Here we check in with Readings Books in Melbourne and look to 20th and 21st century booksellers in Ballarat exploring Ewin’s Booksellers and the newest bookshop in town, Sothis Books and Sartorial for our regular indie book feature. We also enjoy our very first creative piece for the segment Things Found in Books from Ballarat storyteller extraordinaire Erin McCuskey. Our book seeds here are somewhat tangential but are the little teeny stickers of sorts that you might find in the inner front cover of an old book- known as booksellers tickets or labels.
Podcast set up and first episode is proudly supported by the Australian Government’s Regional Arts Fund, provided through Regional Arts Australia, and administered in Victoria by Regional Arts Victoria.
Chris Gordon, Readings Books events coordinator- https://www.readings.com.au/profile/chris-gordon#
Rex Hardware and H-Squared Studios- https://h2studios.net/
Check out one of his current archiving projects- https://www.facebook.com/Lost-in-16mm-103572418261614
Erin McCuskey aka Madame Yum of Yum Studio, artist, writer and filmmaker-
Alex Zety, of the former Pot of Gold Books and Collectibles
Christine Crawshaw, Sothis Books & Sartorial- https://www.facebook.com/sothisbooksballarat/
Ellen Sorensen- Minerva’s Idea original composition for Gather-
Carlo Onzo Trio Live Recording by Rex Hardware at the Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute February 2020-12-01 https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCk6CoQtNf7JIUHw8uaKWkHw?feature=emb_ch_name_ex
Adam Simmons Creative Music Ensemble Prologue-
Sound engineering: Dave Byrne, Iridium Audio
Podcast logo: Tiffany Titshall
Find @minervasbooksandideas and @amytinderbox on social media
MORE INFO & SUPPORT THE SHOW- https://minervasbooks.com/gather-podcast/
Booksellers & Storytellers Part Two
[A delightful sound of choir leading into plucked guitar and different voices introducing the show, with guitar continuing underneath]
Woman’s voice: Ah everyone, you are listening to Gather
Child’s voice: You’re listening to Gather
Woman’s voice with dog bark in background: To Gather
Woman’s voice with American accent: Gather
[Same guitar doing a sweet little riff with the faint sound of pencil scribbling beneath. Sound of guitar continues beneath the host’s introduction]
Amy Tsilemanis (Gather host, smooth and calming): This is Amy Tsilemanis and this is my new podcast Gather, with Minerva’s Books and Ideas, where we’ll explore the lives of books and the ideas they ignite and illuminate.
Amy: Hello and welcome to Part 2 of our first episode Booksellers & Storytellers.
(Harp music plays)
Among many of my aspirations, I would like to become a writer. Therefore, I would feel very privileged to attain some part time work, surrounded by beloved books.
I find bookshops very special, even enchanting at times, and believe that books are sacred and deserving of respect.
I have not had a lot of experience in the workforce, but I hope you will consider my application for any work I could assist you with in the wonderful realm of words.
(record scratch sound)
What a tripper.
Well my friends, that was a letter that I wrote when I was sixteen and sent to bookshops around Melbourne. I was told to stay in school, but I can report that in my 20’s I found myself working at the fabulous Readings in Melbourne, the iconic indie bookshop led by Mark Rubbo, I even had a few things published, so I checked in with a lovely old colleague Chris Gordon about how they were going in lockdown there and I also asked how she thought Cole would have responded to Covid…
Woman’s voice (Chris Gordon): Oh I think he would've done exactly the same thing, don’t you? I think he’s in some ways another sort of Mark Rubbo in a way. He would have been… I mean not politically bent in that way but certainly in passion for the written word and for the community I think he definitely would've been on some bike with a flag at the back and you know (laughing) knocking on people’s doors. We've had lots of staff doing that during this time. I mean I don't know what it would feel like to have, you know the owner of Readings knocking on your door on a Saturday night but I imagine pretty good actually. Mark has said that he's been offered wine and tapas. He’s been given marmalade by customers to take home. (laughs)
Amy narration: Book people are the best people.
In Part 1 of this episode we travelled to the Victorian Goldfields and to Marvellous Melbourne in the nineteenth century. Our book seeds were Cole’s Funny Picture Book and works inspired by Cole and his life.
