In preparation for a presentation I was giving for Tamworth Regional Heritage Festival, I interviewed the last McClelland to own our shop, Tony McClelland, aged 80. Tony’s earliest memory of the old store is from when he was about eight-years-old, being with his grandfather Bill McClelland dressed for work in a suit. Odgers and McClelland Exchange Stores was started by William McClelland and John Odgers in the 1890s, about 40 years after gold was discovered at Hanging Rock. The partnership exchanged gold for credit at the store to purchase goods. It was a general merchants selling all the basics that people needed. Goods like potatoes, sugar, salt, onions, dates, and flour were bought in bulk and repackaged in paper bags.
The building was initially just the publicly accessible single gable shop front, then it was doubled in size with a warehouse added, and a verandah built in 1911. The warehouse was built after the introduction of the Pure Food Act and is lined with flat tin to vermin proof the building. While the front of the store is weatherboard, the other three sides are corrugated iron. The partnership dissolved in 1919, less than 30 years after the business started. The business was run by Bill McClelland, his son Alan McClelland and then grandson Tony, who sold the business in the 1970s. Other owners were there Aparti family, Graham McKay, and Peter and Judy Howarth.
Tony told me when he was a boy there were 13 cars in Nundle and he would lie in bed and identify who was moving about by the sound of the engines. Nundle was self-contained and sheltered. He said “Everyone was poor. During the Depression there were ration tickets for clothing, and food.” It was the increasing accessibility of cars, and improvement of roads, that brought Odgers and McClelland to a close in the 1970s. People would buy their goods in Tamworth, instead of Nundle. Tony described Nundle as a ghost town and expected his old store to collapse and rot into the ground and could never have anticipated the evolution of rural tourism or online sales. Today, the building is remains largely unchanged from those early days because in the 1920s Odgers and McClellland build a grander shop front, now Jenkins Street Antiques and Fine China. Our building was never updated, it remained used for storage and there is a ramp linking the two stores.
The first time I saw the building I was visiting Nundle in 1997 to research a story on the newly opened Jenkins Street Guest House for Country Style magazine, where I was deputy editor. We ended up writing three stories, on the guest house, the revival of Nundle, and Wombramurra homestead. At the time Duncan and I were looking to move out of Sydney. While we looked at Berry, Taralga, Crookwell, and Rylstone, we kept coming back to Nundle for holidays and moved here on Boxing Day 1998.
By then Peter and Judy Howarth had opened the warehouse as an art gallery and Duncan and I offered to take it on as a business because Duncan had just finished a degree in fine art. We quickly realised people were more interested in the building and looked to do something with the shop front. We took our inspiration from the origins of the building and revived the name Odgers and McClelland Exchange Stores. We didn’t need to change the building, just wash it and paint the ceiling. When we opened a common question was did we keep the writing on the wall? This refers to sections of wall covered in hand written snippets of Nundle and Hanging Rock history. Some of the entries on the wall include, Bridge completed 12/10/39, Snow at Hanging Rock and Crawney 12/11/65, Horse Battle Inn wins maiden race 11 July 59, Battle Inn Mated Aug 60. Sire Gold Val. Will Have Frances the Talking Mule, Nundle beat U-Horton with 11 men 4-nil, Josie Roylance leaves O&Mc to commence duties as nurse at Stockton Mental Hospital on 1/6/59, Josie returns from honeymoon weekend 11/2/57, Lutana Crash 11/9/48 13 Killed, 1962 Married vs. Singles. Singles Won, Boxing Tournament 24/8/54 Clarrie Thompson beat Ken Little.
We referred to suitcases of original handwritten and typed invoices, and accounts for ideas of how to stock the shop. Many of the brands are a similar vintage to the store: Burgon and Ball, Sheffield, 1730; Kilner, 1842; Opinel, 1890; TALA Taylor and Law, 1899; Mason Cash, 1901; Fowlers, 1915; Falcon, 1920s.
A big change for us came in 2012 when we started an online store. All of a sudden instead of waiting for people to come to us we could go to them. Online is now half of our business and we send parcels to all states five days a week. We promote Nundle and the store through social media and a regular e-journal to customers. We laughed when we received an online order from Tony McClelland with the note “I never thought I’d be ordering online from my old store.”
What has Nundle given us? It’s meant we can spend more time with our children. We have time to grow, preserve and cook our own food. We have a three minute commute. We’ve been able to buy our building and eight acres and a modest house just out of town. We are part of a town with a strong sense of community and have good friends. Our daughter has gone on to become a heritage architecture consultant with a firm at Surry Hills. Growing up in a heritage town and 1890s building must have had an influence.
Giving my Heritage Festival presentation on our shop verandah, I was joined by a descendent of William McClelland, Narelle Langfield. Her son Matt Langfield and daughter-in-law Belinda still own land at Nundle. Former Odgers and McClelland employee Harvey Warden was unable to attend and invited me to present again at the Nundle and District Lions Club. After my presentation the memories flowed as members remembered weighing and packing potatoes in the warehouse, or being chastised for asking to wear shorts to work.
Duncan and I are about to start work on replacing the shop verandah, designed in consultation with Tamworth Regional Council heritage architect Clare James. The new verandah will be closer to the earliest image we have of the store, with square verandah posts and decorative bevelled corners. We will recycle what we can and stabilise the raw weatherboard with a protective oil, preserving the layers of white, green, and rust pink paint that it has worn throughout its life.