Beecroft-Cheltenham History Group

The Children's Bookshop

The Children’s Bookshop, Beecroft opened in November 1971. The proprietors were mother and daughter Beecroft residents, Beryl Moncrieff Matthews and Robin Moncrieff Morrow. The shop was located in the small, old building in Wongala Crescent that had been Beecroft’s original Post Office (now demolished and the site of Umun jeweller).

There were challenges in starting such a business. A specialist children’s bookshop had already been established in Melbourne but there was none in NSW, and suppliers were sceptical and reluctant to extend credit. On the other hand, the Beecroft district was enthusiastic about education, and the Whitlam government poured money into schools and libraries. Soon the shop began to attract customers from near and to choose from the selection of books crammed into this tiny shop, and parcels were being despatched daily to addresses throughout NSW and beyond. Margaret Burlison was the first non-family staff member, and she was to become a valued consultant about books (and other matters) for many families.

Local resident Rosalind Benson, whose children attended Beecroft Public School, designed the logo with its picture of the shop building and children running to be greeted at its door.

From its earliest days the bookshop became well-known for book launches, author visits and book signings by both Australian and overseas authors and illustrators.

Robin Morrow taught children’s literature at Macquarie University, spoke on radio programs and wrote book reviews for many publications including The Weekend Australian. She also spoke at conferences, both locally and as far afield as Tokyo.

In 1978 the need for larger premises (and a secure lease) had become urgent, and the bookshop moved to 12 Hannah Street (now the site of Sevardi Restaurant). The following years saw growth of the business, with expansion of the book talks and inservices that the staff provided. Robin Morrow and Jill McGilvray undertook most of these speaking engagements, often filling the station wagon with boxes of books and travelling long distances to address meetings of teachers, librarians and parents. When Ruth Park came to the shop after the publication of Playing Beatie Bow, a huge crowd gathered to meet her, with a queue outside on the footpath as far as the railway station.

In October 1984 a fire damaged the building and most of the stock was destroyed or damaged. The business moved temporarily to a shop in the Arcade, and the heartbreaking task of sorting through fire-damaged books continued. Beryl Matthews became ill after the fire and never recovered, dying in February 1985. An ‘In Memoriam’ donation to The Children’s Book Council of Australia awards foundation has ensured that her valuable contribution to children’s literature will be remembered.

Back in 12 Hannah Street, the shop continued to grow, especially in the area of author visits, inservices and book fairs. Another record crowd attended a book signing by US illustrator Tomie de Paola. In November 1992 a marquee was erected in the carpark behind the shop, and a party held to celebrate its 21st birthday. Jill McGilvray became manager in the mid 1990s and started Book Breakfasts in a local café, at which children met authors and illustrators.  

In 1996 Hellene Boon bought the shop from the Morrows. She consolidated The Children’s Bookshop with Capella Bookshop, the general shop her husband, Nick Boon, had been running in the arcade. The newly merged bookshop moved briefly to the end shop of the arcade (later to be Our Place children’s wear), and then to the present site at 6 Hannah Street. Now with much more space, including, upstairs, an office and a meeting room for book launches and author talks, the bookshop was able to host even more events and regular story times.

Paul Macdonald bought the shop from Hellene and Nick Boon in January 2005. As an enthusiastic teacher of secondary English with expert knowledge of Shakespeare, Paul brought some new emphases to the shop, while continuing the tradition of expert attention to the needs of schools and libraries. The early years of the new millennium were challenging for independent bookshops, but The Children’s Bookshop continued to give excellent service and maintain the loyalty of its customers. In 2011 a number of events were held to celebrate the shop’s 40th birthday.

 

Reference:

Morrow, Robin More of a Club Than a Bookshop—The Children’s Bookshop, Beecroft: The First 25 Years pub Robin Morrow Books 1999

                       

 

 

 

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