In Part 2 we look to 20th and 21st century booksellers in Ballarat and hear from Ballarat’s resident music archivist Rex Hardware. What we’re hearing now is the last live gig he recorded at the Ballaarat Mechanic’s Institute this February. The Carlo Onzi Trio.
(The Carlo Onzi Trio play below Amy’s voice)
We’ll also have the first of our regular indie book people features and this will be a special one with Ballarat’s newest bookseller Christine Crawshaw who has created a new bookish wonderland in the old Minerva space after we moved online. Christine is a costumier making costumes for musicians like Adam Simmons and a lover of the recycled and reimagined.
We’ll also enjoy our very first creative piece for the segment Things Found in Books from Ballarat storyteller extraordinaire Erin McCuskey, creator of the transmedia project Luxville and her fabulous Luxville tales.
Our book seeds here are somewhat tangential but are the little teeny stickers of sorts that you might find in the inner front cover of an old book. I’ve seen ones with wonderful fonts and imagery, and they always add something extra for me, part of the journey the book has been on, and a hint at the bookseller’s hands it’s passed through.
Benjamin L Clark aka The Exile Biblophile gathers bookbinders, perhaps more associated with tickets and booksellers with labels, together under the term ‘book trade labels.’ He is working on a field guide to these delicious bookish ephemera, and also points towards a site called Bibiophemera if you want to check this out.
Clark states that “Book trade labels were used by booksellers and bookbinders and can be a wealth of history and fun. Labels, historically, were available from commercial label printers. However, some specially made labels could set a bookseller apart from others nearby.”
We love the books that have come to us at Minerva’s books with such local markings, conjuring bookshops and publishers of the past. Ballarat one’s include the names Berry Anderson, Summerscales, Bills Book Bar, and Ewins.
Where have you been all the day?
My boy Tommy.
What kept you so long away?
My Boy Tommy.
To stay so long I did not mean.
But Mother, I’ve to Ewin’s been.
And there’s a lot of things I’ve seen.
That’s what delayed your Tommy.
There were Oh! Such pianos and organs displayed.
Fancy goods, toys and artware, the best in the trade.
Of choice stationary there was tons on hand.
And all the new music that one could demand.
While for standard or new books, relating the doings.
Of the great and the good, there’s a grand stock at Ewins.
Amy narration: Ewin’s was a bookshop that lived on Sturt Street. Just a few shops down from where we were, on the other side of the Mechanics’ Institute. There are photos in the institutes collection of this part of the street decorated for the 1938 floral festival, and the bookshop covered in, what I imagine, were sunflowers. For a past heritage project I worked on I got to go down in the basement of what used to be Ewins, now it’s a bike shop, and was given a little souvenir, an old bottle of Penguin Drawing ink. And imagine my delight when I learnt a friend Rex had worked there as a teenager, in its days before it became an Angus & Robinson. We’ll chat to Rex here, you’ll also hear his 55 year old cockatoo Jacko!
Amy: Cockatoo, it’s a cockatoo?
Man’s voice (Rex Hardware): Cockatoo. Sulphur crested.
Amy: (Amy makes cockatoo sounds) So the cockatoo thinks Rex is his long lost cockatoo compadre Richard. So apparently it calls to him. Oh he’s looking at me through the window.
Rex: Isn’t it great that window. The way he can look in at us.
Amy: He’s got the big side eye happening. How does he call for you?
Rex: (shouts)RICHARD! He says Richard.
