‘Seasons of the Street’

How many customers can be identified? The Faces:Harry and Alison Nicoll
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Harry and Alison Nicoll, shortly after their retirement, February 1991.

The Family:Henry Desmond Nicoll (always ‘Harry’) was born at Nurse Way’s house in Port Macquarie on 7 July, 1920.Just one week earlier, Alison Cranmer Dunwoodie had been born in the same house on 30 June, 1920. These two babies were destined to meet in their 20s, and go on to marry.Harry returned to Beechwood with his mother, where his father and uncle ran a general store, started by their father, Henry Beavan Nicoll, who had emigrated from Dundee, Scotland.Harryhad an idyllic childhood.Sport, swimming in the river, singing around the piano, surrounded by a loving family which included older brother Col, and cousins.The family moved to Port Macquarie in 1928, finding a new home in William Street, which today is a well loved venue for lunch and afternoon tea known as ‘Tea and Treasures’.Harry was a talented cricketer and tennis player, like his father before him.After finishing school, he moved to Sydney in 1937 to work for Hoffnung & Son. He enlisted in the airforce on the declaration of World War Two, and went on to have twotours in New Guinea.

On a quite different path, Alison Dunwoodie grew up in Waverley, Sydney, returning regularly to Kendall in school holidays to visit her grandparents.Unlike her husband to be, Alison had no aptitude for sport whatsoever.Rather, she had a strong creative streak, effortlessly winning literature, art and music prizes and illustrating children’s books later in life.She gained entry to Sydney GirlsHigh School, like her older sister, Margery.Her younger brother, Rod, went to Sydney Boys High.From Sydney High, Alison gained entry to Sydney Teachers’ College.Alison taught in many infants’ schools in Sydney before being posted to Port Macquarie where her parents had, by then, retired.In one of her classes was Harry’s young cousin – and his mother thought that the young teacher would be just perfect for her nephew, Harry.Home on leave from the airforce, Harry started collecting his cousin from school and from the care of Miss Dunwoodie.They married in 1948.After a time working with his father, Douglas Nicoll, Manager of the Hastings Shire Co-op in Wauchope, and his uncle Preston who was the Chairman of the Board of the Butter Factory, Harry decided to buy a Newsagency.With small son Geoff and baby Margery, Harry and Alison moved to Sydney, buying their first Newsagency at Bellevue Hill.Harry and Alison disliked the experience intensely – and after an impassioned plea by Alison to Mr Henderson, Managing Director of Fairfax, Harry was released from his contract.In 1956, they bought the Newsagency in Grenfell, and moved there in June.

Memories of Main Street:Harry and Alison instantly loved Grenfell, the people and the Newsagency.Grenfell offered a wonderful family life, with wool and wheat prices high, and spirits matching.There were weekend tennis parties, with the scent of beautiful gardens and long trips home in the blue FJ Holden under clear, dark skies and silhouettes of overhanging trees.For the children, the shop was an Aladdin’s Cave, and the Main Street always varied, exciting and full of endlessly interesting and encouraging people.The business of the Newsagency responded to the seasons of Grenfell.

At the end of January, the year commenced with ‘School Opening’. In the storeroom, cartonsfull of different size exercise bookswere unpacked. Boxesof stationery suppliesand‘book orders’ for theGrenfell and surrounding small schoolswere delivered.When the new school year commenced, the shop would be full of children and their parents, buying their exercise books and stocking up on new pencil cases, rubbers and sharpeners.Upstairs, Alison frantically cut plastic sheets for the covering of books, rushing downstairs as each small pile was completed.The next milestonesin the yearwereANZAC Day and Easter.Sombre days, inkeepingwith the heavy mood on Main Street, when the shop would close for half days.Things brightened up for Mothers’ Day in May.Cheerful, happier cards and paper would appear, full of pictures of flowers and bright colours.Then came‘Cracker Night’ on 24 May.Glass cases filled with crackers for sale, no restrictions or safety rules in those days.Children would buy what they wanted, curtailed only by their pocket money.There were a huge variety of crackers – double bungers, catherine wheels, sparklers, rockets and ‘throwdowns’.Mixed bags of crackers were done up for sale.The sound of bungers would be heard up and down Main Street for weeks after the bonfires had finished.June was the thrill of the Henry Lawson Festival long weekend.The shop window would be decorated – Alison’s painting of Henry Lawson would be brought out – more books on Henry Lawson’s poems and stories would appear. Friday was the ‘School Play Day’ at Oddfellows’ Hall, with a full day of performances given by the pupils fromGrenfell Schools and the small surrounding schools.Car spaces were impossible to find.On Saturday, the family would always watch the procession fromtheverandah, hanging over to take photosthrough theflags.In September came Fathers’ Day.Out would come the cards and wrap in suitable colours of browns, dark greens and orange.Pipes, slippers, cars, and boats were the main themes.

