THE end of a newspaper round that has lasted some 36 years is now only a matter of days away for Toora Newsagency proprietors Allan and Irene Spooner.
Technically the front door of the Spooners’ landmark double-fronted shop at 52 Stanley Street will close for the final time late on Sunday morning July 3, 2022, ahead of a retirement do that same afternoon arranged for them by the Toora community.
“We’ve had a ‘Mega Sale’ running for a while now and, for the following couple of weeks or so, the shop will be open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to see if we can find some good homes for more of the left over stock,” Irene said.
“The original plan was for us to have the newsagency for ten years (though Allan reckons it was five!) when we took over from Charlie and Nola Allen in January 1987.
“As it turns out we’ve stayed on for quite a lot more than that, long enough for our kids, Kellie and Michael, to grow up and help in the shop from time to time, and for us to have seen a lot of changes in and around Toora,” she said.
“I come from the Toora district; my parents Reuben and Betty West fished out of Port Franklin, and Allan came from Wonthaggi and started work at the Toora Unigate, later Bonlac, milk factory.
“The Wests had a mixed business at Mirboo North for a while but we came home to Toora more than 50 years ago, and I worked in various local retail businesses, including a fruit shop and a milk bar and takeaway.
“Toora was a boom town in the 1970s, with the Transfield village on the edge of the town where the men building the oil rigs at the Barry Beach Marine Terminal lived with their families.
“Some of the biggest impacts on Toora was the downscaling of Barry Beach, through the number of people who came to Toora during the construction of the wind farm in the late-1990s and after made up for that.” Irene said.
“An absolute highlight was opening the Bendigo Bank Toora Community Bank in 1998, and I was on the steering committee that got it started with the backing of the Toora and the wider Corner Inlet community and city friends as well.
“The closure of the Toora milk factory in 2000 was a real devastation to the town, with five families leaving in a fortnight, though things have improved in the past decade or so with the factory reopening as ViPlus,” she said.
“Now there is a new feel going around Toora, with a new school, and new fire station, a new police station, and some new faces as well as Toora people running existing businesses and opening new ones.
“It’s great to see younger people interested in developing the town, such as the members of the Toora Community Action Team.
“It’s bittersweet to be closing the Toora Newsagency, as it is the last one standing between Leongatha and Sale,” Irene said.
“However both Allan and I have a few health issues and we decided that it was time for us to start looking at retiring about 18 months ago, which was when we first put the property on the market.
“There was a lot of interest in the house behind the shop, but not in the business, and the building itself has since been sold to a buyer who wanted the dwelling and the shopfront but not the newsagency,” Irene said.
“We’re terribly upset that no-one wanted to carry on with the newsagency because this type of business is an important part of a local community. “Newspaper readership has declined because of modern technology, which really has had a major impact on people’s lifestyles, with news available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“People can get updates on their mobile phones and on Facebook whenever they want, and there’s so many families with both adults working nowadays that the enjoyment of sitting down with the paper and a cuppa is a thing of the past.
“This doesn’t seem to apply so much to the weekend newspapers, when people do seem to have more time to devote to them, and to magazines as well, particularly the lifestyle ones,” she said.
“When we started, papers like the Sun News Pictorial, The Herald, Truth, The Trading Post and The Sporting Globe were still published, and The Age was still a broadsheet.
“But there’s no doubt at all though that people still love their local newspapers and they still want to know the local news,” Irene said.
“Over the years the Toora Newsagency has become a bit of a hub for this community and also for people passing through, with locals calling in to find out what’s going on, and visitors wanting information about what to see and do.
“So many people have also come into the shop asking about former residents of Toora, and whether I knew where so-and-so lived 50 years ago, and had I heard of this name or that, and if so, did I know what happened to them.
“Others would come in looking for the Toora Cemetery, or where their relative’s house or farm was.
“I gave directions to a woman one day on how to get back to Melbourne via a more scenic route, and a while later I got such a beautiful letter from her to say thank-you, and how much she and her husband had liked exploring a new way home.
“It’s the people you meet in an everyday business like the Toora Newsagency that has been the best benefit; talking to them and finding out why they are in this region,” she said.
“Some are sightseeing or on their way to somewhere else, some are visiting family or friends, and some are back-tracking through their own personal history.
“We’ve seen people come and people go, and children grow up and have kids of their own.
“Allan and I want to reassure everyone that we’re not leaving Toora; we’re still very interested in Toora, and we’ve bought a house in Welshpool Road that we’ll be moving into shortly,” Irene said.
“Allan is welded to the Toora Bowls Club, where he has been the groundsman and greenskeeper for many years as well as a bowler.
“I’m still on the board of the Bendigo Bank Toora and Foster Community Bank, and there’s also a project or two to be done at our new house.
“There are a couple of things I wouldn’t mind being part of out in the community; I like the good work both the RSL committee and the Toora Family History Group are doing, and I might find out if I can help,” she said.
“We’d like to thank all of our customers and the Toora community for their support and loyalty over all the time we’ve been in the Toora Newsagency, and to say how much we appreciate living here in our own home town.
“We certainly won’t miss getting up to meet the morning newspaper deliveries all that much though, and I’ll still enjoy starting each day with a Knight, the cartoon in the Sun-Herald, just as much as reading the local papers!”