Home' Greymouth Star : December 14th 2013 Contents Greymouth Star
6 - Saturday, December 14, 2013
Alec, right, and wife Mary Bowkett with a Christchurch visitor outside the Blackball shop.
Alex at the Blackball TAB with his pet goat.
Alec Bowkett owned and operated a well
known general store on the corner of
Hilton and Hart streets, during Blackball's
heyday of the 1950s and 1960s.
His son Patrick recalls growing up in the
house with shop attached, and working with his father in
the store in later years.
" e store was down from the Blackball pub. When I
was growing up in Blackball there were three stores in the
town --- there was dad's, Haisty's Store on Hilton Street
and Sam Clarke's down on Sta ord Street."
Bowkett's Store, like Haisty's, was a general store and
sold anything and everything.
"My father employed a number of sta over the years ---
Joan Clark (Murdoch), Carol Gray and Phemie Cust all
worked there. I worked in the store for a couple of years
after I left the Marist Brothers High School, until the
shop closed in early 1973," Patrick says.
" e coalminers and mill workers would stop in town
and put in their orders, book them up. ey would all put
in an a weekly order and it would be made up at the shop
and delivered around town. ere were the two mines and
a sawmill going at the time and the miners would come
in and pay fortnightly, they would do the same at Haisty's
Store, down the road.
"As well as the mines and the mill, in my time growing
up there were also three pubs in town --- the Dominion
(which is now the Hilton), the top pub was the Club
Hotel and down from the Hilton, on the other side of the
Miners' Hall, was McClusky's.
"Blackball was a thriving community back then, it was in
its heyday during the 50s and 60s. My mother played the
piano for when they had the silent movies playing at the
As for Bowkett's Store, it supplied groceries, shoes,
gumboots, football boots and hardware, including paint
"Dad would travel down to Greymouth in his old green
truck an Austin Cowley and pick up all his provisions
and store supplies. He would go into town once a week,
get his fruit and veggies from Baillie and Neville, get
the hardware supplies from Duncan Hardie and also get
supplies around at McDonnell's bulk store, across from
the old Post O ce in Tainui Street. We'd pick up pies and
cakes at Owens Cake Kitchen, and dad would always call
in at the Gateau Cake Shop on the way home and pick up
pies there as well. He basically got us a pie there to shut us
up," chuckled Patrick.
Joan Clark says there was never a dull moment working
at Bowkett's Store, and at times the corner shop was
"I started working there around 1952 and got married
in 1959 and worked a couple of years in the store after I
was married. It was a busy store and sold everything, and
of course in those days everything came in bulk supply ---
our, sugar, dates, sultanas, sacks of potatoes --- all would
need to be weighed and packed separately. Even biscuits
came loose in large tins and we had to weigh the biscuits
and put them in bags as well."
Working in a general store covered a wide range of
duties and there was always a variety of work carried out
apart from ser ving behind the counter.
"You basically did everything back then. I was cleaning,
packing and weighing all the bulk supplies, making up the
orders, which was normally on a ursday. I remember
making up 30 orders one ursday, that was the busy day
because every second Friday was pay day for the miners.
"Alec (Bowkett) looked after his regular customers who
used to come in with their orders. When the orders were
made up he would go and deliver all around the place and
would always make up a little bag of lollies for the families
who had children, for the loyal customers. e store
always had a wide selection of loose lollies, which would
be made up for the customers in the shop, but we also had
an ice-cream parlour as well. We served ice-cream and
milkshakes and had seats for the customers, separate from
the main counter."
In any town, in any store there are always identities and
characters, and Joan says Blackball certainly had its share.
"Most would be at the pub. I remember one in particular
would come in with a few beers aboard and buy a couple
of tins of sardines. He would sit in the ice-cream parlour
and open the tins up and eat the sardines, nothing else,
and then head o home. We always kept the shop open
at nights when the movies were on at the Miners' Hall,
and serve the rush which would come through the door at
half-time. Bernie Connors, who had a shop down the road
which mainly sold papers and magazines also sold lollies
and ice-creams so he would stay open at night when the
movies were on as well."
