Buried treasure is as much a cultural concept as an objective thing, it may almost never be true, but we want to believe that wondrous artefacts are hidden in remote places and if we could just put our hands on the right map a pirate’s, or outlaw’s, loot will be revealed. In reality pirates digging holes to hide their ill-gotten gains was so rare that the only authenticated account of it happening was when 17th century Scot William Kidd buried his wealth on Gardiners Island in New York State.
But none of this seems true when right here in the West End sits our own treasure trove, Rice’s Bookshop, the oldest second-hand bookshop in Newcastle and one which claims to stock the widest range of books in every genre, including rare first editions, magazines, D.C. and Marvel comics. Shelves grown under the weight of publications and the eclectic stock sees Tattoo Revival magazine, sit happily underneath the serious looking Care and Breeding of Australian Finches on the shelf above.
Despite the shop’s name the stock is actually split almost equally between the written word and music, with an extraordinary range of LPs, EPs, 45 rpm singles, 12 inch singles, CDs and cassette tapes for sale. Rice’s has a commitment to vinyl and it’s a successful one, the shop is having trouble keeping up with the demand for records and their sincerity in keeping the format alive sees them working as an agent for a business supplying everything needed to keep that turntable turning: needles, belts, styluses and cartridges.
Rice’s Bookshop has long pedigree, stretching right back to the 1950s when Jim Mann was a partner in one of Sydney’s most iconic book and music shops Ashwood’s. By the late 1950s Jim had decided to strike out on his own and so Mann’s Bookshop in Newcastle was born. After a couple of moves around town the shop settled at its current West End address in 1965.
Four years later the Mann family put the shop on the market and a loyal customer and family friend Ron Rice stepped in, buying the business and working there for decades until in 1989 his son Leigh Rice became owner/manager. That was the year of the earthquake and the shop closed for a couple of months for repairs; Leigh remembers that when they re-opened people were dancing for joy in their doorway. He can still be found in the shop almost every day and occasionally you will even see his son Darcy there as well. It seems the blood of three generations of Rice men now runs through the business, just as three generations of Novocastrians have walked through its doors.
Recently I was in the shop on a treasure hunting expedition and was leaving chuffed having found a scarce music biography. At the front counter Leigh was looking delighted; he had just made an extraordinary music acquisition, an LP of Tender Prey by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. This 1988 album debuted Cave’s now signature song ‘The Mercy Seat’ which has been played at almost all of the band’s live performances ever since. The album is so significant it was listed in the publication 100 Best Australian Albums and was added to the Australian Registry of Recorded Sound. And that vinyl masterpiece, in all its rarity, had just arrived at Rice’s Bookshop – it’s that kind of place.
Rice’s Bookshop, 699 Hunter Street, Newcastle West. Open: Monday-Friday 10am-6pm, Saturday-Sunday 10am-4pm. Phone: 4929 2752. The online store is updated daily: www.ricesbookshop.com
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