Greythorn Shopping Centre Develops
by Ann Carew
The strikingly modern Greythorn shopping strip developed during the 1950s and 60s, in an era of optimism and prosperity. The introduction of self-service, cash registers and air-conditioning transformed retailing during this period. Until the end of World War 2, orchards and dairy farms occupied the Greythorn district with a scattering of houses in-between. In 1950, fruit growers Frank Broussard (later Mayor of Camberwell) and orchardists Joyce and William Ross were two of the four home owners listed on the north side of Doncaster Road in the vicinity of the shopping centre. While the streets were laid out near Balwyn Road, many were unmade, and the area towards the Koonung Creek (now the Eastern Freeway) was open fields of orchards. A familiar sight was Philpott’s dairy cart and horse, and later milk truck,  delivering milk to residents’ homes. The baker, the butcher and greengrocer also made regular home deliveries, and most people walked to the shops rather than drove.
The first business
Greythorn Self-Service Provisions Market (281 Doncaster Road) was one of the first businesses to open on the strip. It stocked fruit, vegetables, meat, milk, and other household supplies. Like many food and liquor merchants during this period, the proprietor proudly advertised ‘self-service’ as a point of difference. In 1960, when Victoria’s first free-standing supermarket opened, it was hailed in the papers of the day as an advance in modern food merchandising. An early milestone for Greythorn was the opening of the Greythorn Post Office in 1951; no longer did residents need to tramp up the hill to their post boxes on Balwyn Road.
The pharmacy opens
In 1953, Greythorn residents Don and Lilian Wood commissioned Robin Boyd CBE to design their new pharmacy (283 Doncaster Road). It was Boyd’s second commission for the Woods; in 1948 he had designed their home at 12–14 Tannock Street. (Wood had purchased the double block in 1945.) The design for the pharmacy was a modern, single-storey building set back from the street with a display wall to catch the eye of the passing traffic. Noted Graphic Designer, Richard Beck, who created the official poster for Melbourne’s 1956 Games, designed the shop’s signage and stationery. When the pharmacy opened there were just four shops at Greythorn: the pharmacy; the Self-Service Provisions Market; the Greythorn Post Office and General store (286 Doncaster Road) and Frank Stevens’s service station, a Shell dealership (296 –302 Doncaster Road). ￼
The following year, 1954, the Wildlife Sanctuary Estate, comprising 62 ‘glorious home sites’ was auctioned. The photograph on the auction flyer shows a small strip of shops along Doncaster Road, Greythorn, as well as a scattering of housing in the nearby streets. Much of the surrounding landscape was still open paddocks dotted with farm buildings and housing.
In the years following World War 2, migration and the baby boom fuelled the need for more housing and community facilities. In 1946, Victoria’s population was just over 2 million, and by 1962 had reached 3 million. Approximately 50,000 babies were born each year in Victoria during the 1950s, and, in 1951 alone, more than 150,000 new migrants arrived, predominantly from Europe. As each year passed, more of the remaining farms and large estates in the inner-eastern suburbs of Melbourne were subdivided for housing and community facilities.
Growth of shops in the mid 1950s
By 1955, the Greythorn’s shops had grown to five, with the addition of Lane’s Butcher (284 Doncaster Road), and Gordon’s Newsagent (288 Doncaster Road), and there were several shops being constructed on both sides of Doncaster Road. Across the road, at 264, a two-storey building with a shop front and professional suites was under construction. It would soon be occupied by T. R. Walton & Son, Real Estate Agents, and L’Ovette Boutique in the front showroom (now Boroondara Eye Care).
In 1955, Balwyn resident, George Polites, who had run a successful milk bar in Swanston Street, applied for a licence to renovate two shops to establish a licensed grocery, and family home at 309 Doncaster Road (now Greythorn Cellars). The licence was fiercely contested by the City of Camberwell in a nine-day court case; Camberwell had been declared ‘dry’ in 1920, when according to reports there were just 50 residents living north of Belmore Road. George was one of three grocers in North Balwyn requesting a liquor licence in 1957. The licence was finally granted in November 1957, and George and his family moved into their new home and premises the following year.