Carol Gray also worked at Bowkett's Store for a time.
"Alec and Mary were very good to work for, Alec was
a a really good sort, a very good boss. I started working
at the store around 1963 and was working with Phemie
Cust back then. Dawn George, Kathy McIvor and Claire
Kinsella had worked there before me. ursdays and
Fridays were always the busy days of the week for us as
people would drop their orders in on the Wednesday. We'd
make the orders up and Alec would do the deliveries, but
we'd stay behind and work through until all the orders
were done. We'd make the orders up from scratch and
the store would normally have everything available. If we
didn't have it Alec would order it from town and have
it there basically straight away. He delivered all around
Blackball, across to Ngahere and out to Roa."
Carol says Blackball was a busy place in the early 1960s,
with plenty of employment and a variety of shops ser ving
"A lot of people lived up there in those days, it was a
good community and everyone knew everyone. ere was
a lot of employment with the two mines and the Roa and
Moonlight sawmills. We were always busy on Saturday
and Sunday nights, when the pictures were going. We'd
catch all the people wanting ice-creams at half-time ---
there would be a rush --- and afterwards we would clean
up the shop and then go down to the Miners' Hall and
watch the main movie ourselves."
Bowkett's Store opened all hours and was like a beacon
to those passing by, with characters aplenty calling in for a
variety of reasons.
" ere were lots of characters living in Blackball and
most would frequent the shop. One in particular used to
always have a hangover and want eggs whipped up and
cover them in black sauce. He'd sit there in the ice-cream
parlour and be eating his eggs.
"Often, Fred Stanton would come up from Duncan
Hardie's with an order, as well he would bring up cakes,
pies and pasties from Owen's (bakery). Sometimes he
would be held up on the road and be late, and there'd be
a long line of people waiting outside the shop around
lunchtime for Fred to arrive.
" e ice-cream parlour was popular, with its green
seating and there were stalls at the front of the counter as
well where people could sit."
Lorna Hines worked in the Blackball Post O ce and
during breaks headed to Bowkett's Store for an ice-cream
"I'd go in and get a soda and take it back to work, but if
I got an ice-cream sundae I would sit in the parlour and
eat it from the glass dish. e parlour had all sorts --- ice-
cream sundaes, sodas and milkshakes. It was a busy little
shop and sold everything. All the stores in Blackball sold
everything in those days. Mum would drop an order into
the shop and Mr Bowkett would deliver it, always with a
bag of lollies for us. I would go and get the fresh bread and
take the white our bag, or bread bag as we called them
back then. ere was always the big tins of loose biscuits,
too, and how can I forget the Apex ice-cream?"
Long-time Blackball resident Mary Howden was a
regular customer of Bowkett's Store and says it was the
typical country town general store.
"We used to go the the store all the time, Alec and
Mary (Bowkett) were marvellous people, Alec was a great
shopkeeper. It was an old-fashioned shop in those days ---
one side was a store and on the left side was the ice-cream
and things. e shop was always open on a Sunday night,
when the movies were on, which was handy for everyone
at half-time," she said.
Mary says all stores in Blackball got good patronage
from locals as in those days most people stayed put and
never ventured out of town.
"Back then we never went out of Blackball much at all
and we bought all our groceries and things locally, and
Bowkett's always had a good range. Everyone went to the
local shops, and never into town (Greymouth). If they
didn't have what you wanted they would get it in for you.
Bowkett's Store was a lovely shop and they were very good
people and would help anyone in the district."
Modern day Blackball is a mere shadow of what it was in the 1950s and 1960s, when the township on the plateau bristled
with two coalmines and busy sawmills. All that changed when the Blackball mine closed in 1964, followed by the Roa mine
three years later. During the town's heyday, Bowkett's Store was a popular trading post. Today, this once familiar landmark is
but an empty corner section. PAUL McBRIDE reports.
Links Archive December 13th 2013 December 16th 2013 Navigation Previous Page Next Page