This is no ordinary country town. There’s a bakery, real estate agent, newsagent, pharmacy museum, dentist… pharmacy museum? The sign on the street is irresistible, “Experience our amazing history of pharmacy and early healthcare.” I downed my coffee and went in. Once inside I got lost for what could be days. It truly was amazing.
One look at the original cabinetry, antique bottles, pressed tin ceiling, and mosaic floor, and I was irreversibly drawn into a vortex that swirled back over a century. This was the Old Pharmacy Museum at Childers – population 1,584 – in the Wide Bay-Burnett district of Queensland. Waiting behind the counter was Wayne the boilermaker. Wayne is the likable host of the most incredible museum that I’ve ever visited, and his passion for the history of the place is infectious.
The town was founded 133 years ago, and there’s been a dentist on this site for 124 of them. Thomas Gaydon started his practice here in 1894. He was the local dentist, pharmacist, optometrist, anaesthetist, veterinarian, photographer, and shire chairman. His son Noel took over the business, followed by partner Graham Hooper. Mr Hooper’s wife Isabel then ran a gift store in the pharmacy section before the place was saved by the historically minded council. Gaydon’s building is the oldest dentist in Australia. Is there anywhere older in the world?
My friend Darren has memories coming here. “When I was very young, mum would take me to the dentist in Childers. Dr Steel was his name. Boy I hated that man.” Wayne the boilermaker went to school with Dr Steel’s son Peter.
Wayne told me about the Great Fire of 1902 when the town was virtually destroyed. Islander labourers fought the fire with hessian bags. When the fire fighters reached the local politician’s office, they stood back and said let it burn. Since 1902, fires have been contained to individual buildings because of the innovative dividing brick wall design. That pyrohistory includes the tragic Palace hostel fire in 2000 when fifteen backpackers were killed.
Wayne showed me the cash register, still in perfect condition, that Thomas Gaydon bought from America in 1906 for £60. That was over six months average wages back then. For just £13 more you could have built a new house in the town.
There’s a carboy bottle from 1830 brought from Stones Corner in Brisbane. It was the public symbol for pharmacies so everyone knew what was inside.
I was given a pill and capsule making lesson on the original machines. There’s the original dentist chair, drill and spit bowl. Perhaps it’s the same one that made my friend Darren shudder all those years ago.
Hauntingly there’s a photograph of Frank Mycock. He trained as a pharmacist here before enlisting in the Second World War. Frank was one of 268 people who died when the Australian hospital ship Centaur was attacked and sunk by a Japanese submarine off the coast of Brisbane in 1943.
I read the original prescription books from 1910. I saw what was given to treat Mr Elliott, menthol, eucalyptus, camphor, and moisturizing cleanser albolene. Mr Atkins’ dog received belladonnae plant extract, glycerine, and a pot of chlorine, “a little occasionally on the tongue.” Mr Hubert Luckett’s horse was treated with acid carbol, fly ointment, and peroxide. The horse may well have recovered, because three years later eleven-year-old Hubert Junior won a horse riding prize at the local Isis District Show.
Glass negatives discovered here from the early 1900s provided beautiful photographs of local weddings, christenings, birthdays, and family portraits. The draws are made from recycled boxes that once contained things like Lux Toilet Soap.
I posted a photo on Twitter of me with Wayne. I was immediately followed by the British Society for the History of Pharmacy. Did you know such a thing exists? Their profile says, “Follow us for news of pharmaceutical history”, which I find to be a little bit of an oxymoron.
Childers is a beautiful country town, and meeting Wayne at the Old Pharmacy Museum will give you an experience that you can’t get anywhere else in the world. It’s amazing.
Click here to see the video of Wayne’s tour of the Old Pharmacy Museum