(light jazz music plays beneath)
Rex: I'm Rex Hardware and I am an archivist and a music producer here in Ballarat. And part of my passion is dealing with archived audio recordings. So I’ve spent most of my adult life recording music and you know documenting the music scene, taking photos, producing videos, teaching young people how to do audio and video and promotion and that kind of thing. I worked at Ewins, 111 Sturt Street, Ballarat from 1983 to 1989. I reckon I went in there as a Year 9 student saying I need to do some sort of work experience. I’d really like to work at a book shop, can I do it? So I did it… and it was a week and I had to… it was nine in the morning till five in the afternoon, all week. You got paid five dollars a day or something. And at the end of it when I was saying ‘thank you, goodbye’ for the last time, the manager came over and said ‘now, if you're interested in a job here we want you part time.’ And I was like ‘oh my…’
I didn’t even have to apply for a job and I got this great job at the book shop. It was a two-storey affair, so there was the ground floor and there was the upper floor. The ground floor as you walked in had a counter on the left. Obviously, with you know the cash register. And as you walked in it was general non-fiction on the left, fiction on the right and at the rear of the ground floor there was a huge stationary section. Upstairs in the middle of the store you go up and there was a remainder or bargain books segment. Every corner you went around in Ewins you would find something from the 1940’s or 50’s or 60’s. Not necessarily from the 20’s or 30’s. That stuff was all gone but there was lots of stuff that remained from the 1950’s and 60’s. And even down in the stationary section I would look and there’d be stuff there that would be dating from the late 70’s, bits of stationary.
They ran a tight ship. Dusting, you know, and wiping was part of your job that you had to do. Whether you were on a Friday night or whether the full-time staff did it. And it was a fantastic place to work.
Amy: What was the kind of cultural life of Ballarat like?
Rex: Bookshops were still a thing. There were still a number of bookshops in Ballarat. They were really well stocked. Books were still a thing. And Ewins was still one of the preeminent retailers in Ballarat of books. People knew they could come in, order a book and it would come in. So there were a lot of the cheaper remainder book shops that were popping up in Ballarat in the mid 1980’s. But they had no capacity to order you a book. All they had was the remainder stock that they’d get from the warehouse. You know, whatever franchise they were, and they didn't order books. So a really strong amount of the sales came from people, not only knowing we were well stocked but also being able to order books.
The big competitor, I just remembered, were Ballarat Books in Armstrong Street. So they had the stranglehold on text books and school books but for some reason I think there was a bit of a hangover then where you could order your school books from Ewins then we definitely had some people who would come in and do that.
The great thing about the management around that time was they made sure that the young staff, even if they didn't read these books, were aware of what was popular and what we were going to get asked for and where it was in the store. Or the fact that, you know, the latest Bryce Courtney book was out of print and it was gonna be three months before the printing press is good to go and they could have it back in.
We also had a very early computer-based terminal where you could type in, and I don't know how that worked, I think there were large format floppy disks that was sent up with ISBN numbers that you could search for. It certainly wasn't online because the internet was yet to be. But there was definitely a database that we could search. We also had the ability to ring one of about twelve publishers and inquire on the phone for a customer about the book that they wanted and its availability.
It was my job on a Saturday morning to deliver the books next door to the reading room at the Ballarat Mechanics Institute. And I would go in there… just with the box. Have a quick chat, have a look around. All the paint was peeling. It was a very strong smell of dampness and it was basically a crumbling ruin. There was also a really nice counter in the centre of the reading room that had a bit of a glass see through edge around it. And you would look through that glass and then you look through another big container and there was one of the original Withers History of Ballarat… I’ll always remember that. Ever since I’ve wanted a copy of Withers History of Ballarat.
I really love reading and I really love books and it was a book called the Paul Hanlen Children's Encyclopedia that I've recently discovered from my mother’s collection. And I’d basically read every page of it by the time I was about 10 or 11 years old. It was a great source of science and technology and nature and space and there were a lot of those books that Ewin’s had on sale. So I remember going in before I worked there and buying on special, buying some of these books and begging my mother to buy them. So when I started working there… not only was it great that you were just in a book shop for three or four hours. You know, on a Friday and a Saturday night and you know, they paid you. But they gave staff 25% discount. So I found myself saving and spending a lot of my wages on their books.
The other place obviously I went to was Brash-Suttons. Brashes in the Bridge Street Mall. Buying a lot of cassettes and buying a lot of vinyl. But a lot of my income was taken up with buying the books that I sold. I was a reader and I was really interested and I think they saw that and that's why they were keen to foster my knowledge and, you know, keep me working there.
So yeah… a great staff. I'm pretty sure there was only one other male. It was all female staff… no sorry... there was one assistant manager who worked in the office. He did mainly accounts and there was another young guy. But the whole time I worked there, there was probably nine or ten women who worked there so it's very predominantly female staff.
