In times gone by, before super highways and fast cars connected our small rural communities to the big smoke, the general store was the heartbeat of a small town. The place to pick up your mail, your fuel and your daily bread, the local was also the best place to catch some gossip and stay in touch with important news.
Muchea General Store has been a part of the community for more than 100 years and has a rich history of human connection, something that current owners Leone and Derek Harris, along with their store managers Warren Naylor and Shantell Quayle continue to embrace today.
The dates around construction of Muchea General store where it stands today are a little murky – newspaper archives reference the store as early as 1912, owned by James and Lily Philmore. James and Lily ran the store until 1936. It was then taken over by John C Peters (known as Pete), who took serving the community to a whole new level.
Pete took upon himself the extraordinary task of trying to provide families with information about their unaccounted-for loved ones in World War Two. Desperately seeking answers regarding the status of his own son, John, he would scan the airwaves each night, listening to ‘Tokyo Rose’ as she read out names of Australians captured by the Japanese.*
Pete kept meticulous details of the broadcasts as they were relayed. He would attempt to contact soldiers’ families firstly by telephone, or then place messages into the mailbag before it left Muchea railway station at 3 am each day. If unable to make contact, he would pass information to local police. Pete’s family have a collection of over 800 letters they received from families who were deeply appreciative of his assistance.
Sadly, it was not until November 1945 that Pete learned his son had been killed three years earlier during the Fall of Singapore. He continued to manage the store until Joan and Wally Edwards took over in 1948.
The Edwards’ faced their own unique challenge when an electrical storm on June 13 1959, burnt the General Store to the ground. The fire was caused by lightning hitting the phone exchange! And It wouldn’t be the last fire for the Muchea store. Leone and Derek bought the store in 1999 and on August 3 2008, fire again reduced the building to rubble – this time it was the fault of a hungry rodent.
While devastating, the fire provided the chance to rebuild and expand their services, resulting in the modern, well-stocked shop with a distinct local focus that serves the community today.
“We tailor our ranges and brands to give our local customers more of what they like,” explains manager Warren. “At the beginning of each day, we open our doors for one reason and one reason only — to deliver a shopping experience how the locals like it.”
Muchea General Store has provided employment for countless locals, including many juniors who were given that all-important first job opportunity at the store.
“We have about thirty staff and I think one of the greatest aspects of our store is we have such a familial link between our staff – parents working alongside their children and siblings together. It’s really lovely,” says Derek.
Leone says, “It’s a fantastic store to be a part of — it’s not like having a business in the city. A lot of local people are friends now and we’ve enjoyed seeing their families grow. Kids who once visited the store in prams are now working here!”
Leone and Derek are pragmatic about how the new BP truck stop being constructed along Great Northern Highway will affect their business, but they hope that they will still enjoy support from local residents and that their dedicated, personalised service will stand out.
While many may lament the disappearance of the general store, we must not take for granted the ones still standing. Having thus far survived the encroaching corporatisation into rural areas, support from customers today is paramount.
“We always knew there would be some changes and the growth in the area will be good,” says Derek. “We welcome the challenge the changes will bring to the store and the opportunity to serve the community in the future.”
Muchea General Store is open every day of the year except Christmas Day, Monday to Friday 5.30 am to 8 pm, Saturday, Sunday and public holidays 6.30 am to 8 pm. It is also where you can pick up a copy of the Northern Valleys News each fortnight!
*‘Tokyo Rose’ was the name given by Allied troops in the South Pacific during the war to all female English-speaking radio broadcasters of Japanese propaganda.