The business model

Jack & Newell were renowned for their range of stock, their willingness to supply anything a
customer wanted, and their long running practice of delivering groceries to even the most
outlying customer.

These business practices were developed in the early decades of the Herberton mining frontier, when access to supplies was the difference between a settlement folding and a community – of Jack & Newell customers – developing.

Jack & Newell’s willingness to service customers in small mining camps and outlying farming settlements created enormous loyalty to the Jack & Newell brand, as did the firm’s policy of supplying credit to cane and tobacco farmers, even in the worst of seasons.

This loyalty enabled the firm to survive long after most family-owned general merchants had faded from the retail landscape in Far North Queensland, and indeed throughout Australia.

Everything from a needle to a haystack
Now that’s service

Loyal staff
Going the extra mile
Add your Jack & Newell story


Everything from a needle to a haystack

One of the most common recollections of Jack & Newell is that “you could get anything” at
their shops.

For those of us used to having a choice of speciality shops, it is hard to imagine one store that supplied everything. How did they fit it all in, for one thing!

The trick is that the firm would source anything that it did not have in stock, and with a century of purchasing and transport networks, it could pretty much gets its hands on anything – with one exception.

The firm stuck by Willie Jack’s 1880 decision not to stock alcohol. Otherwise, you name it, Jack & Newell would pretty much get it for you.

Robert Galvin from Mareeba used to work preparing orders for Jack & Newell.

Listen to Robert Galvin --- or simply read the text below

“you’d see the orders come in and there’d be drums of flour and saddles, and what we didn’t have we used to buy in … I don’t remember seeing it myself but someone tells me they had on an order one day 'a Land Rover', so someone had to go and get a Land Rover, they had to organise it”

This station order from Highbury Station in 1973 includes everything from cartons of Asparagus Tips to Hobble Chains and Bedourie Ovens.

Look at Highbury’s original order

Going back in time, Dave Headrick’s recollections of Jack & Newell in Cairns, in the early 1900s, provides a staggering snapshot of the capacity of the firm to get hold of and transport large quantities of raw materials.

While I was managing Jack & Newell, we brought in all the railway material to build the line right to Mungana. We handled all the material to build the Chillagoe Smelters and the OK smelters. And we also handled all their slabs of copper. We handled all the material to build the line from Lappa to Mt Garnet At that time Mt Gannett had three or 4 hotels and a couple of banks. Later we handled all the material to build the line to Stannary Hills for John Darling and later again all the material for the line from Biboohra to Mt Molloy, and for the smelters there.
- Cairns Historical Society Bulletin #26, Feb 1961

Now that’s service

Imagine someone coming to your house and picking up your shopping list, then delivering your
groceries to your kitchen table!

That’s precisely what Jack & Newell did for their customers who were not able to come into town to shop for themselves, or who were too busy at home with small children.

It is interesting that some online retailers are reverting to this model of doing business, but it is hard to match the intimacy of small communities where the delivery man (or boy) was known to everyone.

Joyce Anderson, in Mossman remembers deliveries in the 1960s.

Listen to Joyce --- or simply read the text below

“Because in those days they used to have an orderman who went around to the houses, took it back then it was made up and it was delivered to you. That was once a week I think. Plus they used to go to all the outlying areas and get orders and deliver out there as well. I remember the chap across the road from me, Phil Townsend – this was after I got married – he’d come and we’d sit on the back steps and have a yarn, I’d give him my order and away he’d go”.

Dorrie Day from Herberton recalls …

“Yeah they’d come around .. Billy Drysdale, Ledlie’s had Allan McKenzie and Davie Day .. they’d all come and write your order out and have a cup of tea”.

Bill Byrne who grew up in the isolated mining towns of Bakerville and Irvinebank in the 1920s and 30s, wrote in The Northern Sun about Jack & Newell’s delivery service …

“Each week my mother posted her list to Jack & Newell in Herberton, and each Thursday the truck, then driven by Mr Bill Ezzy, detoured in, and delivered our order to the door – at Herberton prices. On one occasion the order seemed all wrong. Mr Ezzy explained that they hadn’t received the usual order, which had apparently been lost in the post, so Mr Harry Ashfield, the head grocer, had sent what he considered to be a near enough order for our week’s needs. That’s service!”

Read his full article here

Walter Mullavey, from Mossman, remembered earlier days of the firm and a delivery man with an artistic bent …

“In the wet weather they had a cane truck from the Mill and they would put all the goods in that and had they everybody’s name on it. A chap named Jack Keane*, he was an artist and he drew everybody on all the cartons - or nearly all boxes in those days - he drew everybody’s…person. The person…was on their boxes.

