LECTURER: MARGARET HENRY
INTERVIEWER: GAIL HILL
INTERVIEWEE: MR. ARTHUR DODD
INTERVIEW DATE: 14TH AUGUST, 1989
I'm speaking to Mr. Arthur Dodd who for 42 years as owner of Arthur Dodd & Co. Pty Ltd. was a prominent retailer and manufacturer of clothing in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley. Alongside his retailing business he also had many Dry-Cleaning outlets. Mr. Dodd did you serve an apprenticeship as a tailor?
Yes, I did. I served an apprenticeship with George Henderson the tailors at the Cnr. Hunter and Newcomen Sts. Newcastle. I started at the age of fourteen in 1919 and served five years apprenticeship. During that time, we would sit on the table with our legs crossed and sew from the knee. This expression "made on the knee" came from the way we used to sew. Today, of course they sit on a chair.
After I left Henderson's I went to Melbourne. Melbourne at that time was the place to go to gain knowledge. I picked places to and learnt how to run a Orkroan and went to cutting school by night and after working at other places for sometime I was out of work and I thought if I could get work I ran other tailors I could put together my experience having learnt what I did there and the only way I could do it was to have my own premises to rent or rather rent premises and there was a shop in Exhibition St. Melbourne and I got work from other tailors and I put into practice what I had learnt fran them and during that time there was a play called "Rosemarie" on in the Exhibition Theatre, which was only a few doors away. I made a suit for a chap, with it and he asked me could I alter the actor’s costumes - ladies and gents and I said 'What do you want me to do with them?" He said "lengthen or shorten or other incidental matters", so I thought all right I haven't seen these things before but putting it that way I feel I could do it. I got that busy between the work I was getting from other tailor's and the costumes for "Rosemarie" and I was very busy and when that finished - Rosemarie, the work I was getting was just enough to keep me going and I had to put the tailor off that I employed to help me during that time. I battled along for a while when a ohappy came along and asked me did I know of any places that he could rent in the area. I said I didn’t know and he said "what about yours, would you sell it?" I said I would think about it. We came to terms. I only had about fifty pounds worth of machinery there at
the time and he said "well put a price on it”. I said give me one hundred and fifty pounds and it’s all yours".
He did that and he wanted to open a restaurant of course on the premises. so I went back to Sydney and I was there for sane time.
Why did you go to Sydney Mr. Dodd?.
I wanted to get experience in Sydney in their factories too. You know, everywhere had different systems, scxne for making a suit at a price that people could afford to pay. In those days the Depression was on. The worst Depression we had had in Australia and the suits had to be made according to what people could afford to pay. We made them in different grades.
After Sydney, what did you do from there? I came back to Newcastle and started work in a little shop in Darby St. but I wasn't happy there and went to a location upstairs, next door to Winns. At this time, I met my wife who I married sane years later. I met this .beautiful girl. She was very pretty girl and she was the one I wanted to marry and that came years later.
Did you stay at those premises near Winns for very long Mr. Dodd?
No, I wasn't there very long when there was quite a number of tailors in Newcastle who sent there work to be made in
Sydney and I was approached to make work for them, so I did a couple of suits. It was big business, so I said "all
right", so I opened up opposite the Palais, upstairs. The premises weren't big and at that time I was making for separate
tailors who sent their work to Sydney previously and I worked day and night and of course I got very tired of that
because I wasn't making any money or very little anyhow, so I decided that that was enough and I decided then to open up my
own shop dealing direct with the public.
Where did you open the shop?
I opened it at the Bank Corner or what's commonly known as the Bank Corner and I started there and after I had been there
two years things started to really pick up and I was doing well. I decided to have an efficiency expert cane in to advise on
labour saving machinery in the work roan and tailoring and we put in many kinds of machines on the workbench for the
tailoring side and we acquired a new pressing machine. At that time we were employing four pressers using the hand iron and
this pressing machine was just the answer. We put the four pressers off and it worked a lot better. so, with those new pressing machines could you do the pressing yourself?
We done the pressing with the pressing machine. All the work. During that time there was a young man named Wal Grayson , who was a very good presser. He said to me Why don't you start brushing and pressing the suits while you wait1 f:xrJr .an-:.' ~il.ttrttmmI.t
with the businessman?" which I did. We had a very good
response and then of course they asked me could I dry clean
them. Well at that time we didn't have a dry cleaning press
but the demand was so great that we put in a little dry cleaning
plant. As you know we were in Maitland. I paid rent there.
SO after you opened in Newcastle West Mr. Dodd did you open
in Maitland soon after?
Yes, in the tailoring side. The tailoring up there went very
After your marriage did Mrs Dadd play a major part in the
When I was married. I married two years after I started in
Hunter st. west and I asked her if she would like to play
a part in the business. Well she came and had all the enthusiasm
about the place. She was in the office. She played a big
part in the office. At that time she wore a beautiful tailoreci
costume. She was the right figure for it. She had a 22inch
waist, lovely square shoulders - beautiful girl. When the ladies
came in to buy a costume they would say "I'd like it like
Everybcd.y that came in wouldn't have been the same size as
We had a lot of difficulty there. Had a lot of difficulty.
'Ihey'd pick the style fran a fashion plate and say that they'd
like to look like Mrs Dodd. Scmetirnes I'd think "now, how
am I going to do that", because, sane of them were very
short, very fat, you just couldn't do it. You just had to do
the best you could.
Did the war years affect your business?
Ah yea! The war years were such that we had to close a lot
of avenues of our business. We had a very nice shop near the
Strand Theatre which we had to close down owing to the shortage.
Everything just went over for the war for the manufacture of
uniforms,air force uniforms, you name it - shirts, trousers
and of course we just couldn't get the cloth. It was all
confined to the war. We had a very small quota. It just
wasn't right to keep these other avenues going. We kept
Maitland shop going. At that time it was very small, the
shop in itself but the tailoring business was difficult but
there again we were rationed and just had to get enough work
to keep the particular shop open employing one man at that
What about the Dry Cleaning side of the business during the war?
Well the dry cleaning side of the business, that flourished.
When the Yanks came here, I should say Americans probably,
they were up around the area around Nelson Bay and they used
to bring their uniforms down in truck loads and of course I
was away at the war myself and it just kept us going. It's
a marvellous thing - when we started dry cleaning at that
time beŁore the war because it really kept the business going.
When did you go to war Mr. Dodd?
Yes, the war was well on its way , about 4 years before the war
was over I enlisted and I was in the army for 2 years.
Mrs Dodd carried on the business and did a mighty job. When
I came out I wasn't too well for sane time, but she carried on
and I am very grateful to her for doing all this, but, I got
well and I got back into it so I got all my enthusiasm back
to keep it going.
Did it take long after the war for the business to pick up?
Yes it took a long time. The dry cleaning was alright. It
started to grow rapidly and it helped us along the way. You
couldn't get materials for good while after. Not enough to
really keep progressing i~e we would have liked to,but., it
did take a long time in that section. However, as time went
on it got better and we progressed very fast in both sections - the tailoring and the dry cleaning.