Era: 1965 - 1990 Cultural background: Chinese Collection: Tweed River Regional Museum Theme:Economics Shops
Cash register. Photograph Joanna Boileau. Courtesy Tweed River Regional Museum
Tweed River Regional Museum, Murwillumbah, Australia.
Cash register and change dispenser .
Cash register, steel, grey finish, manufactured by National Cash Register Co. In the base is a cash drawer with compartments for notes. On the outside of the drawer there is a metal plate with the name of the manufacturer: ‘The National Cash Register Coy Western Germany’. Above the drawer in the centre of the front of the machine are five rows of nine round keys. The first three rows, for dollars, have ivory keys. The first row is numbered from top to bottom from 900 to 100. The second is numbered from 90 to 10 and the third from 9 to 1. The fourth and fifth rows, for cents, have green keys. The fourth row is numbered from 90 to 10 and the fifth row from 9 to 1. Above the numbered keys is a long glass panel with four sets of numbers showing amounts of individual items and totals. Above this are the words dollars (above the first two numbers) and cents (above the second set of numbers). The same numbers are visible from the back of the register, facing the customer. To the left of the numbered keys is a rectangular glass panel with a lock and key and the labels ‘key locked register’, ‘read total’ ‘reset total’ and ‘reset’. To the right of the numbered keys are two larger oval buttons labelled ‘amount tendered’ and ‘total’, and a square curved hand rest. Below these are two oval buttons labelled ‘change’ and ‘balance due’.
On the right hand side of the register is a slot for the detachable handle; the cash register could be operated manually if power failed, by using the handle. On the same side there is a door that opens to access the paper roll. Instructions for replacing the detail and receipt paper and the ink ribbon are attached to the inside of the door. On the left hand side of the register is a socket for attaching the change dispenser and the power lead. The use of decimal currency indicates that this case register was manufactured after 1966. On the back of the cash register is the glass panel showing the amounts of individual items and totals, a metal plate with the word “National’ in flowing script and a sticker with the words ‘Paradise Cash Registers New and reconditioned service, rolls, ribbons Ph Southport 328810′ Dimensions: 490mm high x 450mm wide x 400mm deep.
Change dispenser. Photograph Joanna Boileau. Courtesy Tweed River Regional Museum
Change dispenser, brown metal finish, manufactured by National Cash Register Co. Rectangular metal box with a sloping lid on the front with a lock, that opens to allow access to fill the base with coins. The coin dispenser cannot be unlocked but there are at least 11 slots visible in the base, in graduated sizes to take 50c, 20c, 5c, 2c and 1c coins. On the top is a metal plate with the word “National’ in flowing script. On the base is a metal plate with the words ‘National Register Qmbh 220v 50c/s 50w Fuses primary 1A secondary 4AType (indecipherable) No 53122′. On the left hand side is a chute to dispense the coins, with a round dish at the end to collect them. The power lead to attach the coin dispenser to the cash register attaches at the back. Dimensions: 350mm high x 40mm wide x 180mm long.
This cash register and change dispenser, manufactured by the National Cash Register Company (NCR), was in use in Tong’s store in Murwillumbah from the late 1960s until the store closed in 1987. NCR was founded in America in 1884 by John H. Patterson. The company changed its name to NCR Corporation in 1974. NCR pioneered modern business methods and sales techniques in America in the 1880s and 1890s and expanded rapidly. It became multinational in 1888 and exported business machines around the world. By 1911 it had prevailed over all its early competitors and controlled 95 per cent of the US market. After the Second World War NCR became a major player in developing new technology, creating a specialised electronics division in 1953.
Tong’s Store was founded by Thomas Tong See in 1935. Thomas arrived in Sydney in 1907 at the age of 16 from China. He came from the village of Sheikki, Jungsan county in the present day province of Guangdong. He followed his brother and uncle to Australia; his eldest brother traveled to Peru but was never heard from again. Thomas married Mary Wong See in 1913 and they lived in Foveaux Street, Surry Hills where they ran a corner shop with Thomas’ brother and uncle.
A year after Thomas and Mary married, the first of their seven children, a son Raymond, was born. Mary was very close to her older sister, Cecilia, who had married Harry Hon and settled in Tenterfield, in the northern tablelands of NSW. Harry Hon was a senior shareholder in the War Lee General Store in Glen Innes and the Hong Yuen Store in Inverell. The Tong Sees joined the Hon family and between 1914 and 1919, they worked in the family stores and lived in Tenterfield, Inverell and Glen Innes. Around 1920 the Tongs visited their family in China, and returned to live in Sydney where they ran the corner store in Foveaux Street.
In the early 1930s the Tong family moved back to Inverell and Thomas became a junior shareholder in the Hong Yuen store; he was manager of the drapery section. In 1934 Thomas heard about of the prosperity of the Tweed Valley in northern NSW from a commercial traveler friend. Describing the fertile region which supported dairying and sugar cane and fruit and vegetable farming, his friend said ‘a broomstick would grow there’. An opportunity arose when Greek businessman Con Vlismas completed the new Austral building in a very favourable position in the central business district of Murwillumbah in 1935. The Tongs were the first tenants of this new building and Tong’s General Store opened its doors in June 1935. The store sold drapery, clothing and groceries. Coming out of the Depression years credit accounts with suppliers and wholesalers were difficult to obtain. Thomas was able to gain a guarantor for the credit account in exchange for his shares in the War Lee and Hong Yuen companies. Thomas and Mary and the four older children, Raymond, Norman, Olga and Thelma, worked long hours in the shop. The three younger children, Keith, Rita and May, completed their schooling in Murwillumbah and when they were old enough, joined the rest of the ,family working in the store. The goods came from Sydney or Newcastle by ship to Byron Bay and then by rail to Murwillumbah.
