Shopping Malls Country: Reading the Central Coast of NSW

By Ryan, Lyndall | Journal of Australian Studies, January 2006 | Go to article overview

Shopping Malls Country: Reading the Central Coast of NSW


Ryan, Lyndall, Journal of Australian Studies


When I moved from Adelaide to the Central Coast of New South Wales in October 1998, to take up my current academic appointment, I was surprised to find that the two regional shopping malls--Erina Fair and Tuggerah Mall--were the hubs of the 'new' region, rather than the older towns of Gosford and Wyong. In talking to local residents and to students, I was struck by their pride and pleasure in the shopping malls. They told me that that the opening of the malls in 1987 and 1995 had finally made the Central Coast into 'a real place'. Preliminary research seemed to confirm this view. Since the opening of the first regional mall at Erina in the southern part of the region in 1987 the population of the Central Coast has doubled from 160,000 to 300,000. And since the opening of Tuggerah Mall in the northern part of the region in 1995, the population of the Wyong Shire has overtaken that of Gosford City. These factors led me to explore the origins of regional shopping malls in Australia and the development of critical work on the subject as a way of developing an approach to interrogate the emergence of the two regional shopping malls on the Central Coast.

The regional shopping mall in Australia is derived from the first North American greenfields mall, the Crenshaw Centre, which opened 'amid undeveloped fields', ten kilometres from downtown Los Angeles in 1947. The Centre was planned to cater to a (largely potential) clientele who would arrive by car. The Centre featured two department stores and speciality shops, but no shopping court. By the 1950s, regional malls with shopping courts were commonplace across the United States. (1) It is remarkable how quickly the model translated to Australia. While Peter Spearritt has carefully documented the first drive-in shopping centre in Australia in the Brisbane suburb of Chermside in 1955, Jill Margo, the biographer of regional shopping mall magnate Frank Lowy, claims that he opened the first 'enclosed shopping centre' in Australia, Westfield Place in Blacktown in Western Sydney, on 2 July 1959. (2) These prototypes, however, were outstripped by the opening of Chadstone, the first regional shopping mall in Australia, developed by Myer in the Melbourne suburb of Oakleigh in 1960. (3) This was soon followed by Miranda Fair in the southern suburbs of Sydney in 1961. By 1965, regional shopping malls had become the symbol of the 'new consumerism' of that decade. (4) They were distinguished by the fact that they were developed on greenfields sites in outer suburban areas of major cities, had spaces for hundreds and later thousands of cars, offered at least one department store as an anchor, and a range of speciality shops. In the 1980s, regional shopping malls offered cafes and restaurants, movie theatres, leisure centres and, in some cases, taverns. This evolution of the regional shopping mall--from basic shopping facilities under one roof, to the facilities of a mini-city--has yet to be fully documented and analysed in Australia. It is clear, however, that the regional shopping mall is as much the product of urban planners as shopping mall promoters. As early as 1962, the former perceived the regional shopping mall as the orderly face of new suburban development, but had no concept of how they would be used in cultural practice. (5)

Despite the dramatic change in Australian retail practices and the social and cultural impact on women's lives as shoppers, it was not until 1978 that the first critical work on shopping malls appeared. Based on a case study of how mothers with pre-school aged children used the modern 'enclosed shopping centre' at Westpoint Blacktown and 'how the modern shopping centre functions as a community leisure resource', the Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development (DEHCD) project set out to assess how the environmental setting influences leisure behaviour and its 'implications for government policy in the provision of facilities in developing urban areas, for private developers'. …

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