Former Gunnedah schoolgirl Julie McAdam made two nostalgic visits to her old hometown this year and her memories of the boom years of Macadam’s Department store are as clear as yesterday.
Now 79, Julie attended the long-running McAdam Cup in cricket earlier this year and spoke to the players about the cup’s background and how her father Vic came to establish the competition.
“It’s plain and simple,” she said. “Vic McAdam was a strong supporter of sport in Gunnedah throughout his whole life here. He also made sure he always had the radio timetable for sports that were due to be relayed – with lots of static – over the airwaves from England in those pre-television days before and after World War II.
“Of course, the Ashes tests with great Aussie cricketers like Bradman could not be missed under any circumstances. I remember him settling into his big armchair in the corner listening for hours on end, his ear up against the radio console.”
According to Julie, ordinary family life came to a halt when a cricket broadcast was on.
Early photos show Vic McAdam as a tall young man, lanky with long arms and Julie’s older brothers John and David remembered him as a great bowler in cricket games with them in the family backyard.
Not long after Julie was born in 1944, his father came down with cellulitis, a nasty life-threatening bacterial infection that mostly affects the legs. He was in Gunnedah Hospital for many weeks and fears were held for his recovery – but recover he did, with the ongoing effects putting an end to his sporting life.
“That was when he threw himself into helping sports and players in Gunnedah in any way he could, such as donating equipment, helping to improve facilities at working bees, arranging for a small fleet of Gunnedah supporters to travel to all ‘away’ football games and also lobbying the ‘powers that be’ to support initiatives such as the construction of a swimming pool in town,” Julie said.
“Tiny though I was, I remember him taking me to the weekly cricket games at Wolseley Park and him serving cups of ginger beer from the stoneware containers that he always brought along for the players.
“No-one in the family can recall when he donated the JVJ McAdam Cup, but I reckon that every time the cup is won and passes into a new pair of hands, it helps keep alive Gunnedah’s enjoyment of the sport and belief in aiming high when playing the superb game of cricket.”
Attending the recent St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church flower show, Julie also recalled her grandparents’ involvement with the erection of the original church and the official opening on December 17, 1921, by the NSW Moderator Rev. J. Edwards MA.
Historical records show that Julie’s grandmother Georgina McAdam, the wife of local businessman William McAdam, gifted the church with a large pulpit bible as well as paying the fare and expenses for the moderator to travel to Gunnedah.
Julie’s father John Victor James McAdam (Vic) followed in his father’s footsteps in community service and was part of the family’s commercial history when Scottish immigrant William McAdam established Macadam Bros department store with his brother Robert in 1889.
The venture was Gunnedah’s first department store selling all kinds of goods to meet the needs of the town’s growing population and farming community.
It was located on the site of what not so long ago was the Curlewis Farmer’s Co-Op and became known as McAdam’s Corner.
“It was called Macadam Bros but was always known as McAdam’s,” Julie said. “In the 1920s Macadam Bros moved from its original site and built an impressive store directly opposite across Conadilly Street on the site now occupied by Hennessy Real Estate and Pursegloves and also bought land behind the store stretching to Little Barber Street.”
Georgina McAdam’s brother Herb Clark made ladies’ hats for Macadam Bros store and Julie’s father Vic married Miss McLean, a schoolteacher who boarded with the McAdam family and became a mother of three.
The late Ray Warne was the accountant for Macadam Bros from 1945 to 1952 and when the store closed and he was quickly snapped up by the Curlewis Farmer’s Co-Operative which had opened a second branch on the original site of Macadam Bros.
A newspaper report dated May 1, 1939, describes the half-century celebrations for Macadam Bros and its early business records, which revealed transcribed records of the previous year. The firm’s deposit book with the Gunnedah branch of the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney, dated from early 1899 when the firm first opened. It revealed among other things what happened when the banking crisis struck NSW in May, June and July 1893, when the bank closed temporarily and reopened with trust accounts which were shortly merged into the general business of the re-opened bank.
To celebrate the half-century, Macadam’s store held an anniversary sale and started a slogan competition with a prize of a cruise to Fiji on the SS Oronsay.
“William McAdam was known as a generous-hearted man and so was my father Vic,” Julie said.
“William lent money to many townsfolk who were hard hit during the great recession and did not chase those who could not repay it.”
Robert McAdam was the foundation chairman of the Gunnedah Colliery Co. Ltd and William McAdam was a foundation director.
“William McAdam and his brother took up a quarter of the original shares to get the Blackjack Mine going and funded much of the cost to build the original timber Presbyterian Church of which he and then my father were treasurers,” Julie said.
Drawing on his Scottish roots, Wiliam McAdam was chieftain of the Gunnedah Caledonian Society when it was formed in February 1929, and was a foundation member of the Gunnedah Bowling Club the same year.
Hedley Apthorpe was the foundation secretary of the Caledonian society and his wife Rita made kilts and accessories after a bolt of tartan had been imported from Scotland. The band leaders were Dr Colin Anderson and William Nivison with L. Stanger as the pipe major. The Gunnedah bagpipe band held a highland gathering at Wolseley Park, with at least six other pipe bands from around the region. Activities included the skirl of bagpipes, caber tossing, diagram marches and Scottish dancing performed on a huge stage in the middle of the oval. Often a combination of bands would play on the footpath outside the Royal Hotel, well-oiled with a “wee drop of Scotch”. There would also be a special Caledonian service at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church much to the delight of Scottish minister Rev James McDonald as the little wooden church would be overflowing. The long weekend climaxed with a grand Scottish concert in the School of Arts, with the building crammed to capacity. William McAdam’s contribution to the Caledonian society was enormous but after his death in 1935, it faded away and died within years.
Vic McAdam was involved with Gunnedah Rotary and the Chamber of Commerce when they were first formed and together with his mates in those organisations, he would respond to whatever opportunity, challenge or need that happened to arise in their much-loved town of Gunnedah.
Julie said it became the custom for these men, who became great friends, to start each Christmas day with a “round robin” of visits to each other’s homes for some Christmas cake and a “wee dram of Scotland’s best”.
As the glimmer of a rural recession made itself felt, Macadam’s store closed for good in 1952 and the family moved to the city.
Julie has fond memories of her early schooling days at Gunnedah Public School and she firmly believes that her father would have preferred to stay in Gunnedah and not move to Sydney.
“City life was not, and never would be, his scene. He passed away in 1975.”
Today the family name lives on with Macadam Bros signage still visible on the Marquis Street façade of the Hair Studio and the Skin Studio and five lonely graves in the Presbyterian section at the Hunter Street cemetery, including William and Georgina McAdam.To order photos from this page click here