Amy: Yeah, that’s interesting. You talked about it a bit with the Mechanic’s Institute, but what was that strip like on Sturt Street at the time.
Rex: There was Ewins, there was the Mechanic’s Institute. And once again, the Mechanic’s Institute had a library but it was very much for very old people and when they had their doors open the smell of the 1950’s or 1850s as the case may be, would emanate throughout Sturt Street. You’d then go up and there was a little tiny bakery but the jewel in the crown was the Mechanic’s Institute but one of the more exciting things about that little block, just underneath the Commonwealth Bank was Unicorn Lane and Unicorn Lane had a little café and another really groovy kind restaurant called Café Soirée. And it also had a clothing store called The Sacred Cow and my friend Anna worked there part time. And after school we could go there to the clothing shop that she was… just like me… she was working after school but we could go there and drink Moselle, after school and smoke cigarettes. So a really cute little block, right there between Angus and Robertson and the Commonwealth Bank. So I managed to be there for like two or three years when it was still Ewins and Angus and Robertson and I've got a couple of nice photos of the maroon store with yellow lettering.
So Josiah Ewins, born in England in 1841. He came out as a 20 year old and established in Ballarat his first book shop in 1861 and once again this is all hearing about the gold discoveries in Ballarat which is why he packed up a dray and put a whole lot of books in the back. In the early days Ewins was associated with the old Theatre Royal building in Sturt Street but business prospered and in 1889 he bought the premises of the Australian and European Bank at 111 Sturt Street.
The building was transformed into a modern and attractive book shop. Word spread throughout the Western District and throughout the country that Ewins was a particularly well-known book shop for its educational department and it built up very substantial sales in that field. ‘Liberal discount for cash’ it says on this old document.
Josiah Ewins had three sons during the 1870’s. Alfred, Herbert and Jim, who was known as Arthur for some reason. All of these three sons worked in the book shop. A well-known story of the time was that Josiah promised 100 pounds to the first son to marry and have a son. The three sons managed the business from about 1906 when their father went into semi-retirement.
(Rex’s voice fades out)
Amy: With Rex’s interest in archives he was given an old document with some of the history which he was reading from there. And there’s also some memories from employee Don, who started as a boy at Ewin’s in 1918 and worked there for 33 years. He notes that ‘when Mr Josiah Ewins and his wife plus two daughters died, I was coffin bearer. They lived opposite the St John of God hospital and the house was called Lyndon’. (note listeners that when I googled Lyndon House Ballarat I found a 2014 article about a man transporting drugs in an umbrella, ah Ballarat).
I was also excited to hear in these memories, that it was Don that was responsible for the sunflowers in the floral festival decorations, and that his weren’t made out of paper but of plywood. He says ‘other shops used crepe paper waxed flowers which faded but my wooden decorations lasted for years. He also says that he supervised the window and inside decorations for the festival with ‘dried bracken fern and red hot pokers made out of crepe paper and sky rocket sticks plus other flowers arranged in large drain pipes in the centre of display tables.’ Sounds pretty wonderful, shows how bookshops have always played a creative part in the city life and the civic pride.
The little tune we heard before about Ewins, the boy Tommy, hanging out in Ewins and finding all the fabulous stock, that was also from those documents that Rex had and comes from a book of verse called Ballarat Chimes published in 1909 by Georgina Tickner, who went by the pen name of Mona Marie. Who was she I wonder? Something to chase up later.
Rex: There wasn't a uniform, I was just told to wear blue trousers and a white shirt or something. In 1983 and 1984. By the time Angus and Robertson had taken over in 1985 I had to wear these special blue slacks and a special shirt with markings on it and a tartan tie. So clearly it was the Robertson tartan and the little tiepin that you pinned to your shirt so it would stay in place, that said Angus and Robertson. I've still got that.
I’ve also got a reference.
“Rex Hardware has been employed in a casual basis for the store for three years”
This is what… 1987. I have a “very pleasing personality”. I am “courteous and well-mannered to customers and staff.” My duties involve “being in all areas of the shop, my duties included unpacking and pricing of stock, stock-taking, general sales and cash register work, display and cleaning of stock, invoicing and dispatch, counting money and night safe duties.”
