The Interview heads to Winton —
THINGS change in the world. The yoyo comes and goes. Pegged pants, all the rage in the late ’ 60s, are back with a vengeance as skinny jeans. People are booking holidays to the moon with Virgin. What will they think of next?
Out in Winton where the story of Waltzing Matilda is inscribed on every pub wall in one form or another, Searle’s Menswear Store stays the same.
Since it opened in 1946 the store which sells everything from Lotto tickets to rifles, bullets and boots has seen the ups and downs of wool and beef, drought and flooding rains. Now it is back to drought.
Out Winton way the wheels on the cycle of life go round, round, round.
Bernie Searle, 75, has seen it all. He’ll tell you on the quiet that the young ones these days don’t take as much pride in their appearance as they did a few decades ago. He was raised to be straight up and down. No half- measures. His father Richard bought the shop in 1946.
He suffered from polio and died young in 1956.
Bernie left school when he was 14 and started work in the shop. He and his late brother Richard started ordering in clothing and footwear from R. M. Williams and hats from Akubra.
“I introduced pocket knives, Country Club shirts and Harris tweed sport coats. You could never wear out a Harris tweed coat”, Bernie said.
If ever there was something to measure change in the bush it was the demise of the elastic- sided riding boot. The drift away from horses on the stations started in the late 1970s and continued through the ’ 80s and ’ 90s. Now you could throw a net over 54,000sq km Winton Shire and only come up with a handful of horses. Motorbikes and helicopters have replaced the horse.
“We used to sell 20 pairs of riding boots a month,” Bernie said. Drovers made a beeline for the store when passing through Winton with mobs of cattle for the Diamantina stations. “They’d come in and buy moleskin trousers. They’d take the old ones off in the change room and leave them there. They’d be so stiff from horse sweat and from never having been washed they’d just about stand up on their own,” he said.
Bernie stands inside the darkened store under shelves stacked with American jeans, steel- capped boots, bullets and work shirts. “It’s all changed. I’m lost sometimes,” he says, looking around at the hundreds of items. There was a time when he knew everyone on the stations. A lot of the old families have sold up and moved on. The employees have all gone.
In many cases a conglomerate of what were once three or four properties employing several men each is now looked after by just one person.
The world outside changes. People become preoccupied with mobile phones and the frenetic pace of life. They get busier. And they become ruder and less patient. But, not Bernie. His politeness is timeless. It never changes. Bernie Searle never has a “bad day”. He can be blunt if he thinks it is in the client’s interest. Last year a hipster photographer in his late 50s from Brisbane, who was at the Vision Splendid Film Festival, took a red double- pocket work shirt over to the counter. Bernie looked at the shirt and at him and said: “Don’t you think this colour might be a bit young for you?” The cool dude photographer nearly went into shock.
He sticks by the people on the stations. “They have been loyal clients always. They are very dedicated people,” he said. The ringers, drovers, station hands, shearers and navvies are memories from another era. But, remarkably there has been another change.
Tourism. Winton has become a mecca for grey nomads, many of whom pile into Searle’s store to buy an Australian- made water bag, a wood- handle Green River knife or a stock whip made by Townsville craftsman Lindsay Whiteman. The one thing they love is being served by that polite man named Bernie.
In Searle’s store some things never change.
They’d be so stiff from horse sweat and from never having been washed they’d just about stand up
on their own
ICON: Bernie Searle has had the Winton Searle's store for the past 69 years and seen every fad and weather change come and go.