hot weather the cheese became oily but wasn't affected apart from losing weight as the oil ran off the block.

Hacker Advertisement 1956
Advertising was not as prominent as it is in the 21st Century. It would only be in a local paper and was usually limited to ones similar to the above. It was mostly informative, rather than persuasive with little or no mention of buying some brand name product. The outside of the shop usually had some signs for individual products. This saved the owner of the shop the cost of painting the building.

Biscuits came in large tin boxes with a fold back lid. You could buy a bag of broken biscuits very cheaply. Sugar came in 70 pound (31.7Kg) hessian bags and the sugar was sold in brown paper bags. The hessian sugar bags were prized by customers as handy carry bags; there were no plastic bags till about the 1960s or later.

Sugar, flour, rice and all other grains were in large hessian bags and had to be measured out into brown paper bags tied with string to go on to the shelves. Tea came in large plywood tea chests which were lined with 'silver paper' which kept the tea dry.

Common soap and kerosene soap (for washing clothes) came by the bar which did not have grooves so it had to be cut into pieces. Monkey brand hard sand soap was used to clean oil off anything including hands.

Knives were ordinary steel, not stainless, had to be cleaned by rubbing the knife on a Bath Brick which was like sand soap.

Included in the normal merchandise was a lucrative trade in explosives which were used by farmers to clear the numerous large stumps remaining after the loggers had cut the trees for milling.

Animal Feed and Fuel

Petrol Bowsers Charley Murr Serevice Station 1920's
Three hand operated petrol bowsers at Charlie Murr's Service Station in Chermside. Hackers and Early had one each. The petrol was pumped up from underground tanks into the glass tank on top of the bowser using a hand operated lever. When the required amount was pumped up the hose was used to drain the petrol into the car tank. Very simple.

All the animal feed was kept in the shed beside the store which had a raised floor so drays could be backed up to the door and the heavy bales or bags wheeled into them or out of them. .

For small amounts such as 'chook' food the ubiquitous sugar bag could be filled and the contents weighed, the sugar bag was small enough to be carried on a man's bike across the bar or on the handlebars. Failing that he could hoist it up on to his shoulder and walk home.

Also kept in the shed were 4 gallon (11 litres) four sided tins of kerosene which was widely used for lamps and later in tractors and kerosene refrigerators on farms. When the kerosene tin was emptied it could be flattened out and nailed on a wall as sheeting. Just what the handyman needed!

When cars became more widely used in the 1920s a hand operated petrol pump was installed in front of the shop. It was possibly a Vacuum Oil Co., pump while Early's had a Shell Co. pump. Petrol cost about one shilling and six pence (16 cents) per gallon which, in 1930, was rather dear.

World War II

Where were the Americans camped? Sometimes officers would come to the shop to tell William that a lot of men would be arriving at the camp. When they came they practically filled the shop buying soft drinks and biscuits, anything they could eat immediately.

They called scones 'biscuits' while biscuits were 'cookies', soft drinks were 'soda' which caused confusion as the family thought they meant soda water. Hackers charged the 'Yanks' normal prices while some others overcharged them.

Coke cola was hard to obtain as the Americans had taken over the factory in the Valley and soft drinks generally were in short supply and the Hackers regularly had to do the rounds of the local manufacturers such as Horitz, Cosgrove, Tristam and Marchant.

Petrol was rationed to make scarce supplies available to all those who were allowed to run a car or lorry. A substitute for petrol was to use a gas producer which was a generated by a coke burning engine attached to the vehicle. The vehicle engine would be started using petrol and was then switched to gas from the 'coke burner'.

Night driving was banned unless one had a special permit and then shades had to be fitted to the headlights so the beam was directed down on to the road.

All towns and cities had to observe total blackout for fear of enemy air raids.

On the site of the present Chermside Markets, corner of Webster and Gympie Roads, there was a large paddock owned by Jack Robinson who lived next door. There were some small shops there facing Gympie Road and they sold small items such as drinks and cigarettes to the troops. One of them was a barber shop which catered for the troops.

