Coo-ee: The camp store

By Simon Ruppert

On May 8, 1928, Edward Ryan died at his home in Thomas St, Benalla.

At the age of 83, he never recovered from a stroke.

Ned was born in County Westmeath, Ireland in 1845.

As a young man he migrated to Australia.

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His first business venture was a store in Kyneton.

It was successful and he could afford to marry Mary Rahill in 1878.

Earlier that same year Ned and Mary came to Benalla. He set up business as the Camp Store in Bridge St, Benalla West.

There Ned worked for the next fifty years.

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In the early days, stores in Benalla tended to specialise in a small range of products, perhaps jewellery or furniture or clothing.

At his general store in Carrier St by 1892, A’h Sam Bet sold a wider range.

He sold carts, horses and harnesses as well as ironmongery, boots, jewellery and a small range of clothing.

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Ned’s Camp Store was different. Whatever A’h Sam Bet carried by way of stock, the Camp Store had much, much more.

At the Camp Store, you could buy a suit, off the rack or bespoke, or ball gowns in the latest London and Paris fashions.

You could buy ammunition, rimfire or centrefire, in a range of calibres, and guns to fire them.

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Ned sold furniture, cutlery, crockery, barbed wire, tinned food, tobacco, beds, bedding, boots and bacon.

He even sold sheep shears, wire strainers, cream separators and other farm equipment and supplies.

Ned also bought farm products for sale to his customers. It seemed that there was absolutely nothing that the Camp Store did not sell.

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Its stock made the Camp Store an attractive target. It was broken into on at least three occasions - one of those was in 1922.

On a tip-off, police and Store employees lay in wait. At 10.45 pm two men began boring out the lock in a side access door.

When apprehended, they ran. One was caught. The other, more fleet of foot, kept running.

One of Ned’s staff fired a shotgun above the would-be thief’s head. Shocked, the second offender slowed, only to be caught when a policeman tripped him.

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Mary Ryan died in 1917. Ned and Mary had two sons and two daughters. One daughter survived her father. Mary and Ned are buried in Benalla cemetery.

At his death, Ned’s executors attempted to sell the Store’s stock. As is often the case with ‘fire sales’, the price realised was not satisfactory.

The sale was stopped. The executors sold some stock at a discount in a series of sales in July, August and September, 1928.

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By September 1929, the Camp Store and its stock had been sold to Michael Leahy, late of Rushworth. He kept its name and extended its range even further.

However, its profitable days were gone. It had competition from almost every shop in Benalla.

Although I can find no record of its closing, the last of its regular weekly advertisements was in September, 1930.