Previous Find of the Month - 2/2020

February 2020

Hawking in the Territory

Licencing Hawkers in the Federal Capital Territory.

Register of Hawker’s Licences front cover i

ArchivesACT’s February Find of the Month draws from two records that reveal some details about Canberra’s early retail industry. Retail centres were developed as the Federal Capital Territory’s population grew and customers could visit their local stores to pick up their produce and access services. This wasn’t convenient for everyone at a time when road networks and other transport infrastructure were in their early stages of development. There were still residents in outlying communities such as workers camps who required access to retail outlets. It wasn’t long before some store owners and other traders saw the potential of this untapped demand and started to transport their goods and services to their customers as hawkers.

But it wasn’t only local hawkers that saw the potential of taking to the road to offer their wares. Early entries in the Register of Hawker’s Licences show many of those applying for licences were residents of Queanbeyan, as well as applicants from Canberra. Prior to 1 January 1927, hawkers and pedlars licenced to operate in New South Wales were also free to operate in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). After an ordinance was passed in 1926, a Registrar was established to allow the Federal Capital Commission (FCC) to issue licences to hawkers and fines to any hawker operating in the territory without one.

Copy of the hawker's licence ii

The licence register covers the years 1927 through to July 1941. It includes the name and address of the applicant, names and addresses of two ‘Bondsmen’ and other details such as the fee paid and when the licence was surrendered. Some later entries also include the products or produce the hawker was selling. Annotations were made if licences were renewed so that the reader can trace the length of time a licence was held by each hawker. In Joseph Maynard Wilkinson’s case, he first applied for a hawker’s licence on the 21 February 1927 and renewed his licence annually until 13 July 1942. In other cases, licences were surrendered after just one year.

Extract from the Register of Hawker's Licences iii

It seems the idea of introducing licencing for hawkers was promoted by business owners in the FCT. Charles Daley, Secretary of the FCC, wrote to the Secretary of the Home & Territories Department in July 1926;

Difficulty has been experienced owing to the absence of proper control of the activities of hawkers and other itinerant purveyors of merchandise in the Federal Territory, and shop-keepers who have established themselves in Canberra have made strong complaints in respect to their unfavourable position as compared with these un-licensed persons who keep no regular hours and ply their trade even on Sundays. … The Commission has approved of the introduction of a system for licensing hawkers and similar persons with provision for controlling the hours during which they may operate. iv

The draft ordinance was drawn up, approved by the Minister and the volume registering hawker’s licences was produced. These arrangements appear to have worked well for both hawkers and shopkeepers for many years; until 1946 when consideration was given to limiting the number of licences issued in response to a ‘contention that hawking constitutes undue competition with traders in established business premises'. To limit the number of licences was thought to be a restraint on trade, so a different approach was taken.v The minutes of the ACT Advisory Council’s meeting held on 18 August 1948 included a resolution to recommend to the Minister;

that more active policing be undertaken of hawkers to ensure that their operations shall be conducted to facilitate the provision of goods and services in residential areas. vi

Shop owners felt that vendors with hawker’s licences were beginning to encroach upon their retail ‘patch’.

The minutes of the Council’s meeting held on 20 July 1948 record a lengthy discussion as a result of their recommendation that the Minister for the Interior address shopkeeper’s concerns that hawkers were conducting business in their shopping precincts. They argued that licences obtained by hawkers only allowed them to deliver their goods ‘door to door’ in residential areas, and not in parking areas of local shopping centres. A letter from the ACT Trades and Labour Council supporting the hawker’s interests was presented to Council which delivered their strong ‘protest against any attempt to amend the Hawkers Ordinance to prevent them from selling their goods at the shopping centres in Canberra’. vii

The Council’s file on the subject also includes a petition presumably organised by one of the vendors taking advantage of the parking areas to conduct their hawking business. The petition includes signatures and addresses of over three hundred residents, expressing their appreciation for ‘the service being rendered by Koorey and Wade’, whose lorry was stationed at Kingston and the Civic Centre on Fridays and Saturdays. viii

Petition cover letter ix

The case for changing the way hawkers were operating won out. Canberra’s population and transport use had changed since the first Hawkers Ordinance was issued. Motor vehicles were becoming more popular, requiring safe parking areas with the capacity to receive more cars. In 1948 the ordinance was amended to ensure that hawkers were not allowed to operate their business within one hundred yards of a shop.x Despite representations that suggested hawkers were providing healthy market competition around the shopping centres, for the time being, they were destined to continue operating while travelling with their wares.

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File references

2020/527 - Hawker's Ordinance - Register of Hawker's Licences 1927 to 1942 - ArchivesACT

A3027/164 - Hawkers: Operations in the ACT - Hawker's Ordinance - ArchivesACT


i - 2020/527 - Hawker's Ordinance - Register of Hawker's Licences 1927 to 1942 - ArchivesACT

ii - ibid

iii - ibid

iv - A1, 1926/14228 - Registration of Hawkers Ordinance, FC Territory - National Archives of Australia

v - 2020/527 - Hawker's Ordinance - Register of Hawker's Licences 1927 to 1942 - ArchivesACT

vi - A3027/164 - Hawkers: Operations in the ACT: Hawker's Ordinance - ArchivesACT

vii - ibid

viii - ibid

ix - ibid

x - ibid

Photo credits

Links to External Websites

1926 'HAWKING', The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), 9 December,    p. 8. , viewed 31 Jan 2020,

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