She'd have no hesitation in “recommending me to any prospective employer and I've proven to be an excellent employee.”
There we go.
Amy narration: So soon we’ll move up Sturt Street, underneath the statue of Minerva, goddess of wisdom, and the grand Mechanic’s Institute doors to 121 Sturt St, which has seen its share of bookish action, even back in its early days as a fruit shop, next to the at times bustling institute library and cinema. Since 2000 it’s been a bookshop. Alex Zety’s Pot of Gold Books and Collectables, who I actually chatted to for a project back in 2013, so you’ll hear a bit from him, Minerva’s Books 2016-2020, and now the newest kid on the block, Sothis Books & Sartorial.
So before we hear from these Ballarat book folks, we’ll take a creative interlude into our segment Things Found in Books and Erin McCuskey’s story, which mixes fact and fiction as is her way…
(classical dreamy piano music plays under woman’s voice)
Woman’s voice (Erin McCuskey): For me stories float between hearts and float between minds and are carried on the air and through the earth, by feelings. So mixing fact and fiction for me enables me to tell stories that are partially true and partially untrue but together they create their own… their own truth, their own way of taking us forward as a people.
Hello I’m Erin McCuskey. I am the creative director of Yum Studio. My main emotional feeling outlet is filmmaking and I love to use overlays, use heritage and history and use fact and fiction to layer those images with real and imagined feelings.
Amy: So could you talk a bit about Luxville as an example of your beautiful storytelling? What is Luxville?
Erin: Luxville is the story of a large regional town, it's based on Ballarat, it's not Ballarat but some of the facts that I use throughout Luxville are from Ballarat. And some of the fictions are as well. (laughs) It's actually enabled me to… For people to share with me, little stories that don't fit anywhere else, they are not complete stories, they are… they feel like they're… you know… a little heartbeat of a story. So where do all those little heartbeats and moments of stories go? I don't know. So… and because I collect things like that, I wanted to be able to put them somewhere, so I put them into a story and Luxville is the tale of an artist’s revolution in this town and this town is a town that has forgotten who it is, has forgotten what hope is, has forgotten what joy is, has forgotten to challenge and to ask questions and has at the basis forgotten to be curious.
(classical dreamy piano music begins again)
Amy Tsilemanis: So during my time in the book shop over the last few years I've been collecting interesting things that I found in books and I showed this collection of things to Erin and she was drawn to some beautiful silk woven bookmarks.
Erin: I love fairy tales and like to, you know… write fairy tales into Luxville as well.
But finding that one and then reading the little homily that… it was all homilies about you know… I miss you, I long for you, can't wait for us to meet again. And it made me think about the lives of books and that we give them so much because they give us so much but there's some books you can part with and there are some which you can't wait to get rid of and I think that's just like people isn't it?
So the bookmarks were a beautiful way of telling the book how much it was loved, but the book also telling the reader how much it was loved being read. So yeah… they immediately captured my attention.
Things Found in Books segment intro
Woman’s Voice speaking slowly [with a vintage sound playing beneath]: Things found in books
Old radio style male voice [archival audio, with jaunty music beneath]: You’ll hear a new intimacy and richness
[Jaunty music continues beneath] Man’s voice putting on Louis Armstrong singing voice: Things found in books
Music of Melanie Safka song, Look at my Song Ma: I wish I could find a good book to live in.
Music fades out
Voice of Erin McCuskey reading her story:
From Blue to Turquoise, for Amy.
The first was deep blue-black with cream text. The second was thick black linen with
embossed silver text. Both so incredibly fabulous she couldn’t decide which one. She closed her eyes and reached over, knowing that either would do. She gathered a book to her chest sighing with happiness as she opened her eyes.
She had grabbed the black linen book with embossed silver title. She had secretly wanted that one and wondered if her fingers had a sneaky exploring before the grab. Though she suspected that if she had grabbed the other one, she would also have secretly wanted that.
Amy was glad that she never had indecision when it came to books. They would all do. She found books announced themselves. They came forward to her; she did not need to be polite nor feign attraction. They always found their way to her.
