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 an outlaw’s loot would 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 in the 17th century when William Kidd buried his wealth in a hole on Gardiners Island in the USA.
Fast forward to the West End and the 21st century. Here sits our own real world treasure trove, Rice’s Bookshop. It’s the oldest second-hand bookshop in Newcastle and one which claims to stock the widest range of books, records and magazines. Shelves groan under the sheer weight of the eclectic stock, here Tattoo Revival magazine sit happily underneath the serious looking Care and Breeding of Australian Finches on the shelf above.
Despite the word ‘bookshop’ in the store’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 (newly hip) cassette tapes. Rice’s has a commitment to vinyl and it’s a successful one, so much so that the shop is having trouble keeping up with the demand for records. Their sincerity in keeping the format alive sees them working as an agent for a business which supplies everything needed to keep that turntable turning: needles, belts, styluses and cartridges.
Rice’s Bookshop has a long pedigree, stretching right back to the 1950s and to Jim Mann who was a partner in Ashwood’s, one of Sydney’s most iconic book and music shops. By the late 1950s Jim had decided to strike out on his own, moving north and starting Mann’s Bookshop in Newcastle. In 1965, after a couple of moves around town, the shop settled in to its current West End home.
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. In 1989 his son, Leigh Rice, became owner/manager, that was Earthquake Year and the shop was rocked. It closed for months for structural repairs; Leigh remembers that when they re-opened people were literally dancing for joy in their doorway. He can still be found in the shop almost every day and occasionally you will 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.
Can I tell you a story about why I love this shop so much? Recently I was there on one of my regular treasure hunting expeditions and was leaving very chuffed having found a scarce music biography. (Patti Smith – swoon) 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 signature song ‘The Mercy Seat’ which is now played at almost all of the band’s live gigs.
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. http://www.ricesbookshop.com
This blog was first published 12 June 2013.
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