Like a little portrait?

Yeah. Its amazing … and you could pick everyone!”

*Norm O'Donoghue remembers Jack Keating as the man who used to sketch people while their orders were being delivered.

Loyal staff

It wasn’t only customers that were loyal to Jack & Newell.

Many of their staff spent their entire working life with the firm.

Norm Brown worked for Jack & Newell for 28 years; and can recall a long list of former colleagues who worked for the firm from the time they left school until they retired.

“Alf E, he had a family of 13 and he worked there to the best of my knowledge for 40 years. Jack C, hardware manager, it was the only job he ever had, as far as I know. Jim B, drapery department manager, worked there for 20 or 30 years. Lenny K, shop assistant, only job he ever had was in the grocery section. Billy J, hardware shop assistant, left school worked there until he was 60 odd. Bernie S, shop assistant, who worked in crockery, glassware and hardware. He transferred from Mossman to Jack and Newell at Mareeba, worked there for 20 odd years, plus whatever service he had in Mossman. Rupert S, brother of Bernie, also transferred from Mossman, he was in charge of checkout and the checkout operators in grocery section. He was there in Mareeba for 20 years until they closed. Archie H, brother of Ray, country order section. He worked there when I started in 47/48 until Jack & Newell were taken over in 75. Only job he ever had. Roy B, country order despatch. The only job he ever had.”

It is worth noting that Norm can’t recall women with the same longevity of service.

Prior to the 1970s, it was expected that women would leave their jobs when they were married, in order to run the household and look after the children when they started arriving.

Of course, many Jack & Newell mangers were married men, and their wives worked alongside them in the store. Cassie Todd worked beside her husband Bob at Jack & Newell’s store in Chillagoe from the mid 1960s until the store was sold in the early 80s.

Fay Marsh met her husband Kevin, while working at Jack & Newell in Mt Molloy. Kevin had been sent there to manage the store, after working for Jack & Newell in Mossman.

Together they ran the Mt Molloy store, and then were transferred to Mt Garnet in 1965.

Fay remembers crying when she learnt that they were to be transferred from Mt Molloy to Mt Garnet, and also how hard they worked.

“I used to scrub the floor to keep it clean, the old wooden floor … you knew nothing else. You worked and worked hard too. I often think how hard we used to have to work down there. It was really hard."

And in those days too you lived next door to the shop and it was nothing to be dug out of bed early in the morning or on the weekends and that for people that forgot something or wanted it urgently, you know, can they come and get it.

Fay: And we always did it.

Lily Myrteza from the Mareeba branch also remembers the hard work, but she says she loved her job at Jack & Newell.

“All the girls, like I said, we were friends inside the shop, everyone got on really well, and friend’s outside the shop, and 30 odd years later we’re still the same. We are still the same … we’ve changed as we got older but we’re still the same. And the bosses were so nice. We use to have parties, get togethers and it was just beautiful. Just family, all family.”

Lily says she is still proud of the Rotary Courtesy Award she received in 1969, for her work at Jack & Newell.

Going the extra mile

Jack & Newell were an important business in all the small towns they operated in.

This meant they were called upon to support everything from the Tobacco Festival in Mareeba to the May Day parades in Mossman and High School sports at Herberton.

Lily Myrteza says the staff at Mareeba used to have a lot of fun decorating a float for the Tobacco Festival Parade, while Colleen Simms at Herberton can remember the Herberton High School naming their school houses 'Newell' and 'Ledlie', after the two big stores in the town.

At Mossman, Cathy Jack and Jack Crimmins recall the firm stepping in when the local news sheet was about to go out of publication.

Jack & Newell needed a paper to advertise in, and if that meant taking over the local news service to ensure their specials got to the householders around town, then so be it!

Jack Crimmins remembers 'The Jack & Newell News' very well.

“I had to print the damn thing. Mr Coburn (Secretary of the Mossman Sugar Mill) printed one up at the Mill, it just looked like a heap of foolscap pages and then he gave it away and Charlie Jenkins said we’ve got no medium of advertising - we’ll print it. So people used to bring in their little notes in, you know when the golf club was having a do or whatever was happening ... it used to be all typed on stencils and put on the old duplicator which you wound the handle. I wound the handle for the first one of those – don’t ask me what year it was but we did it for quite a few years then … and all the clubs and that could advertise for nothing, as a community service.”

Cathy Jack hung on to one of the old ‘Jack & Newell News’, and she says the manager was not very happy when some wag in the firm changed the title of the Disney film 'Million Dollar Duck'.

Click here to see Cathy’s copy of the Jack & Newell News.