Tong’s Store was an institution in Murwillumbah for over 50 years. In the early years the family worked in the store, but during the Second World War two of Thomas and Mary’s sons, Norman and Keith, were conscripted into the Australian Army. The Tongs employed additional staff, and in later years there were up to 17 people working in the store. June Dwyer worked at Tong’s store from about 1942 to 1952; she worked with Thelma Tong in the grocery section. She recalls how different retailing was in the days before the supermarket. Most goods came in bulk, and sugar, flour, rice, tea and biscuits all had to be weighed out and bagged, and kerosene and methylated spirits measured out into individual bottles. The storeroom was lined with rows of tins of kerosene and methylated spirits, tins of biscuits, chests of tea, boxes of cheese and butter, and sacks of flour, rice, onions and potatoes. When June first started working at Tong’s store the women wore the same plain white aprons as the men; some time later it was decided they should wear something more feminine and were given frilly aprons. The Tong’s offered friendly, personal service. Every day June would ride around the town on her bicycle to collect customers’ orders, return to the store to pack them in wooden boxes and then drive the truck to deliver them in the afternoon. As was the custom, they would always go to the back door, the tradesmen’s entrance. After the war the Tongs employed Pop Fitzsimmons to deliver the orders, and later, Gerry Ford.
June recalls that working at Tong’s store was like being one of the family. The Tongs would invite all the staff to their home in Commercial Road Murwillumbah where they would have singalongs around the piano, while May Tong played. Thomas Tong was a very good cook and would prepare exotic dishes of Chinese food. They also went on family picnics to Kirra and Kingscliff. Thomas Tong See died in 1961 followed by his wife Mary in 1962. Their two sons Norman and Keith took over the business, assisted by their sisters. The Tongs were well regarded by the Murwillumbah community; they are remembered for ‘Tong’s Hillbilly Harmonies’, the popular radio show they sponsored on local station 2MW every Thursday and Friday morning in the 1950s. Mary Tong was a keen fan of country music. Tongs store was strategically located on the corner of Commercial Road and Wollumbin street at the entrance to Murwillumbah opposite the bridge over the Tweed River, and ‘Tong’s Corner’ was always well known as the place to meet. Patsy Tong (nee Mee Lee), who married Keith Tong in 1953, worked at Tong’s store from the late 1960s. She remembers that Norman Tong would stay at the store until late in the evening, and was always interested in watching who was meeting who on the corner.
The cash register and coin dispenser, designed for decimal currency, marked significant changes in the way the Tong family ran their business. Keeping up with changes in country retailing, Tong’s introduced self service or ‘cash and carry’ around the time they bought the new cash register. They discontinued the drapery and general merchandise side of the business and concentrated solely on groceries. The former drapery section of the store became the grocery, while the original grocery section on the lower level was used for packing and storage. Tong’s Store joined the Foodland Group and purchased their stock from Foodlands wholesale warehouse in Brisbane. Patsy Tong remembers attending a week long training course in Brisbane run by the National Cash Register Company in the late 1960s, to learn how to use the new machine.
The coin dispenser was a great attraction, particularly to children. It was like winning on a modern day poker machine. Once the individual purchases, total, and the amount tendered were entered, the cashier pressed the change button and the coin dispenser automatically released the correct change in coins, sending them jingling down the chute and into the dish. Patsy Tong remembers mothers sitting their children on the counter while they paid for their purchases. The children delighted in catching the coins as they came out of the chute. The cashier gave the change in notes from the drawer of the cash register. Every morning Patsy would go through the ritual of filling the coin dispenser, while her brother-in-law Norman Tong did the banking each morning and reconciled the cash register every evening. Once they introduced self service the Tong family were no longer able to offer the same level of personal service they had in the early days. They no longer collected orders from the homes of individual customers, but people could still phone in their grocery orders in the morning and have their groceries home delivered free of charge in the afternoon.
This cash register and change dispenser were used in Tong’s store in Murwillumbah from the late 1960s until the store closed in 1986. Tong’s Store was founded by Thomas Tong See in 1935, and it was part of the network of Chinese owned stores that emerged across country New South Wales in the early twentieth century. Before establishing their own store in Murwillumbah Thomas and his wife Mary worked in the War Lee store in Tenterfield and the Hong Yuen store in Inverell. Tong’s store was an institution in Murwillumbah for over 50 years.
A cash register such as this are not rare in museum collections. There are a number of cash registers in the collection of Tweed River Regional Museum, including one from the Tweed Fruit Exchange.
This cash register derives its significance from its association with the Tong Family store. It has historic significance as it represents the continuing role of Chinese families in retailing in country New South Wales, well into the second half of the twentieth century.
It has particular social significance for the people of Murwillumbah as it represents the role of the Tong family as well known and respected store owners in Murwillumbah for over fifty years, and the contribution the Tong family made to the economic and social life of the local community.
The cash register and change dispenser also has technological significance as it reflects changing retailing techniques in country towns, and the change from sterling to decimal currency in 1966.
It has interpretive potential in that it is one of the few objects in the collection to represent the Chinese presence in the Tweed Valley.
Lock Lee, Vivienne ‘Finding your place in history: the Tong See family and early settlement in Australia’, Address to Chinese Australian History Society, September 2006.
Wilton, J 2004, Golden Threads: The Chinese in Regional New South Wales 1850-1950, Armidale, New England Regional Art Museum and Powerhouse Museum Publishing.
Written by J Boileau,
Tweed River Regional Museum
Edited Stephen Thompson
June 2008 – updated 2011
Crown Copyright 2008©