And finally, Christmas.The season would begin in early December, with Sunday School anniversaries, prize givings and school concerts. Throughout December, Christmas decorations would appear in the shop, new toys would arrive and parents would place their orders.Children were in a social whirl, moving to the ultimate goal – Christmas Day. It was widely agreed amongst the children that the RSL threw the best Christmas party in town.In the old RSL rooms (where the library is today), the children would experience the novelty of cartoons on a big screen, outside the picture theatre. Mr Rudder would play ‘Jingle Bells’, the signal for Santa Claus to appear from the back with a sack that caused fast beating and hopeful hearts.Then it was down to the backyard, where another novelty awaited – icecreams in buckets.The pace in the Newsagency picked up as the countdown to Christmas Day began.From a pleasant, relaxed start, a frenetic atmosphere developed.Harry would regularly driveto Sydney to collect orders that hadn’t arrived, or stock up on Christmas wrapping paper.There was the worry of each train load and whether that bike had been delivered this time.The arrival of the Christmas trees, fastened toverandahposts,signalledthat the big day was almost there. On Christmas Eve the shop wasbuzzing with anticipation and good cheer, ‘Merry Christmas’ greetings being called from all directions.Main Street was alive with the rush of last minute shopping, people in and out, forgetting items and returning, back and forth.Fever pitch was reached with the Main Street Christmas party.Christmas carols would be played by the Grenfell Band and Santawould arrive, always in hot and dry weather in the early night fall.The cafes would be brimming with families – and the laughter would float in and out of the hotels.It was an extremely happy and joyful time forGrenfell on Main Street.Christmas Day wasthe one day of the year the Newsagency closed.But always there would be early morning phone calls or knocks on the door of the house upstairs, with parents desperate to find some forgotten batteries for new toys.New Year’s Eveprovided thefinal spark to the year before the cycle would beginover again.

Community Involvement:Harry and Alison worked relentlessly long hours, seven days a week.Harry kept up his tennis and squash as long as he could – and quietly sponsored many town activities.Many young Grenfellians had their first job working for Harry in the Newsagency. Alison used her music training to play the organ for the services at the Presbyterian Church, and joined the Women’s Guild.Alison also helped with the Grenfell Swimming Club, for many years with Laurel Walters, wrestling with the swimming and handicap times of the children each Friday night. Alison was also closely involved with school activities.

Where Are They Now?:After 34 years in the Newsagency, Harry and Alison Nicoll sold the business to Marilyn Wyse in late 1990. They fully intended retiring in Grenfell – but unforeseen delays surrounding the purchase of a house made them decide to move to Canberra.In 1991, they bought a house in Campbell and made a home there.Following the sale of their legal practice GA Nicoll and MA Nicoll in Tweed Heads in 1989,Dr Geoff Nicollcontinues his work asan academic lawyer at the University of Canberra. Margeryworks atthe Law Council of Australia, where she is the Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Director, International. In 2015, as a result of her international work, she became the Chair of the Bar Issues Commission of the International Bar Association based in London and will complete her term shortly. She will remain as one ofonlytwo Australian lawyers on the IBA’s Management Board for a further four years.In 2009, Geoff and Margery bought a housein Grenfell, and the family has since moved between Canberra and Grenfell with the eventual goal of settling in Grenfell.Alison passed away in June 2014 – but Harry remains well, enjoying each visit to Grenfell.

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