When a Heritage study of Werribee was done in 1997, a small shop in Watton Street was considered notable for its ‘early 1940s intact chemist’s shop interior’. *
It was the pharmacy that was started by Joseph L. Callanan in 1940. The historians felt that the exterior of the shop, with its art deco lettering and cream and black tile work, and the interior also, were worthy of preservation, and both were placed on the Wyndham Heritage List.
Joe Callanan had been a chemist in Werribee since 1926, and had previously had a shop – and house – on the opposite side of Watton Street. He was well known among local businessmen, and was one of the founders of the Werribee Traders’ Association, which was formed in 1931 when the Depression was costing many jobs and making life difficult for small local businesses, whose customers could not pay their bills.
As times grew better, the small shop, separated only by a walkway from the Shire offices on the corner of Duncan’s Road, became a thriving business, offering ‘pure fresh drugs and a wide range of toilet goods’.
Werribee Shire Banner, 8 February 1951, p.2
One Saturday afternoon thieves broke in to the rear of the premises and stole £15 from the shop.
Werribee Shire Banner, 27 November 1947, p.2
On another day, a child had a lucky escape from harm when a horse pulling a spring cart in Station Street suddenly bolted. It crossed over Watton Street and mounted the footpath outside the shop, then wheeled toward the roadway. As it did, the spring cart swung around and passed right over the small boy, who was riding a tricycle. No-one was hurt in the incident.
Werribee Shire Banner, 6 February 1947, p.2
Joe Callanan’s son Michael and his daughter Margaret followed him in business, and it was Margaret who was still running the shop, at 74, when she died. She had a caring approach and saw the pharmacy as a community service and her vocation. With low overheads (no rent, no employed staff, minimal expenditure on heating and lighting), and a loyal customer base, she was able to continue in business. She opened her shop seven days a week, and gave whatever profits she made to charity. A deeply spiritual person, she wrote poems which expressed the values and beliefs by which she lived. Some of these were displayed in the pharmacy; others were found in drawers after her death and compiled into a small booklet.**
A poetry prize awarded annually by Imagination Creation, the young writers’ branch of Western Union Writers, was named in her honour.
In 2001, after her death, the pharmacy continued for a time, but, as her successor said, ‘it’s hard to run a modern day business economically in a 1939 fit-out and space’.***
The pharmacy moved to larger premises along Watton Street, and the building was sold. The signage was removed and the shop was gutted. Heritage Listing was not enough.
* Heritage of the City of Wyndham, C. Kellaway, 1997, p.370.
** Booklet, ‘To the memory of Margaret Callanan, 1927-2001’ (in the possession of Margaret Campbell).
*** From There to Here, Margaret Campbell, 2005, p.462.