From Verona on a tricycle
Malvern Star delivery tricycle with box attached in front of handlebars bearing sign Verona Press Pty Ltd , c. 1935 - Lyle Fowler (1891-1969), photographer
RHSV Collection : PH-970400
Up to the 1960s, the messenger or errand boy or girl ─ basically a school leaver ─ proudly roamed the city collecting and delivering all variety of items from telegrams to finished goods. Often on foot, many pushed a trolley or rode a bicycle (or tricycle) for added speed, the ability to both cover greater distances and to handle larger and/or heavier loads. Sometimes the messenger or errand boy or girl would be in uniform. Given the content of an advertisement in the Argus (6 January 1939, p. 15) [shown here], necessarily physical strength was often essential. A century earlier, another advertisement in the Argus touchingly tells us more about what was demanded from the errand boys – responsibility : ‘LOST by an errand-boy, five £1 notes. The loss will fall on him if not found. £1 will be given if returned to Mr. Coobman’s, 88 Swanston Street.’(Argus, 30 August, 1858, p. 8) The position of messenger or errand boy offered a lad the chance to put a foot on the lowest rung of a company’s employment ladder (but with the possibility of moving up that ladder). Here a society columnist (writing under the name of ‘The Major’), deplores the absence of plus-fours (sporting trousers terminating 10 cm below the knee) on the golf course: ‘The Major sees no excuse for those many hundreds of otherwise well turned-out performers who, week after week, tuck their trousers into their socks like an errand boy who has lost his cycle clips.’ (Argus, 15 June 1953, p. 5) The errand boy, a vignette of Melbourne’s commercial history, faded from city streets in the 1960s and 1970s, being overtaken by speedy bicycle couriers and motorized vans.
The Malvern Star Delivery Cycle (a tricycle) was made and marketed by Melbourne’s one-time famous company, Bruce Small Pty Ltd. Each sold for about £50 in 1946. This tricycle is fitted with a speed gear and what looks like a rear wheel hub brake, which could have been of the back-pedal type. Some added sophistication is evident in that the delivery cycle bears its owner’s business name – so advertising the company as this mobile billboard travelled around the city. Obviously, the three wheeler delivery cycle was a common sight at the ‘top-end’ of the city, as Chartres Pty Ltd (the advertiser quoted above) was only two streets away from Verona Press.
In 1920 Bruce Small (later Sir), acquired a bicycle shop from Tom Finnegan for £200. He went on to produce his famous cycles, selling in Australia and overseas. The company eventually produced a range of household goods, having a chain of retail shops and six factories in production. Small recruited Hubert Opperman (also later knighted) to promote his famous machines. ‘Oppy’, as he was known, at one time held a world cycle speed record and became a director of the company. Bruce Small eventually became a millionaire and, when he ‘sold up’ in 1958, moved to Queensland becoming involved in land development and politics.
The Tricycle Owner
We know a little about Verona Press. It commenced business in March 1930 and operated out of 26 – 30 Flinders Lane, staying at this address until 1969/70. (The company was deregistered in February 1992.) Access was at the rear via Sparks Lane (which still borders the west of the building). The State Library of Victoria holds four titles printed by the company including cookery books, children’s stories and The truth about Hitlerism (H.R. Knickerbocker, 1948). The State Library of New South Wales holds over twenty titles including Swan Hill, 1836-1936 : the first hundred years (compiled by A. G. Turner, 1936) and Patrick John Gearon’s Communism – why not : a ruthless exposure by Advance Australia (1945?). Thus we can presume that Verona Press was a relatively technically advanced company and that beside printing small bound books, like other small printeries of the time, printed advertising fliers, leaflets and pamphlets for a diverse range of clients.
26-30 Flinders Lane – the site – offers some interesting features of Melbourne’s street history. The building was purpose-built around 1901 in the red brick Romanesque Revival style for Griffiths Brothers (major coffee and tea importers). It nestles in the shadow of the Herald and Weekly Times publishing complex. By 1949 Griffiths Brothers turned over their occupation of the building to Robur Tea. Verona Press continued operation in the building until 1969/70, whence the Herald acquired the building renaming it Gravure House. On being vacated by the Herald in the mid-1970s, the niece of Walter Lindrum (a major figure in billiard history) set up a billiard and snooker establishment at the address. In 1988 News Limited required the use of the building once again, thus bringing this ‘Lindrum’ chapter to an end. But since 1999, a more romantic phase of the building’s history began when the boutique hotel – Hotel Lindrum – opened its doors in the building.
Lyle Fowler (1891-1969) was a Melbourne commercial photographer specialising in commercial, industrial and architectural subjects, particularly in Melbourne. He worked from the 1920s through to the 1960s. On his retirement he sold his business (including his negatives). Apparently many of the latter were purchased by Harold H. Paynting, then principal of the Commercial Photographic Company and an indefatigable worker for charity. A large quantity of these were printed in publications which were designed to raise money for the Footscray Hospital (via the James Flood Charity Trust). Subsequently the images were put up for sale (again for charity) and the prints and negatives were bought by the State Library of Victoria. The RHSV holds copies of a few of Fowler’s images, probably through our considerable involvement in one of Paynting’s major publications : Victoria Illustrated, 1834–1984 (Melbourne, James Flood–Harold Paynting Charity Trust, 1985).
References and further information
- Argus newspaper advertisements – refer to Trove:
- Bruce Small in the Australian Dictionary of Biography online
- Hubert Opperman OBE, profile on the Sport Australia Hall of Fame
- Australian Securities and Investments Commission
- ‘Heritage Assessment of 26-30 Flinders Street, Melbourne’, in Graeme Butler & Associates Central City (Hoddle Grid) Heritage Review – Heritage Assessments for the City of Melbourne, 2011, pp. 278-281
- Christine Downer, ‘The Harold Paynting Collection’, The La Trobe Journal, No 33, April 1984.