Thanks to my friend Kate Kenzie for her post on BookTowns. It brought
some treasured memories to me. I would love to share them with you today.
Way back when I was a youngster my father introduced me to the all children’s favourite Little Golden Books. I can remember a beautiful set of hardbacked books where I received a paper cut on turning the pages of one of them. An entire new world was opened up to me. I read such journeys as Rip Van Winkle, Pinocchio, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and my favourite – The Phoenix – a set of different stories from Russia which my father read to me at bedtime. With an active imagination, I was set to create my own stories forever after.
When I was a little older we began going into the city for the day. Parking the car at the parking lot at Central Railway, we walked all the way to Town Hall, stopping at every second hand bookshop in between. These were large and small, yet all had one thing in common. They were floor to ceiling and wall to wall full of books on every subject imaginable. There were magazines on cars, travel, science, and much more. There was even a room at the back of some of these shops which had a curtain across that only adults were allowed. Intriguing though this was to me, I was far more interested in my books I had begun to read such as Secret Seven, Trixie Belden and Annette. In fact, I couldn’t get enough of these books and scoured the shelves eagerly with each bookshop we entered.
Over the years I have gathered many books from these stores. There is nothing like the smell of a good hardback to treasure and keep. I loved entering these bookshops to scour all my favourite authors. Over the years, my tastes changed and my list of missing books on my own shelves grew more instead of less. The more I read, the more I missed.
I had two favourite bookshops to go to. One was Higgs that had a great many aisles, only wide enough to side-step along the shelves. If you dared crouch down to perused the bottom shelves, you could be forgiven for the sudden ouch and ooh if someone stepped on you, or used your back to reach a higher shelf. Of course, they had ladders along the shelves for the higher books up yonder, though even as they slid along, it was a dangerous pursuit should you be in the way of an avid book lover.
In one store the elderly couple had owned it “The Higgses worked as a sort of bookish crack team – he went out buying, she chatted to customers and looked after the cash register. The remaining books range from beautiful leather-bound classics to signed collections of Norman Lindsay drawings and obscure literature such as the Hon John Mildred Creed’s My Recollections and the Australian Women’s Complete Household Guide, which includes a recipe for cream horns.” Read More in this story from the SMH.
The other favourite bookshop was Greenwoods, Elizabeth Street, Sydney. Both my father and my grandfather would make a beeline for this one. Not nearly as big as Higgs of course, however still a quality shop no less. Hardbacks were favourites with my father and I. We would have to make a list of our books and all the paperbacks we had in our collection could be gradually exchanged for hardbacks. In this shop we found missing books such as Don Camillo, The Glorious Pool, and even some Lin Yutang books. Here, you can read more about George Greenwood from his interview by his grandson David Carroll.
Sadly, today’s bookshops seem to have disappeared with few exceptions.
One of these being Berkelouw’s Bookbarn at Berrima. I had never been into this store before, so when I first did, back in the late 1990’s it was with awe, similar to walking into the Mitchell Library in Sydney for the first time.
The smell and sound of timber flooring and shelving resonated through my entire body. I had goosebumps just walking into it. The overwhelming sense of wanting to stay all day and to heck with the fact that we are only passing through with a few hours to spare enveloped me. All I wanted to do was linger long, stroll through the aisles of bookshelves and browse through every title on each shelf. I was in seventh heaven. This was by far the best place we could have stopped at on the way through. We walked out having spent up big on our credit cards. I purchased two new favourites I had always wanted to read – Aunty Mame and Goodbye Mr Chips. I read both of these books on one sitting. Something I had never done before, or since. Sadly, I have never gone back to visit Berkelouw’s at Berrima, although I did find their Leichhardt store once a few years later.