'Hardly any of the old things are left': The changing face of Fyshwick
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'Hardly any of the old things are left': The changing face of Fyshwick

At one stage in decades past, there were 15 adult stores in the now-industrial suburb of Fyshwick.

There were brothels, fireworks sellers but also small “mum and dad operators”.

Now, turn down any street in Fyshwick and you’ll find warehouses, industrial sites and big businesses. But if you look carefully, tucked in amongst them are the longstanding locals.

David Hand has been in Fyshwick since the 1970s and has seen much change in the suburb.

David Hand has been in Fyshwick since the 1970s and has seen much change in the suburb.Credit:Lawrence Atkin

David Hand started working as a smash repairer from a shop in Lyell Street 45 years ago. Within six months of starting the job, he’d bought the business.

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"Fyshwick in those days consisted of only Pirie and Isa Street, and Tenant Street was about as far as you could go," Mr Hand said.

"Back then it was just mechanics and panel beaters, you never saw any women out here. Now there's more women in Fyshwick than men. There's now a coffee shop on every street."

Smash repair and mechanics dominated Fyshwick during the early days, such as this one in Ipswich Street in 1979.

Smash repair and mechanics dominated Fyshwick during the early days, such as this one in Ipswich Street in 1979.Credit:Fairfax Media

Mr Hand has three adult children, one now manages the smash repairs shop, and the two others own and work in Two Hands cafe, just down the road.

Since Mr Hand first came to Fyshwick, he's seen the suburb expand in area and diversity.

"There used to be lots of blue-collar workers here. In the last 15 or 20 years there's been even more professionals."

Plumbing showroom and warehouse Southern Innovations managing director Warwick Buetler also recalls Fyshwick as a small place with small businesses, but in recent decades many more big-name businesses have moved in.

Warwick Buetler's business has grown with Fyshwick.

Warwick Buetler's business has grown with Fyshwick.Credit:Sitthixay Ditthavong

"There were lots of mum and dad operators. Whether they were panel beaters or car yards, there were a lot of smaller shops," he said.

"A lot of the stores back then are much the same as they are now and you can still see remnants of them all over Fyshwick."

He said Fyshwick’s location, close to the city, northern and southern suburbs and Queanbeyan, was its drawcard.

An aerial shot of a growing Fyshwick in 1974.

An aerial shot of a growing Fyshwick in 1974.Credit:Fairfax Media

Mr Beutler said the plumbing business started in a small block on Wollongong Street in the late 1970s, when Fyshwick was the only option for industrial operations.

"Many of the places in Fyshwick had much smaller operations then. The business owners back then were a lot closer together than they are now,” he said.

The outlet shopping centre and bigger business like Harvey Norman and Bunnings moved into Fyshwick in the 2000s, expanding the suburb’s footprint even further.

Barrier Street in 1972.

Barrier Street in 1972.Credit:Fairfax Media

Family-run businesses like Watson Blinds, who have been in the area for 50 years, also expanded.

Director Kevin Watson, whose dad established the company, said the older businesses in Fyshwick have had to adapt in order to survive the changing times.

"It's always been a retail hub, all of the furniture stores gravitated to here," Mr Watson said.

"Back in the early days there used to be quite a number of family-owned hardware stores, especially around Pirie Street. Now those places have been squeezed out by Bunnings."

Watson Blinds have been in Fyshwick for 50 years. Its director Kevin Watson says the streets have slowly changed around them.

Watson Blinds have been in Fyshwick for 50 years. Its director Kevin Watson says the streets have slowly changed around them.Credit:Jamila Toderas

Over 50 years, the blinds business has moved several times to accommodate their growth, first from Isa Street to Pirie Street and then to Wollongong Street.

Mr Watson said he remembers a time when the network of business owners was strong, but that faded over time.

"It was a lot more intimate, most owners were local as opposed to national companies," he said. "It's still a major retail hub and the place to be on a Saturday morning."

Meanwhile, as day turns to night in Fyshwick a different type of clientele emerges. As long as Fyshwick has been an industrial hub, it's also been known for brothels, adult shops and the place to go for fireworks.

Firework sales, such as these marketed for children in 1999, were a big part of Fyshwick before the practice was made illegal.

Firework sales, such as these marketed for children in 1999, were a big part of Fyshwick before the practice was made illegal.Credit:Peter Welles

While firework sales were banned in 2009, Fyshwick's sex industry remains.

A boom during the 1970s and 80s even saw an adult store the size of a supermarket pop up.

One of the longest serving adult stores Hello Sexy, previously Adult World, has been in Fyshwick since the 1980s.

Employee Jessica Dunk said the industry was at its peak during that time, but the customer base back was very different.

"Back when they first opened in Fyshwick, it was still quite taboo, and women wouldn't really enter," she said.

"The concept of adult stores were a lot more male-orientated and being dark and dingy."

At one point there was as many as 15 adult stores just in Fyshwick, but the internet soon took over and multiple stores shut their doors.

Adult stores were more abundant in Fyshwick before the rise of the internet.

Adult stores were more abundant in Fyshwick before the rise of the internet.Credit:Kate Leith

Ms Dunk said about five stores remain - they're the ones that have adapted to changing times.

She said attitudes to sex have changed, and adult shops are more “couple-friendly” than they used to be.

Fantasy Lane, seen here in the 1980s, was marketed as Australia as the first adult supermarket, and was based in Fyshwick for many years.

Fantasy Lane, seen here in the 1980s, was marketed as Australia as the first adult supermarket, and was based in Fyshwick for many years.Credit:David James Bartho

Smash repairer Mr Hand said the changing atmosphere in Fyshwick began with the banning of fireworks.

While streetscapes and businesses have adjusted over the years, Mr Hand said it's only a matter of time before the suburb becomes unrecognisable again.

"Just about everything has changed now," he said. "All the changes have been good for Fyshwick.”

Andrew Brown is a journalist at the Sunday Canberra Times. Andrew has worked at the Canberra Times since 2016.

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