When she did make decisions, it caused trouble. Deciding to go for a walk was a
harbinger for downpours. Deciding what to order, meant she often wanted her friend’s meals and eciding what to wear took too long.
So, Amy made her final decision. She decided she would stop making decisions. Well as much as was possible.
She decided instead that the things that floated towards her, were a yes. And those that floated away from her, were no. She bought a raincoat, asked her friends to order for her and used her hands instead of her eyes to choose an outfit for the day.
She didn’t decide to open a bookshop, it was decided for her. One day while immersed in the shelfs of the bookshop, Blue Books of Luxville, the owner approached offering her the shop keys. He’d had enough of losing money and she was his best customer and he wondered if she might like it?
“Knock yourself out” he said, “I did completely!”
The shop had decided. Eventually she changed the name to Turquoise Books of Luxville. Her eyes were turquoise so really they had decided. And while the bookshop was never a problem, despite some minor decisions, the books were.
Not because the books were in her bookshop, but because they felt like her friends, and friends sometime leave.
Amy loved to travel but she couldn’t decide where. So she just went. The villages that surrounded Luxville were full of fun and delight, and sometimes books. If you never make a decision, she figured, you never get lost, so it was always an adventure.
She felt forced though to make a big decision recently, travel to Dublin. She waited for a problem to arise from her decision. The next day a pandemic crept across the Luxville Tribune. So she recommitted to no more decisions, this time her decisions created international trouble.
Amy waited to hear if travel might float towards her or float away this time. She had
decided on Dublin because the library there had a corner and in that corner was a shelf, and on that shelf was a friend who had left her to go and live in Dublin.
The book was a faded red hardback first edition that called to her like a lonely Aunt, a sound just out of reach, like tears that sting when your heart hurts. That corner seemed very inviting and Amy wanted to see if her lonely aunt was being loved enough and how she was settling in.
At Turquoise Books when Amy wrapped her friends for sale, she added a beautiful
bookmark inside the really special ones. The bookmarks were silk, woven with short poems of love and forget-me-nots, with short coloured tassels. Amy always had a good supply because they were often sent back by the new owners, who thought them rare treasures forgotten.
Amy had secreted a bookmark with her lonely aunt, however it had not yet been returned by the Dublin librarians. Amy wondered if her beautiful book had been greeted, were her leaves stretched open, was she rested and maybe even read. That’s why Amy made her rare decision, this time to visit her lonely Aunt, to know if she was happy.
It was the biggest decision Amy had made in years. She had purchased the ticket, booked her travel and located accommodations. Amy had never left Luxville for more than a few nights, ever, and what Amy did not need was a pandemic. But that’s what happens when she makes decisions.
The travel agent had been kind. “Oh most people have cancelled” she said “but I don’t mind if you postpone or cancel, it’s all the same to me. What would you like to do?”
Amy’s renewed decision to not make decisions was sorely tested by this question. She postponed. It seemed more like a non-decision than did cancelling, which seemed so definite. Not making decisions for so long had allowed Amy to understand that fate is neither good nor bad. It simply is.
And the lonely aunt would happily wait with her embroidered bookmark inside, until Amy arrived on the day that floated towards her.
(dreamy classical piano music plays)
Erin: I think that’s what the message is. I think if we can find joy then we are capable of anything as a people.
Amy: I was thinking about Luxville and how you have the different characters, the mayor and the artist and such and I think you were going to have me as the bookseller, you know the local book shop before I even had a bookshop.
Erin: How amazing is that? You see that to me just felt like I knew you were going to do that. And your love of books. What the hell else were you going to do. You know. (laughs)
So to have actually written that into Luxville and then you know… what was it a few years later? You owned a bookshop. It was kind of inevitable anyway. I was just riding the Amy bookshop wave.
Amy narration: Thanks so much Erin for your beautiful work across film, photography, writing and for creating that tale, weaving fact and fiction, for our first Things Found in Books segment.
So now, we jump back in time to 2013 and go into the bookshop when it was Alex’s Pot of Gold, Books and Collectables. Just a note that it kind of sounds like we’re in an aquarium, but as far as I remember there were no fish in the store, make of it what you will! You will also hear the little bell that rings when the door opens, I think it’s still there.
