Whiteman’s Department Store

“Do you remember when…?” The beginning of so many conversations about Whiteman’s Department Store. It was the site that created many memories for many people in Camden, and with the many changes occurring it is a treasure trove of the old town.

Whiteman's on Argyle Street, 1923.

Whiteman’s on Argyle Street, 1923. Copyright: Camden Historical Society

Do you remember when Whiteman’s opened? Perhaps the most iconic Camden business, it was started by two brothers, George Spencer and Charles Thomas Whiteman in 1878 as a farm produce store. It would pass through four Whiteman generations and employ many Camden residents. Whiteman’s quickly became the heart of the town.  The stores originality and longevity added to it being not only the “centre of Camden’s business activity” but also as “a meeting place where friendships were made and sustained” (Wrigley, 2007).

The original Whiteman family. Charles Thomas Whiteman seated middle row right.

The original Whiteman family. Charles Thomas Whiteman seated middle row, far right. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Do you remember when the staff at Whiteman’s were a “happy family”? Andrew Whiteman recalls how his family took pride in the long association with staff, who would work there for many years. Pauline Hamer, one of the many long time employees, remembers Mr. Whiteman, whose hallmark was with fairness and concern for his staff (Walker, 2007). It was a common feature for longtime staff to teach and nurture the new additions with patience and care. Joy Faulkner recalls, on her first day in 1958, that although leaving home with plenty of time, she found herself waiting at the wrong door. Once finally let in, Keith Whiteman remarked with a friendly smile, “you are late”(Walker, 2007).

Last days. Whiteman's closing down in 2000.

Last days. Whiteman’s closing down in 2000. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Do you remember when Whiteman’s closed? In 2000, after 122 years in operation, Whiteman’s closed its doors for the last time. Judy Whiteman recalls in an oral history interview that it was a big shock to her, and a shock to everyone in Camden. “It’s always been Whiteman’s”, she recalls with a distinct fondness. Although the store closed, the arcade is still affectionately called Whiteman’s Arcade. During the 2007 renovations, the street level had many original features restored and images of the old facade added on tiles as a tribute to the buildings heritage. With all the development happening in Camden, and with new business ventures and stores coming every year, who knows what will be followed by those nostalgic words, “do you remember when…?”

References:

Whiteman, J. (2009). Oral history interview with Penny Sexton.

Walker, G. (2007) Memories of Whiteman’s. Thirlmere, N.S.W.: C. Davies.

Wrigley, J. (13.07.2007) Memories of Whiteman’s department store.

3 comments

  1. I grew up in Camden and have many fond memories of Whitemans. As newlyweds, my parents rented one of the upstairs flats. Some 25 years later you could still make out a water stain on the ceiling in the menswear department as a result of my mother accidentally letting the bath overflow.

    As a Camden-based tradesman, my father was a frequent visitor to the hardware department and I’d often accompany him. If I was really lucky he’d give me a coin to put in the life-sized guide dog collection box that was always positioned near Hardware’s Argyle Street entrance door. When we’d visit the produce department I was often encouraged by the staff to search for the latest batch of kittens in the hayloft.

    My mother would buy the fabric to make my school uniforms from the haberdashery department. I’d entertain myself counting reels of thread and staring in fascination at hundreds of tubes of every kind of button a child could imagine. I’d watch in awe as the ladies in Haberdashery would expertly measure and cut the fabric to the required length. Sometimes they’d meansure, then nick the edge and rip the fabric – oh, how my six year old self loved that! Little did I know then that years later I would find myself on the opposite side of the counter when I worked in the Haberdashery and Ladieswear departments at Whitemans for several years while studying at university. I loved working there and for a while even commuted from the inner city back to Camden to work my weekend shifts.

    The closure of Whitemans really was the end of an era and I consider it a great privilege to have worked there.

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