A New Town is Born: The Evolution of Australian Retail Merchandising in the 1950s and 1960s

Japanese Room, Level 4, Melbourne School of Design

Matthew Bailey
Macquarie University

Australian shopping centres today are collectively worth more than $126 billion, capture annual retail sales of around $122 billion, and account for 47% of the country’s retail trade. They have been significant forces in the reshaping of Australian cities since the late-1950s, and have developed into a retail social infrastructure that most Australians engage with on a regular or semi-regular basis. There is, however, no substantive history of their development in Australia. 

This paper details the early history of Australian shopping centres. Post-war suburbanisation, the growth of automobile ownership, and the increasing purchasing power of consumers provides the context for their introduction. But patterns of development varied across the nation in response to local conditions. Demography and market size are the most obvious of these, but do not fully explain why the first centres emerged where they did, nor the responses of firms in different capital cities to the opportunities that shopping centres presented. 

Interrogating the competitive matrix of the retail industry at the time, as well as the urban form of different cities, provides further insights into the ways the industry emerged in Australia. This is undertaken, here, by reviewing the contribution of a number of significant centres and firms, and considering the role of major retailers as both anchor tenants and developers. The paper concludes with an outline of the retail property industry’s subsequent history and with some comments about its impact on Australian retailing and urban character more broadly.

Matthew Bailey is a lecturer in the Department of Modern History at Macquarie University with a research interest in urban, business and retail history. He has published a number of articles and book chapters on retail and retail property history, including in Urban History, Australian Economic History Review, History Australia and the Journal of Historical Research in Marketing. He is currently writing a monograph on the history of shopping centres in Australia.

Image: Chadstone. NAA: A1200, L30884