Man’s voice with Hungarian accent (Alex Zety):
(bookshop ambience sounds in the background)
My name is Alex. I got a book shop and I sell books. I buy and sell books and I read them in between time when I got time. And I’ve been here for 12 years. (laughs)
Amy: Have you seen lots of changes in people’s reading habits?
Alex: Books are like fashion. What’s popular? Right now, it’s very interesting. I sell a lot of comics. Believe it or not. I got kid’s books, I got art, I’ve got fishing, I’ve got animals. (laughs)I have everything under the sun. Poetry. Everything.
(Looking around shop)
Amy: That's a nice edition.
Amy: Maybe you'll get a French reader come in one day.
Alex: You can tell by the pictures. You can’t read it but you can open it.
Amy: Look at all the comics there.
Alex: Yeah I got plenty of comics.
Woman’s voice (a customer): You haven’t got much sheet music though.
Alex: Sheet music? I have to bring some in. I will. I promise.
Amy narration: Back then we had no idea but in 2016 Alex sold the shop to us and we transformed it into Minerva’s. And in 2020 we passed the space onto Christine to create her new business. Where Alex was showing me the Jules Verne in the back corner of the shop, Christine now has the kid’s section and a magic window.
Woman’s voice (Christine Crawshaw showing Amy around her shop): Ok we're looking at an assortment of beautiful old books, little tiny statue things, there are three dragons hidden in there. One hippopotamus made of pewter. There are things from my childhood. There’s a beautiful old vintage measuring tape that was my great aunt’s, curling around. There's even a snake skin in there, that’s a shredded snake skin, I wouldn’t hurt an animal.
Amy: Oh and you’ve put the emu as well.
Christine: Yes the Emu is popping up. He’s moved from the door to the corner.
Amy: Oh beautiful. I love it so much.
Woman’s voice (Christine Crawshaw): And there’s lot of feathers and little things and that will get creepier as Halloween comes closer. And then it will change to Christmas…
Amy: What do you think Julian?
Man’s voice (Julian Potter): vastly, vastly improved. (laughter all round)
Christine: vastly different.
(sound of xylophone)
Christine: So Sothis Books and Sartorial will be a little tiny wonderland of cram packed fun things to find, literally there will be things to find in the magic window out in the back corner. Great little space for kids and grown ups alike. More books. Everyone needs more books. And more shoes. (laughs)
(sound of music box in background)
Christine: I am Christine Crawshaw. I am creative. Hi. Love Ballarat. I adore Ballarat and our history. And I’m glad to be looking after part of that too.
Amy: So yeah, tell me your vision for the shop.
Woman’s voice (Christine Crawshaw): So the sartorial bit will be… ah hopefully my wardrobes will be emptying out. I have an awful lot of them. I’m not kidding. Like 13 wardrobes. I claim my children’s wardrobes. There are shoes packed in bookshelves to the ceiling in my front room. And I think it’s about time I got rid of some of that. So I got all of my stuff, to bring into the shop. And then I’m going to have these little sections in the glass display cases where people can have their wares for sale. I’ve got some jewellers and some arts and crafts people. We’re going to have some little crafty things on the walls. Paper artwork because Ballarat is the city of craft and folk art so we can really go to town with that now and hopefully we’ll sell some books and meet some great people.
Amy: Oh I can’t wait. So we’ve got one of Christine’s lovely children here as well, Patrick, who I’m sure can attest to the full house of goodies. But yeah, how is this for you, Mum getting the bookshop going?
Boy’s voice (Patrick): It’s quite amazing seeing as all of her life she didn’t really get to do much because of… well, she had kids. (laughs) To put it bluntly. She’s just really happy because she finally gets to do something that she’s always wanted to.
Amy: Did you imagine it would be a bookshop?
Patrick: Well yeah, kind of. It sort of a mixture between book shop and mum’s house.
Amy: Oh that’s such a good way to put it for everyone that knows you and your warmth and unique style. It’s like ‘come to a book shop/Christine’s house.’
(music box sounds and muffled chatter)
Amy: Had you heard of Coles Book Arcade Patrick?
Patrick: Not before now. It’s quite an interesting story.
