By Judy Waters, Warkworth & District Museum
With Syria often in the news these days it may surprise some people to know that Warkworth had its own Syrian settlers early in the 20th century.
George Azzy advertised that he had commenced work in the main street as a bootmaker and repairer in 1916 and his brother Peter quickly followed opening a tailoring business. There is uncertainty as to the date when the third brother, Dom, set up as a hairdresser and tobacconist, but he was definitely there in 1931 when a disastrous fire destroyed his business premises along with a number of others.
To describe the Azzy brothers and the times in which they lived I could not better a short story written by John Phillips in 2004:
“My mother said the Azzys were Syrians. George and Peter were quite dark skinned but Dom had a lighter complexion. We wondered what Dom’s real name was and one kid suggested Domino, but I suppose it was Domingo. Their shops were built of corrugated iron and stood where Franklin’s chemist shop is now.
“Dom was a hairdresser, tobacconist and the older boys said he sold condoms. I never did find out. Dom must have faired the best out of the three brothers as he bought himself a very flashy Nash coupe sedan. It was his pride and joy and he kept it clean and polished. He always smoked a pipe. Peter was a tailor and had many books of suit material samples. He gave my mother several books full and as children we spent many hours removing them from the pages. Mother spent a lot of time sewing all these patches together on her treadle sewing machine, then backed them with an old blanket. They were transformed into very warm bed covers for us two boys.
“My dad sold Peter hen eggs and he told him that a dozen eggs only did him for two meals. Peter gave me a lovely folding stereoscope and a lot of cigarette cards. These gave you a really good three-dimensional view when you placed two identical cards in the holder. This was the early 1930s when times were very hard. Few men’s suits were required in Warkworth and Peter moved on.
“George was a boot repairer and worked in his window overlooking the street. He carried a small stock of boots and shoes, and also sold gumboots. George was the town ‘bookie’ and I recall him being brought before the court on more than one occasion. They all lived at the back of their shops and they all remained bachelors.”
John’s story was an entry in a previous essay competition run by the museum. This year Mahurangi residents, past and present, are again invited to record their memories and enter the essay competition. Entry forms are available at Mahurangi Matters, Mahurangi East Library and at the Warkworth Museum.