The History of Avenell Bros (stockist)

May 21, 2020

You might not know it, but some of our wonderful stockists have the most amazing stories to tell. In light of all that’s going on in the world right now, we thought to bring you the story of one long-time stockist, Avenells, who isn’t just surviving the current COVID-19 pandemic, but also survived the Spanish flu! We asked John from Avenell’s to tell us a little bit about the history of his wonderful establishment. Here’s what he had to say…

Avenell’s was founded by Frederic William Avenell (1873 to 1958). From age 10 (1883) Frederic worked for Mr G. J. Young who owned an emporium style business founded in 1875 on the corner of Bourbon and Targo Streets, in a parade of shops he had developed in 1888. The buildings consisted of 4 single-storey shops and a grand 2 storey corner premises with wrought iron verandah and internal spiral staircase.

Frederic started out as paperboy, rowing his boat across the river to deliver papers to North Bundaberg. He continued with Mr Young for 14 years, gaining the experience and confidence to start his own business at 91 Bourbon Street, diagonally opposite his former employer.

It was with the financial backing of Mr J. A. Sinclair, licensee of The Grand Hotel, that he opened F W AVENELL NEWSAGENT, STATIONER, BOOKSELLER AND SEEDSMAN in 1898.

The business prospered, and with the establishment of a grand Queenslander home at Thabeban on The Old Maryborough Road the family grew, to 6 daughters and 1 son, namely; Phyllis, Coralie, Elsie, Iris, Gladys, Rufus and Edna. Iris and Edna were to inherit the business in 1958 after Frederic passed away.

During 1912 it became apparent that Mr John White, the current owner of the Corner Store, wished to sell his business and concentrate on his parliamentary duties as a member for Musgrave and minister in the Queensland Government (previously Mr G. J. Young). F. W. Avenell formed a partnership with his brother Albert Edward Avenell (a former Bundaberg mayor) and AVENELL BROTHERS was born.

The partnership took over the business of John White on January 1 1913, absorbing FW AVENELL and settling in the premises diagonally opposite at 100 Bourbon Street. Here the business continued to prosper, moving the newsagent, stationery and sporting goods departments into the 98 Bourbon Street location.

Business would have been challenging to say the least. But they did indeed manage to trade through world wars 1914 to 1918 and 1939 to 1945 and the Great Depression of the 1930s. Though it wasn’t without some casualties. The piano department closed in 1915 due to the “bombing of the line to Hamburg” and the unavailability of German pianos which had been shipped from London at the rate of one a month.

The music room continued, however, run by Winnie Read and Ducky (Evelyn) Moore, where you could hear the latest tunes played on a piano and then purchase the sheet music so that you could entertain your family and friends with the latest hits. There was no iTunes back then and we have recently discovered a cache of sheet music originally sold by Avenell Bros dating to the First World War, amongst which was the music and lyrics for “Beautiful Ohio”, a song that topped the charts in 1919.

Then came the Spanish Flu. Well, we survived but what a challenge after so many local boys had not come back from Europe. As Phyllis Avenell was a nurse at the Base Hospital the older girls were conscripted into helping. Elsie who was 19 at the time and my grandmother lasted one day. A patient died in her arms. It was too much to bear.

The next years were successful in trade with ranges designed and made especially for Avenell Bros which included a range of fine china, local views souvenir wares, made by The Shelley China Company. All pieces had the Shelley England backstamp along with Made in England EXPRESSLY FOR AVENELL BROS. BUNDABERG QLD. … some of which survive today and turn up in auctions and junk stores. I have a small collection of pieces.

Next challenge was the Great Depression, which we also survived.

Then in 1938, The Estate of Mr G. Young announced that the Corner Shop had been sold to The Bank of New South Wales resulting in a scaling down of the business and the purchase of Number 96 Bourbong Street, where we continue to trade today.

The corner shop became the Red Cross Parcel centre during the war and Avenell Bros traded from #96 Gift, Homewares and Utility Goods with a linking doorway to #98 Newsagent, stationer, tobacconist, bookseller and depot for sports goods. In July 1938 Granddad purchased the building at 96 Bourbong Street saying he would never have to move again. It is said he regretted he had never purchased the corner building when he had the opportunity some years earlier.

This operated successfully until 1943 when Uncle Ted died and once again consolidation happened. The business downsized to a counter newsagency with a postal service to surrounding country areas. The ledgers with details of accounts still exist, with a tobacconist, fancy goods and housewares store at #96

The business passed on to daughter #4, Iris May, and with the help of her niece Betty McWatters, continued to run with visits from grandad from time to time.

I began my apprenticeship at Avenells in December 1965 at age 11 on a wage of 5 pounds 8 shillings a week i.e. $10.80. And I worked every Christmas holiday until my 2 nd year of university when my holiday job moved me to Chippindalls Pharmacy down the street…

Middle Back; Shirley Avenell Greenhalgh, Right Back; Iris May Avenell, Left Front; John Greenhalgh (author of this blog post), Right Front; Frederick William Avenell.

Fast forward to 1977 and Aunt Iris wished to retire, and Avenell Bros was purchased by Ron, Shirley and John Greenhalgh. Shirley came back into her Grandfather's business saving the name and re-establishing it as the place to buy all things beautiful and collectable. During this time the business hosted a travelling exhibition of Bohemia Crystal contemporary treasures and three visits by Michael Doulton who discussed collecting and signed special pieces.

Fast forward to 1998 and after spending 20 years managing pharmacies in Brisbane Melbourne and London I returned to Bundaberg and took up the reins at #96 and hence began the current transition of Avenell Bros.

Written by John Greenhalgh (pictured above), the current owner of Avenell Bros and an Erstwilder stockist (you can spot us in the front right window!) and a big fan. 

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