Rationing Short Supplies

Ration Tickets for Petrol C1942
This set of coupons was for petrol, separate sets were issued for all the rationed items. It must have been a nightmare for shops to collect, sort and send in to someone in the government. However with the wartime shortages it made sure that everybody got a fair share.

Rationing was a feature of life in Australia during World War II; items such as petrol, sugar, butter, eggs, tea, meat, bacon, clothing, were all rationed and ration books were issued to individuals with coupons for each item.

When buying goods the ration book had to be produced and the store employee would cut out the appropriate coupons when the customer paid for the goods. Rice was in short supply and could only be bought on a doctor's prescription; stout was another item that had to be prescribed.

The delivery man bringing the weekly order used to carry a pair of scissors and a tin in which to place the coupons cut from the customer's ration book. All the coupons had to be accounted for which must have been a headache for the storekeeper.

Competition from Supermarkets

Hackers, BCC and Allan & Stark
This aerial photo was taken in 1987 and shows the site of Hackers on the corner of Bouchard St. and Gympie Rd., BCC on the corner of Hamilton Rd. and Gympie Rd. Drive In Shopping Centre across Gympie Rd. Hackers was about 100m from the other two. The drive in was much smaller in 1957 but was still a very big threat to Hackers.

The business was at its peak in the early post WWII period and employed five workers in addition to the family. In 1948 the turnover was in the vicinity of $300,000 annually.

In the early 1950s Hackers sold a block of land on the North West corner of Gympie and Hamilton Roads to the grocery firm Brisbane Cash and Carry. They specialized in selling packaged groceries which were packaged in a factory on an assembly line.

This did away with the time consuming habit of the local grocer weighing out quantities of goods for the customer and tying them up with string etc. The shoppers did their own selecting of the goods from the shelves using a trolley to carry them. Modern super market shopping had arrived in Chermside. The Food Supermarket - B C C opened in August 1955.

The final 'straw' for Hackers was the establishment in 1957 of Alan & Stark's Drive in Shopping Centre across Gympie Road from their store. Brisbane Cash and Carry immediately moved into the Drive In where it maintained its position of the supermarket for Chermside.

It seemed that there was no way that Hackers could survive but they continued on for another seven years. William and Alice, then in their 80s, finally decided to sell the shop in 1964 to Beaurepairs when William was 87 and Alice was 85.

The shop was demolished and site redeveloped to suit the tyre repairs and sales outlet of Beaurepairs. The Hackers continued to live in their house beside the new business until William died at 90 years in 1967 and Alice in 1968 at 88.

Closure - Sale - Forgotten

Beaurepairs Hacker Site 2014
Today there is no sign that Hackers ever existed but for 50 years, two generations, the shop played a vital role in the history of Chermside.

The Hackers had been very successful, especially considering that William was a German migrant and had to weather the hostility of many people during two wars when Germany was the enemy to say nothing of surviving the Great Depression.

Marion Eaton writes: The store did so well that at one time William sent money to his old church in Württemberg to help them along and in return the Church sent back a chart showing the ancestors of the Hackers back to the 1600s. The family was delighted and carefully preserved the chart.

Hacker Homes: The three boys built their own homes in Chermside within easy reach of the shop. Charles at 456 Hamilton Road - eventually sold and transported to Yarraman where it would be 'sold on' by the removalist. It was replaced by units; Sydney at 489 Hamilton Road later sold and transported to Yugar and replaced by eight villas; Eric at 12 Kelso Street, originally high set it was lowered, moved sideways and a block of flats built beside it.

Thus, practically all traces of a thriving and long lasting business were obliterated and even the memory faded as new generations of Chermsiders arrived. What started as an 'up to date' business when Chermside was still a village was gradually overtaken by newer and more 'up to date' businesses which could easily under-sell the old way of selling groceries and produce.