The Hawkesbury district covers a wide area and many inhabitants had to travel long distances to access businesses and shops. A characteristic fairly unique to the Hawkesbury were the floating store boats which travelled up and down the Hawkesbury waterways in the late 19th and 20th century, providing provisions to remote communities.
The store boats came in varying sizes; there were smaller vessels as well as those that were very well set-up selling drapery, groceries, ironmongery and other commodities. Some were fitted with counters and the boats travelled up and down the Hawkesbury, Colo and Macdonald Rivers. Some of the early operators included John Dennett, Henry Walker, as well as brothers William and Charlie Wood. Entrepreneur Charles Hatte, a Newtown merchant, took over Theodore Chaseling’s store boat and general store at Wisemans Ferry in the 1890s. Along with Henry Macnamara, who was in charge of operating the boats. At a later stage, Henry in conjunction with Robert Cameron, established a new partnership trading along the river. One of their main vessels was the ‘Camac’ named after a combination of their surnames Cameron and Macnamara.
|Shop boat on the Hawkesbury.|
Illustration from the Evening News 24 December 1904
The local newspapers on Trove are a wealth of information about the boats. In years gone by, farmers grew most of their own food but in an article in the Evening News newspaper in 1904, an old resident who lived along the Hawkesbury River stated "in the early days we knew nothing about new fangled things" - she was trying to decide "between the purchase of 'cold drawn' castor oil" or patent pills. All sorts items were sold including clothing, millinery and shoes and boots. Alcohol, soft drinks, are sold next to babies' teething soothers, crockery and hardware lines. The newspapers of the day state that the trader must be exceptional - not only must he carry everything, but he also has to "convince his customer of her needs and his complete ability to meet them." The prices must also be competitive particularly as transport improved in the early 20th century and settlers were able to more easily journey into Windsor or Richmond shopping.
Several businesses also supplied residents along the river with the necessities of fresh bread and meat. The Moses family operated one of the bread boats for many years from 1910 whilst Walter Singleton, Barney Morley and Wal Jones are remembered as popular identities from the 1920s-1930s and later.
The boats provided a much needed service and also brought with them news. It wasn't always the women who wanted to find out was was happening. According to an article in the Windsor & Richmond Gazette in the 1930s, "men always stay to gossip, probably because men run the boat. Pipes are stuffed firmly and a comfortable seat is found on a sack of something. Then the news of the day is checked."
The storeboats are long gone, people drive to local shopping centres for their supplies or order things via the internet. It is hard to imagine the time when one had to wait for the storeboat to make its weekly journey up the river.