They don’t make them like this anymore. Back in 1935 stories appeared along the east coast of Australia from Hobart to Cairns, in tribute to the strength and longevity of Mrs. Sophia Huxley. Hailing from Condobolin and born in 1845, in 1935 aged 90 Mrs. Huxley had spent sixty years working at the family’s little produce store in Erskineville Road.
A hundredweight bag of chaff? That’s a 50kg bag Mrs. Huxley is helping to hoist onto a wagon. Fifty kilograms!
Sophia married Arthur Huxley in 1870, and a couple of years later they settled in the business of a produce store at 72 Erskineville Road. ‘Mrs. Huxley has been absent from it very few days in the long years since then. She had a family of nine.’ Well, that’s the absenteeism explained, and all the children arrived between 1870 and 1890.
Happily we have some photographs of Mrs. Huxley going about her work at the produce store – the following photograph accompanied the Sydney Morning Herald article:
A week later in the 5 July 1935 edition of The Land newspaper another tribute to Mrs. Huxley appeared as Wonderful Old Age and starts with the question ‘How hard will you be working when you reach ninety, and have a great great grandchild?’ and the article closes with ‘On the rare occasions there is not a little one on her knee, well, then she begins throwing bags of chaff about, just to keep herself fit.‘
When the story reached Tasmania over the following days, Hobart’s The Mercury featured the story of Mrs. Huxley as Woman Works at 90 – reprinting the Sydney Morning Herald article without a photograph. The Advocate in Burnie and the Examiner in Launceston were mightily chuffed by the prominent featuring of the Tasmanian Brownell potatoes in the photograph and appear to have just run with captioned photos:
On 26 March 1936 Chairman of the Potato Marketing Board in Tasmania, Mr. Guy H. Parsons, on his return from attending the deliberations of the Federal Potato Council in Sydney declared Brownell potatoes the best on the market in Australia.
Yes. There was a Federal Potato Council. Potatoes were taken very seriously.
There is more information on Brownell potatoes available from the Heritage Fruit Society.
Mrs. Huxley could probably make a killing selling Brownell potatoes in Erskineville today. She was into heirloom and heritage produce before there was heirloom and heritage!
News of Mrs. Huxley’s sixty years of service was a little slower to reach North Queensland, with articles appearing in the Cairns Post on 13 January 1936, and Cairns’ Northern Herald on 18 January 1936.
The 1929 edition of the Sands Directory shows the Huxley’s produce store as one of a long row of shops (now demolished) running along the northern side of Erskineville Road running from the Erskineville Hotel towards Newtown.
Sands Directory – Erskineville Road North Side – 1929
The following photograph taken in 1929 features the Erskineville Hotel in the foreground, and the sign in white on the side of the shop a little further along on the right is for the boot repairing business of E. Withers. The location of Mrs. Huxley’s store was amongst the larger terraces further along on the right, about where the motor car can be seen trundling up the hill towards Newtown:
This map from about 1956 shows the location of number 72 Erskineville Road almost opposite the Imperial Hotel. The Huxley’s lived at 10 Baldwin Street – directly behind their produce store.
In 1948, 13 years after the story of Mrs. Huxley was published a short article appeared in the Australiana section of Sydney’s The World’s News recalling Mrs. Huxley’s famed abilities:
So here’s to you Mrs. Huxley, it was about time you received another mention. One wonders what Mrs. Huxley might think of Erskineville Road today in which the only chaff you are likely to find is coffee chaff, and a hundredweight is more likely to be the name of the latest craft ale brewing outfit.
All the very best Mrs. Huxley, and Happy Birthday.