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  • Writer's pictureHelen Avaient

Did the first Coles Myer store open in Wilmot, Tasmania, Australia?

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

Since coming to Tasmania, I have frequently heard that the Coles Myer shopping emporium opened its very first store in Wilmot here. It was a suprise when visiting the town that they did not have any information verifying this. The reason is, that the rumours are not true. In fact, the first ever GJ Coles store was opened in Collingwood, Victoria in 1914. That one Victorian shop was the beginning of the Coles Myer shopping empire.

It would be a great story for Tasmania if it was true, but sadly, it is a false rumour.

In fact, from 1910 to 1921, the general store in Wilmot was owned by the father of Sir George James (GJ) Coles (1885 - 1977), George W. Coles (1855 - 1931).

George Snr sold his shop in St James, Victoria to son GJ in 1910. GJ sold this store to an uncle after the war. George Snr then moved to Wilmot, Tasmania where he took over the village's bankrupt general store. Another son of George Snr, David Henry (1894 - 1917) moved to Wilmot to help his father in the shop. Sadly, David served in Belgium during WWI and died of wounds incurred in 1917.

Below is the former home of the Coles family when they lived in Wilmot, just a short walk down the street from their General Store. It is still standing in 2021.

Son Kenneth Frank (1896 - 1985) also worked for a time with his father at Wilmot. Another son Edgar Barton (b. 1899 - 1981) was educated in Victoria and at Wilmot, finishing his secondary education at Launceston, Tasmania. Edgar later joined his older brothers at the GJ Coles stores in 1919.

From 1912 to 1914 yet another son, Arthur William (1892 - 1982), worked as a storeman at his father's store in Wilmot. Arthur then returned to Victoria and opened the store with brothers GJ and James, known as Jim, (1888 - 1916, killed in France during WWI) in Smith St, Collingwood, Victoria in 1914. That store in Victoria was the first of the Coles dynasty.

The family that was "born behind a counter" also included the younger half brother Norman Cameron Coles (1907 - 1989). Norman joined the company as a storeman in the Smith St store in 1924. As he rose within the company his major contribution to the empire in 1969 was a joint venture with S. S. Kresge Co. Ltd in 1968 which introduced Kmart discount stores in Australia.

The General Store owned by George W Coles from 1910 to 1921, burnt down in Wilmot in 2014. A new General Store in the town also operates as a post office, newsagency, bottleshop and petrol station.

In 1985 Coles took over the Myer operation and Coles Myer Ltd became the largest private employer in Australia.

There are no public records to state that GJ Coles ever lived at Wilmot and worked in his father's store there. In fact, the Victorian electoral records show he lived in Victoria in 1912 and 1914, and did not appear on the Tasmanian electoral records at this time.

On the website The History of Coles - 100+ years partnership with Australia it states "On 9 April 1914 young GJ Coles opened the first Coles store in Smith St, Collingwood, Victoria."

Even the census records show JG lived and worked in Victoria, not Tasmania.

1912 census St James Victoria

George J Coles, grocer

James Scouler, grocer (brother of GJ Coles)

1914 census East Melbourne Victoria

George J Coles, storekeeper

James Scouler, storekeeper (brother of GJ Coles)

1914 census Wilmot Tasmania

Annie Cameron Coles, domestic duties (wife of George Snr)

Arthur William Coles, storekeeper's assistant (son of George Snr)

Edith Clipsham Coles, domestic duties (daughter of George Snr)

George Coles, storekeeper

1919 census Wilmot Tasmania

Annie Cameron Coles, domestic duties (wife of George Snr)

Kenneth Frank, shop assistant (son of George Snr)

George Coles, storekeeper

I have fact checked with both the Sheffield Tourist information centre and the Wilmot museum, both agreeing that the above information is correct. There is a Tasmanian connection, that is undisputed, but it is the father of the founder, not the actual founder himself that enjoyed living and working in Tassie.

Further reading on Sir James Coles:

Happy Travels!

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