Excerpt from "THE CLOCK OF TIME" by Gertrude Ruston. (pp 107-113)
'WE BECOME SHOPKEEPERS"
Harry began to tire of 'travelling' and had, unbeknown to me, started looking around for a small business. Imagine my amazement when, one evening, he informed me that he had purchased a mixed business in Swanbourne and that he expected me to run it while he continued selling Rawleighs goods until he had gradually cleared up his outstanding accounts." (I can't supply a photo of the shop as it was demolished years ago and now a service station stands in its place. Swanbourne is about 1 or 2 km in from the coast and about 10 km distance from North Perth).
"It appeared that the owner of the shop was a man very ill with cancer, who had agreed to remain on for two weeks so that I could learn the trade. I was quite horrified as I had never had anything to do with shopkeeping and, to make matters worse, several of the goods we would be selling were rationed as it was wartime. Tea, sugar, and butter could only be supplied in exchange for coupons and cigarettes and tobacco were also in very short supply and had to be rationed out to customers. The coupons for tea, sugar and butter had to be carefully counted and pasted on to forms in order to obtain further supplies from wholesalers. Peg fortunately took on this job for which I was very thankful as I had to keep account of daily takings, make up the books and take full control of ordering and window dressing as well as run the shop.
We had sufficient money to buy the shop on a walk in walk out basis, and the people who were leaving it had to obtain permission from the owners of the house we had been renting in North Perth, to take it over from us so that we could move into the living quarters behind the shop. This was a complicated matter but had become fairly common, as houses for rent were virtually unobtainable at that time.
I decided I had to face this new challenge, and spent the two weeks with the former owner learning to run this small mixed business, returning to North Perth at night to pack up in preparation for our move.
I felt quite worn out by the time the move was completed but we gradually settled in to the new routine. I found the travellers most helpful and anxious to assist wherever possible. When dealing with the customers I found it important to remember that "the customers is always right"; very difficult at times, especially when dealing with rationed goods, particularly cigarettes and tobacco.
Weekends were always very busy and it took some time before Harry was available to help me in the shop and Peg was just too shy to serve behind the counter. At that time she would have only been 13 and was still travelling each day to attend Perth College in Mount Lawley as well as twice a week go to North Perth for her piano lessons on her way home from school. Much of her time was taken up travelling and at nights and on weekends she had homework to do.
I certainly had a battle on my hands to cope with everything but eventually Harry was able to wind up the Rawleighs business and come into the shop in the late afternoon so that I could cook the dinner. As business improved, I employed a woman to do the washing and ironing, and another to do a few hours housework each day. I resumed my Red Cross work on a half day a week at Royal Perth Hospital and Harry took over the shop on that day. He travelled to the West Perth markets 3 days a week to pick up fruit and vegetables and also delivered grocery orders to our customers." (Dad had to leave very early on these three mornings as it was quite a long trip to West Perth and he wanted to be back in time to open the shop with fresh produce).
"For some years we had gone away over the Christmas period to Mandurah where we stayed at Mandurah House, run by Mr and Mrs Turner. The same families booked in year after year so that it became like a house party. This was particularly good for Peg as there were several young people with whom she had good fun swimming and fishing." (This was Mandurah House in about 1948. It has since been destroyed by fire and Mandurah Terrace now sports some very fashionable shops and eating places):
Once we went into the shop Harry and I each returned separately for two weeks to run it, leaving Peg in Mandurah for the whole four weeks. We engaged an elderly friend as live-in housekeeper at the shop to keep me company during my two weeks, and to cook for Harry when he took over from me, which worked out quite well for all of us, and gave us a necessary break.
Business was good and we decided to close at 1p.m. on Saturdays for the weekend, which allowed Harry to join the Claremont Bowling Club. He was a movie fan and his other source of recreation was the cinema on Saturday evenings. Although pictures didn't appeal to me very much I went with him to keep him company. For a while Peg went with us but she eventually decided she didn't want to any more and a friend who lived nearby would come over and keep her company while we were away. This worried me as I felt she was too young to be left to her own devices but neither she nor Harry would give way and fortunately she and her friend Shirley never came to any harm.
We were doing quite well at the shop when Harry began to express a desire to retire. I feel he became discontented as the shop took up a considerable amount of my time and he was not happy until we put the shop up for sale. We obtained a good offer for it and sold out on the same walk in walk out basis. Once again we exchanged living accommodation, this time with the new buyer, who was renting a house at the corner of Fitzgerald and York Streets in North Perth, and on the opposite corner was a small mixed business run by Tom Wardle (now Sir Thomas Wardle) and his wife Hulda. The same week in May, 1947 when we moved into this house, Peg began her new permanent job in the city so she not only had to settle into a new home but also remember which bus stop to get off at on her way home from work." (This house was across the road from an elderly couple, the grandparents of the man (Aub) that I would eventually marry. Talk about a small world.) (524 Fitzgerald Street, North Perth in 1949. It is still there but I think it may now be a doctor's surgery or the like):
Our net income was insufficient for us to live one. We could afford necessities but there was nothing over, and keeping the car running was a constant drain. We needed new clothes, and ways and means became the great problem and the only answer was for one of us to try to find a part-time job."
As you could see all was not a bed of roses at this time and the next episode will divulge what was done to help solve the 'great problem'.