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Updated: Aug 21, 2019


The Old Pharmacy

A story from "Beyond the Leopard Trees" by Petra Lester.

George Nixon was 23 when he arrived in Maryborough in 1878. He took up his selection of land at South Isis in 1884 and he called his sugar cane farm Fieldhead after the family farm in Northern England. George's son George Harrinson Nixon (born in 1897) and the first chemist in Childers, Thomas Gaydon, are both listed as founding members of the Childers Masonic Lodge. The pair was appointed to execute the George's will when he died in 1924. Now (great)grand-daughter Bev Santacaterina (nee Nixon) volunteers at the museum of Gaydons' pharmacy.


Bev wanted to be a police officer so she went to Brisbane for training when she was sixteen. It only lasted 18 months as she said “It didn't suit this country girl.” Bev became a sugar chemist and worked at the Qunaba Mill in 1975. At an Isis Rugby game Bev spotted player Colin Santacatarina, they met at a social night a few years later and married in 1976.


“I've always had a love of old things,” Bev says. “Not necessarily valuable things but I collect things that I like.” Bev is the secretary for the Childers Historical Society; its volunteers run the Pharmacy Museum for Bundaberg Regional Council. “I've always been community minded and it's a wonderful job. You meet lots of lovely people,” says Bev.


Bev's favourite item in The Old Pharmacy is the materia medica cabinet. It has 75 drawers and was used to knowledge test apprentice pharmacists. The shelves of The Old Pharmacy are filled with prescription books from the early 1900s. The names of pioneer families, including the Nixons, are listed with their prescribed medications and some for the odd horse!


“Childers is where my family is,” says Bev, “having long-standing friendships is special too. In the end a place is what you make of it but there's no other place that I would want to live. I look out the window at home and see kangaroos in the yard. The green cane in the background. I just take it for granted. I look forward to still driving around when I'm 80; Mum's still driving and she's 82!”


In 1989 The Old Pharmacy, at 90 Churchill Street, opened as one of only two pharmaceutical museums in Australia. (The other museum is in Chilton in Victoria). The original inventory makes the museum a unique chronicle of pharmacy practises in the early 1900s in rural towns. Over the years donations were added to the collection and cataloguing of thousands of items continues today.

In 1894 Thomas Gaydon (1869-1935) established The Isis Pharmacy in Main Street and after the fire of 1902 architect Herb Faircloth from Maryborough designed the current state heritage listed building. In 1909 a second floor was added. Thomas Gaydon was a trained pharmacist who also performed dentistry and anaesthesia. He also prescribed medications to farm animals and was a photographer. After Thomas' death his sons continued the shop as a dentist and chemist. Chemist Mervyn G Hooper joined them in 1938 and when he died the pharmacy was run as a gift shop by his wife Isa Hooper from 1982 to 1987.

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