The following article was written by Robert Wuchatsch and first appeared in the Hume Gazette in November 1995.
The Lalor Shopping Centre began during the 1950s, shortly after the suburb of Lalor was created by ex-servicemen returning from the Second World War. The land on which the Lalor Shopping Centre stands was previously owned by the Mann family. David Mann and his wife May (née Thomas, of Thomastown) purchased it in 1920 and carried on a dairy farm there.
Several Lalor streets today record the Mann family’s presence, the most notable ones being David Street and May Road. Others are William, Jean and Lorne (which should have been Lorna) which were named after three Mann children. Mann’s Crossing, the railway crossing between High and Station Street opposite Safeway, was formerly the Mann family’s driveway and led to their farm Bella Vista. The Mann farmhouse stood just north of the Lalor Library in May Road.
The first Lalor Shopping Centre sites were sold by the Mann family in 1954 and the last in 1968. Although there were still only about five shops in 1958, the shopping centre as we know it today was largely complete by 1970. My first recollections of the shopping centre date from about 1960, when I was ten years old. Sometimes on a hot day, on the way home from Thomastown Primary School, I would stop at the Milk Bar (then known as the Tarax Bar) for a cool drink. At other times I would buy Nestles chocolate bars for the swap cards in them, or fireworks, which weren’t banned then. The old Milk Bar site is now occupied by the Amcal Chemist. Further north, near the Lalor Newsagency, was O’Connor’s Fruit Shop and George Roberts’ Butcher Shop.
My favourite shop then was the Lalor Fish Shop, which sold great fish and chips. In about 1964, I had a paper round, delivering the Whittlesea Post to shops in Thomastown and Lalor. I was paid 1/6d (15c). As I was always given too many papers, I sold the leftover copies to the Lalor Fish Shop which used them to wrap up their fish and chips. I received more money for those clean papers than for delivering the others. In those days the Whittlesea Post carried the next day’s date, so if the fish shop used those papers on the night I sold them, people who bought fish and chips could read tomorrow’s newspaper.
In 1966, a classmate Ross Indian and I often wagged sports periods at Merrilands High School, rode our bikes to Tom’s Self Service Store (just south of the fish shop) or Heath’s Supermarket (where Fossey’s now stands) and bought a large tub of ice cream to eat at my house. From 1968-1970, when I attended LaTrobe University, my neighbour and fellow student James Ziebell and I regularly spent long afternoons playing snooker at the Lalor Top Room in May Road.
Other shops I recall from those early days were JA Dance Studios, located above Gary and Jan Wallis’ Sportspower Store; the helpful shoe repair man, now located in May Road but then in Station Street; a hardware store managed by Charlie Moore just south of Basile’s Fruit Shop; Mendel Cohen’s Clothing Store, where I was annually outfitted in my school uniform; and the Post Office, then in Station Street near today’s Westpac Bank, and run by the kindly Mrs. Walters.
My more recent memories are regular visits to the Plenty Credit Union (established in 1972 when St. Lukes Lalor and St. Raphaels West Preston Credit Unions amalgamated to form the Preston-Lalor Co-operative Ltd); Toyworld and Sportspower where my young children invariably led me; having keys cut at Fordham’s Hardware by the same friendly staff who formerly operated a hardware store in Thomastown back in the 1960s; and the Lalor Library, where in 1989 we (the Whittlesea Historical Society) helped establish a Local History Collection.
Today my favourite Saturday activities include a stroll around the Lalor Shopping Centre, meeting old friends. I buy a paper at the Newsagency; often get lunch from the nearby Hot Bread Shop; and, occasionally, when my youngest son’s friends stayover for the night, I buy a tray of late afternoon cut price cakes from The Cake Box. I still take my shoes to the same repairman; my clothes to the Dry Cleaner’s next door; and my prescriptions and films to the Amcal Chemist. When I walk through the Peter Lalor Mall to the Plenty Credit Union, the Library or Coles’ Liquour Store for weekend drinks, I enjoy hearing the constant buzz of the groups of European men, discussing who knows what; I recall the regular visits by handshaking politicians at election time; and savour the aroma of donor kebabs. Most of all, I like the distinct local village atmosphere, developed over the last forty years and now increasingly rare in an era when new shopping malls are designed to encourage people to spend and move on rather than socialise.
Footnote: There have been many further changes since 1995 when Robert Wuchatsch wrote this article – most of the shopkeepers he knew have now retired, with many shops closed and new ones opened. Others, such as the Post Office and Westpac, have changed locations.