The In­ter­view heads to Win­ton —

Townsville Bulletin - - NEWS -

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.

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