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Old Pharmacy Museum window to 1890 medicine

old pharmacy museum

Welcome to Hidden Histories: Old Pharmacy Museum, the fourth episode of series two of the Bundaberg Now Podcast.

The Old Pharmacy Museum is an iconic attraction on the heritage listed main street of Childers.

Historian Scott Stedman is the Volunteer Coordinator at the museum, and shares tales of the pharmacy from its beginning in 1894.

Notably, he speaks about potions stocked in the pharmacy that were later found to be toxic, some even causing death of patients.

“We've got some of the really old arsenic bottles and concoctions that they made with the old mortar and pestles and a whole plethora of instruments and bottles of toxic, lovely things not to take,” Scott said.

“A lot of people gravitate to the Bex and Vincent’s because they can remember mum or grandmother taking a big serving every day.

“It was a part of the cocaine family, and they found that it was affecting people's kidneys.

“A lot of people that took the regular dose of Bex or Vincent’s ended up on dialysis, and it killed a lot of people as well,” he said.

Another reason to value modern medicine is the original pharmacist's pedal-powered dentistry drill that would be taken on tours of the hinterland to perform tooth extractions on the road side.

Listen now to hear more stories of the Old Pharmacy Museum:

In this series we shine a spotlight on the heritage buildings and infrastructure in our region.

Listen as we uncover memories, mysterious ghost stories and bizarre facts about some of our most iconic structures.

In this episode we get an insight into the Old Pharmacy Museum in Childers, and an appreciation of how far modern medicine has come!

You can also listen on Google, Apple, Spotify, TuneIn or your favourite podcast app.

Subscribe to the podcast here.

Old Pharmacy Museum Up Close transcript:

Gennavieve Lyons [00:00:06] Welcome to this special series of the Bundaberg Now podcast, where we shine a spotlight on the heritage buildings of our region. I'm your host, Gennavieve Lyons, and I invite you to listen along as we uncover some hidden histories, some mysterious stories and a few bizarre facts about some of our most iconic buildings and structures. Today, we'll hear from historian Scott Stedman, who is also the volunteer coordinator and a committee member of the Old Pharmacy Museum in Childers. 

Scott chats to us about the fascinating display of potions and concoctions that sometimes did more harm than good, like how a pedal powered drill was once the height of dental technology, which sounds truly terrifying. Childers is a National Trust town, and as I'm sure you know, it's main street has a number of well-preserved, historic and heritage listed buildings. The pharmacy is in the Gaydon building and has now been converted into this award-winning museum. 

Though sometimes unsettling, it offers a glimpse into the past, housing one of the largest collections of early pharmaceutical history in Australia, including original dental, medical and photographic equipment. Scott also speaks about his special connection to Childers and the work he's doing to help preserve the iconic history of this National Trust town. 

Scott Stedman [00:01:25] The pharmacy dates back to 1894. Thomas Gaydon was the very first chemist. He was also the dentist and the optician, and a physician at the hospital and the photographer. He had two sons, Geoff, served in the First World War and come home with a military medal. And he went to Melbourne to learn the dentistry trade. And then his other son, Noel, went to Brisbane and became a chemist and then took over from his father when his father passed away. And then later on, Noel took on a partner, Graham Hooper. And when Noel passed away, Graham took on the role of sole proprietor of the business. When graham Hooper sadly died in 1982, his wife took over and ran it as a gift shop. She couldn't employ chemists because the chemist has to own the business, so she ran the business with cosmetics and Royal Dalton and Wedgwood. She was one of the biggest dealers in Royal Dalton outside Brisbane, because she was on the Bruce Highway. So, in 1987, she decided to sell up and retire. So luckily for us, the Isis Shire Council bought the fixtures and fittings and created the museum that we have today in 1987. Subsequently, in 2008, when we merged with the Bundaberg Regional Council, they took ownership of the fixtures and fittings and the Isis District Historical Society run it for the council now with all volunteers. 

Basically, the shop is just an entrance way to the museum if you like. All the fixtures, all the shelving is all red cedar. It's been built after the 1902 fire, so it's the only shop in Childers that has its complete interior still intact. We're lucky we're the only building in town or the only shop in town with two stories. The others have single stories, and you can see the original skylights in those a lot of the other stores in the early days had similar fixtures with the with the red cedar shelving. We have beautiful cabinetry here. It's all hoop pine, which was what the Isis scrub was, was built, cleared for and found the red soil that we grew sugarcane on. They're all dovetailed all the drawers and fronted with the red cedar and Bakelite handles. I'll digress a bit. We're also very proud of our cash register. It was built in, bought in 1906. It's a National. It cost sixty pounds now, also that year, Thomas Gaydon, our first chemist, had four little cottages built. They cost seventy-three pounds each, so that cash register was approximately the price of a house. It was had paper rolls. It had receipts, had different codes for the different operators of it. And it's been in the same place on the same shelf since 1906 because it takes about six people to lift it. Yeah, and it's quite unique. We still got the old money inside it, the old pennies and thrippences to put into grandma's pudding. It still works. But we're not allowed to use it because there's no one around to fix it. 