Greythorn Is A Shopping Centre.
With this issue, the Outer Circle Mirror goes further afield to cover the furthermost reaches of North Balwyn, now being swiftly settled, whose business heart is the shopping centre called “Greythorn.”
Outer Circle Mirror, 16 October 1956
The Di Pietro family has had a long association with the Greythorn Shopping Centre. In 1955, Nicola Di Pietro, who had already established a successful market garden in the Yarra Valley, purchased a vacant block at 291 Doncaster Road and built his first small store. Palais Fruit Supply opened in 1957, managed by his young son Phillip, with assistance from Phillip’s sister Joyce. Seeing the possibilities of the centre, Nicola, then purchased the lot next door, where he built another shop and more accommodation for the family (289 Doncaster Road). Elgar Meat Supply’s owner, Charles (Chas) Schonfelder leased 289, and by 1963 Phillip, and his wife Diana, were living above 291. Phillip recalls that the shopping centre really took off in the 1960s, with the addition of a butcher, greengrocer, licensed grocery and supermarket.
The Trentwood Estate
In 1958, the AV Jennings Trentwood Estate, comprising 96 lots, gave another much-needed boost to the area. The estate was built on a former orchard (Greythorns’ old-timers remember stands of quince trees and the dam near the corner of Tannock Street and Doncaster Roads). The 25-acre site was purchased by Albert Jennings, probably in 1955, and sales commenced in 1958. Most of the estate was developed by 1960. The estates 10- to 11- square houses were designed for first-home buyers who could choose from a range of plans with two to three bedrooms. It was the firm’s 11th estate and followed developments at Nunawading, Glen Waverley, Mount Waverley and Syndal. Trentwood incorporated the first display centre, comprising two homes with landscaped gardens. The development included community and shopping facilities, including a service station (now Aldi), a kindergarten, baby health centre, an RSL Hall and a bowling green. Jennings’ private housing estates were distinctive for their curvilinear through-roads, cul-de-sacs, and T-intersections, which are still the source of frustration today for those who prefer a grid!
Trentwood’s Drive-In Shopping Centre was designed by noted architect Ronald G. (Tiger) Lyon, AM, (1920-2006) of Perrott Lyon Timlock Architects. Lyon developed a new type of awning to make the interior of the shops more visible from the street, and these remain in situ today. AV Jennings’ staff studied the pattern of shops in the existing communities as a guide in the development of the strip. Parking was considered within the planning, as was a small park for shoppers to linger. Construction began in 1959; however, as the centre was built on a former creek, deeper foundations were needed than anticipated – 16 metres –causing some delays. The centre finally opened in early 1960. There were 14 new shops, including a butcher, greengrocer and fish shop, and a supermarket, Nancarrows.
With many more families owning their own car, and possibly two, car parking and service stations were essential in local shopping centres. Trentwood’s Drive-In Shopping Centre was innovative for the period. Some of the new shops on Doncaster Road were set back to allow spaces for car parking, though it wasn’t enough. In 1964, the Greythorn traders struck a deal with council to purchase various properties in the vicinity of the shopping centre, to be used for carparking, and agreed to pay separate rates for 16 years.
Ken Holt became the proprietor of the Trentwood’s new Caltex Service Station (311 Doncaster Road), and so locals now had a choice of a Shell, Caltex or BP. Unlike today, there were usually just two petrol pumps, and proprietors filled the tanks, checked the water, and pumped up the tyres. The Caltex Service Station proved to be the longest surviving and was one of the last three service stations in Victoria to serve customers at the pump. Bruce Craven, its proprietor for 33 years from 1979 to 2015, stopped serving petrol in 2005, when he changed the name to Greythorn Motors. It finally closed in 2012 to make way for an Aldi supermarket, which opened in 2015.
