John Boocock ran his butchers shop at the top end of Gilbert Street for 25 years, arriving in Torquay in 1957. His shop was nestled in between Troy’s General Store and Ian Jeffrey’s fruit shop. John learnt his trade from his father, Craven Boocock who was a butcher in Pakington Street Geelong West.
Craven Boocock arrived with his wife and parents and sister from Yorkshire, England in about 1910. From all reports, he was quite a character. He started work for Mr George Wood, a well-known butcher in La Trobe Terrace. During the war years, it was a difficult time to be in business as rationing came in and made trading tough. Geelong West suffered when the war was on, but people helped each other out, the sense of community was strong.
By 1923 Craven was ready to start his own butcher shop. He built the Beehive building in Pakington Street. The building had an apartment above for his family – his daughter Mavis and son John. There were two shops below, one of which was his much loved butcher shop which he ran with George Wood’s son Percival. He leased the second shop to Leo and William Walker who had a thriving grocer’s store. He called the building “the Beehive” because he believed it to be a hive of activity, and it was indeed busy, nestled beside the famous St Georges Hotel, with the Geelong West Post office only two doors down. But Craven would secretly joke with his family.
“It’s the Beehive – come in and get stung!“
The heritage listed building still stands today at 126 Pakington Street and the famous beehive logo is still visible above the shop.
Craven employed some butchers and boners, and there was a stable out the back with horses and carts for deliveries. He would go to the market and pick out his animals then pick up the meat from the old abattoirs and set to work getting it ready for the shop.
Craven was also a noted dog breeder winning lots of prizes and trophies for his Alsatians and Cocker Spaniels A report in the papers of the day noted the excellent quality of his dogs, and it was certain they received an abundance of excellent quality raw beef from their owner, the famed butcher. He also had a passion for racehorses and had upward of a dozen horses racing at one time in Geelong and Melbourne.
Craven Boocock’s son John was born in 1916 in Geelong grew up in he busy multicultural community of Geelong West. He started work as a young lad with his father in the Beehive Butcher shop.
In the 1950s when the summers were so busy down the coast, John would get seasonal work at Charlie William’s butcher shop at the top end of Gilbert Street in Torquay. In 1957 Charlie was ready to move on and offered his business to John. The deal was conditional on John keeping on a young apprentice, 14 year old Laurie Polwarth, who Charlie had taken under his wing. John agreed and was pleased to have an opportunity to go out on his own. He packed up his family, wife Lal, and children Terry, Michael, Barry, and Shana. And moved to a house on Fischer Street, a short stroll to the butchers shop.
John soon made friends with other traders, Tom Hancock, Col Troy, Laurie Nairn, and Don Dukes; these friendships endured for many years. John remained lifelong friends with Joe Walker who had Walker’s Meat at the bottom of Gilbert Street; theirs was a friendly rivalry.
Boocock’s Butcher was a real old-fashioned butcher shop. The butchers all wore blue and white striped aprons and had oversized belts which had a scabbard on the side for the various knives and a sharpening steel on the other side. There was sawdust of the floor; nothing would be pre-cut or packaged. Rails with sides of beef and pork and whole lambs ran around the shop and into the cool room. The butchers would push them around to get them near the saw. Slabs of meat would be pulled from hanging hooks and slapped on to huge wooden chopping blocks.
The butchers had a close relationship with the customers. When the door would open with a squeak, John would look up and without a pause say “morning Mrs Smith”. Torquay was such a small town then, the population was less than1000, so John and his staff knew all their customers. He would come around the counter to greet the new babies, and no child left without a generous slice of strass. Teenagers would walk in, ask for a bag of off cuts for yabbying in Taylor Park. Their requests were always met.
It was fascinating to watch the butcher wield his knife. He would run the knife through the lamb to mark the chop width and then hacksaw through the bone. He was like an artist at work. John made all his own sausages and cooked meats. Your purchase was wrapped in his crisp white butchers paper, which made excellent drawing paper for the kids once you arrived home
Laurie Polwarth started as an apprentice butcher with Charlie Williams when he left school. It was a dramatic introduction to butchery as Charlie was a country butcher used to killing all his own meat. Laurie’s first jobs were to kill the turkeys and geese for Christmas out the back of the shop. When John took over, all the meat was delivered from M.C Herd, so he was spared the killing. As a shy boy he would stay out the back making sausages and boiled meats, but soon gained confidence and when John and his family were involved in a car accident, Laurie stepped up and ran the shop while they recovered. Laurie, like John, knew all the customers by name and was a popular, friendly face in the shop. He remembers John as a real gentleman who put his customers first
Bruce Beecham was another local lad to serve his apprenticeship under John. His first job was to make sausages in the mornings and do the deliveries on his pushbike in the afternoons He was more than pleased to get his licence at 18 so he could graduate to the Yellow Ex RACV delivery van.
John would carefully prepare his window displays. On Saturdays when the blinds were pulled down at 12.00 as he prepared to close for the weekend, there would be numerous knocks on the door by latecomers, and they were never turned away. Bruce remembers being in the shop at 5.00am one the summer when they were so busy, and the power went out. John drove his car, an Austin 1800, around to Gilbert Street and shone the headlights through the windows so they could keep working. There were often 50 lambs on the rail needing to be cut up. Another time a fire broke out in the render room out the back, John calmly kept serving his customers as the fire brigade arrived at the back door to douse the flames. Christmas was such a busy time. John would turn up for work at 4.30 am, and on many nights he would not leave until 10 pm. He kept to the Torquay tradition of the time of closing for an hour at midday to go home for lunch. The influx of holiday makers stretched the limits of the staff, and the little shop was bustling all day long. The cool room could hardly cope with the extra loads – it was so packed you could barely get in the door.
John’s son Barry did his apprenticeship with his father and then spread his wings, and grandson Marcus, who has a butcher shop on the Sunshine Coast is the fourth generation “Boocock the Butcher” continuing a wonderful family tradition.
Both John and Laurie remember John Boocock as a real gentleman who was popular and friendly and loved by his staff. Many long-time customers and holidaymakers missed him when he retired.