Christine: Yeah he was such a lovely guy. You know he wanted the whole no borders and one language for the whole world. And just everything else that he had crammed in there. Music and stationery.
Amy: You’ll be making your own little Ballarat Book Arcade.
Christine: Oh I love that. Love the fernery. There are definitely some plants coming to live here, definitely. I’d love that.
Amy narration: So booksellers are carrying on their work and creativity, even starting new shops, amid this strange and challenging year. Delivering books to people’s homes by bike (and sometimes getting marmalade in return), as we had the fun of doing recently, having a driveway bookshop at our house for Love your Bookshop Day. Because it’s never just about buying or selling books, it’s about places where people can just be, they can meet, and get inspired.
Amy: Sam just asked ‘what is Coles Book Arcade?’ It was a beautiful book shop in Melbourne.
(child making sounds)
And his icon that he had above the shop was a rainbow. You helped me do the chalk rainbows last week?
Child speaking: Yes we did.
(woman and children singing a sweet song about rainbows)
Woman’s voice (Chris Gordon): It always starts with an idea of sharing as opposed to retail, don’t you think, bookselling, in a way. It’s not a classic retail experience. You know it’s not a transaction of just money for goods, it’s actually so much more, bookselling. I guess that’s why it’s always been one of the more honourable trades.
Amy: Do you think there’s a particular type of person that becomes a bookseller?
Chris: I think they’re good people. (laughs) I think they’re really good people. I think they’re people that are compassionate. And I think they’re people that are searching for answers at all times. What about you? Do you think there is?
Amy: Ummm. We’re all a bit odd aren’t we? (laughs)
Chris: A bit kooky. We’re a bit kooky.
Amy: Yeah I guess that insatiable curiousity for life and ideas and that desire to share it with others. That’s what keeps me going.
(dreamy classical piano music plays)
Amy narration: Today, I think we as booksellers and story lovers share the same hope for sharing the love of books and connectedness that E.W. Cole spread over 100 years ago. And as we saw in Part 1, just as Cole was a master marketer and storyteller about his own shop and his messages of hope for humanity, the storytellers that have come after him have bought new life to his fantastical vision, mixing fact and fiction and as Erin McCuskey puts it, creating new, human truths and various perspectives, that maybe bring the past and present a little closer, as we dream up our future.
Woman’s voice (host Amy Tsilemanis): Yeah it’s interesting thinking about what resonates for people today still about his character. What do you think it is that’s still so enduring.
Woman’s voice (Lisa Lang): Well I think his optimism is something, well I think it’s something we could all use right now, that’s for sure. But yeah, his optimism and idealism is… I think it’s quite attractive. It sort of speaks to this sense that there is a better world out there. A better way that we can be living. That we can actually help create that. That we’re not powerless that our actions matter. So I think he always acted in a way where he believed he could make a difference. He didn’t seem to lose hope easily and he definitely saw some tough times. He saw the 1890’s depression. He lost a child. He definitely endured hardship but maintained a real sense of great excitement and possibility for the world. I guess that’s why it’s called Utopian Man. That sense of a Utopia always being just within reach. Something that we can aim for. I think there’s something endearing and attractive about that sort of vision.
Amy narration: Thanks so much for listening. This completes our first episode of Gather, with Minerva’s Books & Ideas, produced by me, Amy Tsilemanis with sound engineering and general audio mastery by the amazing Dave Byrne. And this first episode is proudly supported by The Australian Government’s Regional Arts Fund, provided through Regional Arts
Australia, administered in Victoria by Regional Arts Victoria.
Thanks to our guests and go and check out their work: Rex Hardware, Erin McCuskey, Christine Crawshaw at Sothis Books and Sartorial, and Chris Gordon at Readings in Melbourne. More info and about how you can support the show is at minervasbooks.com/gather
Music featured in this episode is by Ellen Sorensen, and we heard clips from Adam Simmons Creative Music Ensemble, and the Carlo Onzo Trio.
Keep making art, it’s what makes it all worthwhile.
Our next episode we’ll be exploring travel and the challenges of this at this time. And our indie book feature will be with Crave Books in Tasmania. Just across the way. See you then.