Display ads and articles in the local papers, such as the Outer Circle Mirror (1953–1966) give a vivid picture of the shopping centre, its traders, and their ambitions for the centre. Modernity was much prized, and many shops opened with the tag line of ‘modern’ somewhere in the description. The local rags gave extended coverage to the opening of the new stores. Radio promotions were also popular. In 1959, Greythorn Electrics ran football competitions on 3DB, 3XY, and 3KZ, sponsoring programming and offering prizes such as 21-inch TV sets, and ‘totally’ automatic washing machines.
When Hagger’s Foodland opened in July 1959, the entire shopping centre staged a sale with free lamb chops offered by Elgar Meat Supply, free pineapples from Palais Fruit Supply (Di Pietro’s) and free petrol from the BP Service Station. Meanwhile proprietor Max Hagger offered free portraits taken by a professional photographer Maurice Bramson, and arranged visits by media personalities, such as Brian Naylor from HSV-7, and Arthur Lister and David McGee from 3AW. Hagger’s, at 2,000 square feet, was the largest store for miles. The first Hagger’s store in Victoria had opened in 1899, and this new store would be managed by the third generation of the family. Max was a brilliant marketer, later in the year he hosted an exhibition of film stills from On the Beach in the supermarket.
Hairdressers and beauty salons
Personal services, such as hairdressing, have long been a feature of the strip. Chrystelle Ladies Hairdresser (278 Doncaster Road) was the first to open in 1958. It was located in a new group of three shops that were set back from the road to allow for customer car parking (276–280 Doncaster Road), and these are considered to be significant examples of 1950s shop design. Hairdressers continued to operate from number 278 until the 1990s, including Chez Graeme Salon and Greythorn Hair Care. Other early hairdressers on the strip included Luciano of Milano, Linos and Terese Coiffure, and Sergio’s. Bel Air Hairdressing is now one of the longest-serving hairdressing salons on the strip; a family business that has operated for 30 years on the northern side of the road.
From open paddocks and orchards, a well-ordered suburb has sprung, with wide, tree-lined streets, and homes of distinctive individual appearance and design, North Balwyn has been called – rather loosely – the “New Toorak”.
Outer Circle Mirror, 30 September 1958.
The telephone exchange
By 1960, Greythorn had its own automatic telephone exchange (269 Doncaster Road). As you walk past, consider it as a milestone for the district! It has provided a boundary for the northern end of the strip ever since. The shopping centre was now home to 30 businesses, including fruit shops, butchers, chemists, delicatessens, and hairdressers. The Sutherlands were busy at the Greythorn Post Office (286 Greythorn Road), where they also ran a Tarax milk bar, and a branch of the Commonwealth Savings Bank.
Max Bernsten is listed as the proprietor of the butcher shop at 323a Doncaster Road, North Balwyn in 1974.
He is remembered as both a butcher and a banker. The recipe book he gave out in the 1970s listed French, Greek, Hungarian, Swedish, Japanese and Asian style recipes. One recipe that catches the eye is a Swedish Coffee Basted Lamb.
“What’s cooking”, c. 1970s, compiled by Tess Mallos, Food Consultant to the Australian Meat Board, published by Lindfield Press, East Doncaster. Distributed by Max Bernsten. Courtesy Mrs. Tracy Colebatch (nee Dexter).
By the 1970s the Vlahos family was operating a milk bar (292 Doncaster Road). In truth many of the delicatessens, also served as milk bars. Some stores that opened in the early days remained a feature of the strip for decades such as Atlantic Seafoods (325 Doncaster Road), Elgar Meat Supply (289 Doncaster Road), the Di Pietro family’s fruit shop (291 Doncaster Road), and Conways Mens and Boyswear (288 Doncaster Road), established by Maurice Conway in 1959, and later operated by his son-in-law Tom Vamos.