It is free to come into the shop into this part of the building, but we asked for a gold coin donation to go into the museum and then it's just like a self-guided tour out there in the dispensary where all the we've got the old dental chair, we've got dental instruments, we've got some of the really old arsenic bottles and concoctions that they made  with the old mortar and pestles and a whole plethora of instruments and bottles of toxic, lovely things to not to take! A lot of the people hate going to the dentist. So, the folding dental chair is a high point, or low point, whichever you might look at it, because right beside it is, is the pedal drill. So, no electricity and it is only a folding dental chair. It wasn't permanently here. It was taken by Mr Gaydon, by horse and buggy or in his model two Ford out to the hinterland. And people would wave him down on the side of the road, saying, we’ve got a toothache, Mr Gaydon, will you fix it? So, he put his dental chair under a shady tree and his trusty pedal drill and take the tooth out. But he also had rooms at the hotel in Biggenden, and he would put up his chair in there. And I always joked to the customers we have here or visitors that you would have had a few drinks in the bar before you went into the into the chair and then you'd have several more afterwards to deaden the pain.

We're the oldest pharmaceutical museum in Australia. It's a unique collection that is, you know, in its original building. There are so many one ofs. We've got a collection here of donated items from all over chemists, from all over Australia and even some things from New Zealand. We have an enormous collection of cameras, from the Box Brownie that people remember from their early days, right up to the modern projection equipment and stuff like that. There's also all the different medicines. People love coming in here from the medical profession, doctors, nurses, and we're always bombarding them with questions. The naturopaths love it, too, because we have lots of all natural ingredients like Irish moss and the cochineal crushed up cochineal beetles used for colouring your medicine. Clove were used for indigestion and also the toothache. We also have saffron, which is used for everybody, uses it for cooking these days, but it's an antioxidant antidepressant. A lot of people gravitate to the Bex and Vincent’s because they can remember mum or grandmother taking a big serving every day.  A lot of people took them because they thought they might get a stomachache or they might get a headache. It was a little jingle, a Bex, a cup of tea and a lie down. A lot of truckies took a Bex and a can of coke, and it was like there NoDoze that kept them awake. But they found the phenacetin was an active ingredient in both the Bex and the Vincent’s. The Bex is white, and the Vincent’s are pink powders, and they would, phenacetin was highly addictive. It was a part of the cocaine family, and they found that it was affecting people's kidneys. A lot of people that took the regular dose of Bex or Vincent’s ended up on dialysis, and it killed a lot of people as well. So, they were banned in the 1970s. The chemist was a very important part of the town because probably indirectly, now we have to pay to go to the hospital. We have to pay to go to the doctor. But in the early days, you had to pay upfront to go to a doctor or the hospital, but you could get free advice at the chemist. So, with the many hats that Thomas Gaydon wore, you know, the chemist, the dentist, the optician, they all come to him and he was here on his own. This business was on its own for probably 50 years before we had another chemist shop, so it was a one stop shop. I know after the fire around 1902, where all the shops were destroyed in this store that we had the South Sea, all of this here and they were able to get some of the goods and chattels out of the shops and assemble them across the street. Diagonally across from here, there was some small shops that Thomas Gaydon was able to acquire, and we had a railway station here up until 1964. So, Thomas was able to get some supplies from chemists in Bundaberg, in Maryborough, up by rail. So, the very next day after the fire, he was able to establish his business again because it was a very important thing. 

We have prescriptions here that in the same book, the horse and the dog because it was the dog and the horse were very important part of agricultural back in those days. So, they were all rerecorded in the same prescription book, which had to be recorded by the chemist. He couldn't have anybody else do that. So, there's just there's a myriad of reasons for people to come in here. 

Well, I'm a local. I'm five generations of my family here, and I moved back to Childers 10 years ago and decided I needed to volunteer somewhere. And so I started volunteering here at the Old Pharmacy. I worked for the Bundaberg Regional Council for a short time in their Visitor Information Centre. And then when that was handed over to the Bundaberg Region, Bundaberg Tourism Board, I continued on working here and the opportunity come up to take over, and a community group was sought to run the pharmacy, and I was president of the Historical Society at the time, and I put it to the board members to say we need to preserve this and keep this business or museum open. So basically, the rest is history. I have been here backwards and forwards a little bit, but I'm now the volunteer coordinator and part of the management committee here at the Pharmacy Museum. My father came back from the Second World War in 1945 and he purchased a small general store, and he operated that business in Childers for 30 years. So, I developed a passion, Childers is in my blood.

And as I said, you know, in five generations, we've had a lot of history around that. And I started writing a book about the local businesses some years ago, dedicated it to my late father and recorded the histories of probably 19 different businesses and their histories over 100 years. We had a huge fire here in 1902 and destroyed the main CBD. Twenty-three shops were destroyed, so I based my book on that history and will have a profile of the businesses over 100 years. And then I started on the streets and working out who lived in my house, and I've started recording the history of all the houses in Childers. You know where they were built, or they might have been built somewhere else. You know, they erected in Childers and moved to Woodgate. Or they were, you know, on a farm and they'd be moved into Childers so progressively to date of printed nine books on the local area. And a lot of people come to me for their family histories and other history as well. We've just got an exhibition in our front windows at the moment that details the history of all those businesses. So, some old photos of the different problems when they were built and how they look today. 

Gennavieve Lyons [00:12:51] Thanks for listening to that snapshot of the history of Childers and the Old Pharmacy Museum. Tune in again next month, where we hear about another of Bundaberg heritage buildings and structures. 

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