Maurice Conway first traded in Greythorn as Morrie the Tailor and Mrs Boyce. Mrs Hilda Boyce was a dressmaker, who Maurice’s daughter, Eileen (now Eileen Vamos), remembers as outgoing and extremely well dressed, with ‘always matching shoes and bags.’ Maurice served his apprenticeship as a tailor in London, before immigrating to Australia in 1949. He initially established a business in Carnegie; however, when plans for Chadstone were announced, he decided to relocate to Greythorn, a developing area. The business prospered. Tom Vamos arrived from Czechoslovakia, in May 1965, and initially worked as a furrier, before joining his father-in-law in business in 1975. He recalls that the first shop was small, and later, at the expense of the landlord, was doubled in size.
In its early years the Greythorn Shopping Centre reflected the housing boom, with hardware stores, lighting stores, home décor and gardening stores amongst the first stores to open on the strip. The 1950s and 1960s was truly the era of DIY (do it yourself). The Age and Australian Home Beautiful published plans for small homes designed by architects that could be built by homeowners themselves, or local builders. Some commissioned architects to design custom homes, and Robin Boyd, Peter McIntyre and Kevin Borland, all designed homes in the area. Australian Home Beautiful also published designs for furniture that could be bought as kits or made from scratch, as did local timber and hardware stores. In 1963, Greythorn Timber advertised pre-cut furniture that “anyone can build …”. They had more than 200 models available, including bed frames, highchairs, coffee tables and desks. AV Jennings Interiors, a furnishing and decorating business – also operated briefly on the strip.
In 1963, Geoff Gray’s extensively renovated Greythorn Timber Company (304 to 306 Doncaster Road) opened. Geoff, a returned AIF serviceman, builder and building financier, and his partner Mike Kostos, a former café proprietor of St Kilda, spent £26,000 on their new, strikingly contemporary building supply and hardware store. The two-storeyed, glass-fronted premises was described as the most modern in the eastern suburbs and replaced Gray’s first shop, which he built for £800. Geoff also built many of the shops and homes in the Greythorn area. The store closed in 1975, and became E & S Trading, and then Greythorn Bulk.
The importance of banks
In the days before EFTPOS and ‘the hole in the wall’, banks were another essential service in local shopping centres. No doubt bank managers were kept busy in Greythorn, arranging mortgages for new homes. In 1963 the Commonwealth Bank opened a new branch on the corner of Agnes Avenue and Doncaster Road, and it is recognised as a notable example of bank architecture of the period. It was designed under the supervision of George A. Rowe, Architect, Commonwealth Department of Works, Banks Division. Not to be upstaged, the Bank of New South Wales (now Westpac) was built near the corner of Sylvander and Doncaster Roads in the early 1960s, the development appears to have been part of a larger group of shops that stretched along Sylvander Street with distinctive stone feature walls – thoroughly modern in its design. At Trentwood, the National Bank of Australia opened its new branch in 1960 at 315 Doncaster Road (now the Jolly Miller Café).
By 1965, there were 54 businesses located along Doncaster Road, which reflected the immediate needs of the burgeoning North Balwyn community, including banks, beauty salons and hairdressers, two pharmacies, butchers, fishmongers, a hardware store and nursery, a licensed grocer, frock shops and general mercers, shoe shops, gift shops, fruiterers, supermarkets, as well as professional services, such as a dentist, (Lewis and Ruth Lustig), solicitors and real estate agents. Prior to the building of the Eastern Freeway, the Greythorn Shopping Centre was a major thoroughfare, as well as a hub for families from the nearby eastern suburbs, such as Doncaster.
All races and cultures welcomed
The rapidly developing suburb provided affordable housing and opportunities for immigrants to establish new lives in Australia, and the community continued to welcome all faiths and nationalities. Greythorn was fast becoming a veritable league of nations with Australian-born residents joined by new arrivals from Britain, Europe, and South-East Asia after the dismantling of the White Australia Policy in 1973. The pattern continues today. In the 2016 census, of the 20,406 residents, only 6,322 reported that both parents were born in Australia, while 11,239 reported that both parents were born overseas. Some 28 countries were represented, with China, England, Greece, India, Italy and Scotland being the largest groupings.
The cultural diversity is reflected in the stories of the shops. For example, Latvian-born Harry Saurels (Erhards Saurelis) arrived in Australia as a displaced person in 1947, and is listed as the proprietor of the Provisions Market in 1960. He later ran a milk bar with his wife in Auburn Road. Polish-born Welwel (Velev) Rutko and his wife arrived in 1949, eventually settling in North Balwyn, and by 1967 had opened the Greythorn Shoe Shop (305 Doncaster Road). In 1976, Ruth Black opened her clothing store, the House of Maxwell Mouse, which offered custom-made fashions for the Bar mitzvah, as well as dresses for flower girls and bridesmaids. The store was established in the Woods’ former pharmacy, which Ruth’s husband, David, a pharmacist, had purchased in early 1969. Ruth, a cosmetician, and David both worked in the pharmacy until Ruth established the House of Maxwell Mouse. In the 1980s, the Blacks moved their clothing store across the road (276 Doncaster Road), and opened another store in Toorak, where they specialised in ‘kids’ gear’. The Blacks had moved to Greythorn in 1963, and lived at 33 Tannock Street. They supported the Jewish community by raising funds for charity, and Bialik College, through fashion parades, and other events.
In 1960, Atlantic Seafoods (325 Doncaster Road) was established by a member of North Balwyn’s Greek community. In 2016, 3% (608) of North Balwyn’s residents spoke Greek at home, and over the years, many members of the Greek-Ithacan Community have settled in the area. Arthur (Anastasis) and Chris (Christos) Lourantos operated Atlantic Seafoods in the early days, and, later, a greengrocers. Both brothers settled in the area; Louie Razos arrived from Ithaca in 1951, and as well as working in the fish shop, he was the proprietor of the Greythorn fruit shop (319a Doncaster Road) by 1974. Other Greek families such as the Razos, Dellaporta, Kandiliotis and Raftopoulus family also operated businesses in the strip, including fruit shops, drycleaners, and the chicken shop. Today The Greekery gives a hint of the history, and contributions of this lively community to the shopping strip.
‘Dine Local, Dine Continental’
The burbs (suburbs) are often noted for their lack of nightlife, and there’s no doubt Greythorn was pretty quiet after hours in the early days. Alberto Argentini’s reception centre near the Eastern Freeway was one of the few exceptions to the rule. By 1970, Mr and Mrs Sun had opened the first Chinese restaurant, Cathay Restaurant (270 Doncaster Road), and then, in 1976, Pepe Forte and partner Aurelio opened L’Aida (329 Doncaster Road, in the former Nancarrows Supermarket). They chose the slogan ‘Dine Local, Dine Continental’, and the restaurant included a dance floor, and featured live music on the weekends. In 1979, the restaurant was extensively renovated by Nick di Maria to create Pucci’s, a BYO restaurant. It was short-lived, however, and in 1982, Wing Lee, Peter Lam and Stephen Ng transformed it into Balwyn Court, a Chinese restaurant. The Lebanese restaurant Dunyazad, has occupied this site since 1987. Today, there are any number of cuisines to explore in the strip, including Chinese, Italian, Greek, Japanese, Thai … the list goes on.
In the 2016 Census, 20.5 per cent of Balwyn North’s population was of Chinese ancestry. Australian came in third at 13.4 per cent.
Connection to community
The Greythorn Shopping Centre still retains its close ties with the local community, and its mid-20th century modern ambience. This has been highlighted by the crazy paving garden plantings and new interpretative plaques and seating for pedestrians, which were installed by the City of Boroondara at the western end of the centre in 2018 –2019. This was a major upgrade of the precinct that cost nearly $1 million and was fully funded by Boroondara City Council.
In 2018, the RSL Memorial Hall was redeveloped into the Greythorn Community Hub, at a cost of $17 million, funded by Boroondara City Council and the Federal Government.
 John Henry Broussard, orchardist of Doncaster Road, Balwyn North died in 1941, and his son Frank inherited the property. Frank was elected a councillor of the North-East Ward of the City of Camberwell in 1956, and he later became the Mayor of the City of Camberwell.
2 In 1919 James Philpotts purchased the area bounded by Walnut and Viewhills Road, and Turnley and Vicars Street where he established a dairy, which was closed in 1966. It was located near the Koonung State School (now Boroondara Park Primary). Re: Alan Philpotts in D Deerson Brown and Marie Klein, A path to Boroondara Park, History of the area, school, memories, (North Balwyn, Vic: Boroondara Park Primary School, 1999) p. 17.
3 Dickins Supermarket, cnr. Doncaster and Burke Roads, Balwyn (now Coles).
4 Stephen West in A path to Boroondara Park, history of the area, school, memories, 1999, p. 70
5 Outer Circle Mirror, 10 April 1963, page 15. Articles mention just four shops on the strip, and that Frank employed former Carlton footballer, Reg Morgan.
6 Australian Bureau of Statistics https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/people/population/historical-population/latest-release . The population grew from 2,039,769 in 1946, to 2,888,290 in 1960, reaching 3,011,043 million in 1962.
7 Don Garden, Builders to the Nation, The AV Jennings Story, (Melbourne, VIC: Melbourne University Press, 1992).
8 The first housing estate was Hillcrest, Caulfield South in 1933, there were four estates built prior to 1940. The closest to Trentwood was the Ivanhoe estate (1940). Don Garden, 1992, p. 250.
9 Don Garden, 1992, p. 246.
10 Roy Edwards & Vic Jennings with Don Garden, AV Jennings: Home Builders to the Nation (North Melbourne, Vic: Arcadia Press), p. 7.
11 Don Garden, 1992, p. 154
12 City of Camberwell Council Minutes, 2-9-1976. A similar arrangement was made in 1972 known as the Sylvander Account.
13 F H Stevens was the proprietor of the Shell Service Station, and the local agent for Austin cars, a Hungarian family, Michael and Illona Abay, and later their son Michael, operated the BP for many years. They specialised in servicing European cars.
14 Conversation with Bruce Craven, 20 November 2021. Greythorn Motors continues to operate today in Doncaster.
15 See also Camberwell Observer (1947-1952), and the Balwyn & Box Hill Observer (1955–1962).
16 Outer Circle Mirror, 14 July 1959.
17 Built Heritage, Balwyn and Balwyn North Heritage Study, Prepared for City of Boroondara, August 2015.
18 Telephone conversation with Eileen and Tom Vamos, 18 November 2021.
19 In February 1950, Small Homes Service (SHS) column writer Robin Boyd reported on two homes constructed from SHS plans in North Balwyn, one in Greythorn Road, and another ‘a mile’ away, which the owners built themselves. The Age, 8 February, 1950.
20 First operated as G V Gray Builders Pty Ltd, Outer Circle Mirror, 16 April, 1963.
21 The shops in this group included a Guest’s confectionery shop on the corner, two hairdressers, including Luciano of Milan, and a TAB.
22 Conversation with Madelin Jorgensen, Bel Air Hairdressing, October, 2021.
23 ABS Prior to World War 2, Britain and Ireland made up over three-quarters of Australia’s overseas-born population. Following World War 2, Australia accepted large numbers of people from other European countries, particularly Italy, Greece and the former Yugoslavia. Since 1973, after the dismantling of the White Australia Policy and broadening of Australia’s immigration policies, new groups of migrants have arrived from all parts of the world (notably from east and south Asia), increasing the diversity of Australia’s population.
24 In 1992, Deandra Boutique’s (289 Doncaster Road) stock also included clothes for Bar mitzvahs and a wide variety of hats for Shule.
25 ABS 2016 Census, language spoken at home, 27.3% English only; 10.9% Chinese, 3% Greek, 1.4% Indo-Aryan languages; the other languages included, Afrikaans, Arabic, Croatian, Dutch, French and German.