A funny thing happened when my husband Tony and I visited Isisford last year and Tony spied a bakery in the main street of this tiny remote Queensland town.
Isisford is located in the Longreach Region of central western Queensland. It’s 117 km south of Longreach via the Isisford Ilfracombe Road, 123 km west of Blackall and more than 1000 km by road northwest of Brisbane. The township, which lies on the banks of the Barcoo River, was established in the 1870s. At the 2016 Australian census, Isisford’s population was 218.
We arrived at Isisford at 1.15 pm.
It was Thursday 7 December. The day was clear, dry and sunny. In fact, the sunlight was so bright, it was almost blinding. The temperature was about 40 degrees Celcius, not unusual at this time of year. After all, it was summertime. The bitumen surface of the road shimmered in the heat and the ground was hot under foot as we stepped out of our air-conditioned car.
A few vehicles were parked in St Mary Street (the main street) but there was not a soul in sight. We parked our car in front of the former Bank of New South Wales and strolled along St Mary Street checking out the town’s historic buildings, photographing them and reading their stories. I popped into a little grocery store (“Isisford Welcome Mart”) to buy ham and a tomato to put on our bread rolls for lunch.
Tony and I returned to our car then drove the short distance along the Isisford Blackall Road to the Barcoo River. It was about 1.45 pm. By this time we were tired, edgy and hungry. We were looking for a green, shady spot where we could sit and eat our lunch. Dare I say we didn’t find one by the “river” (it was just a dry bed).
So we drove back to town.
It was then that Tony spied the bakery.
The neat little timber building, with the single word “Baker” displayed above the awning on the shop front, was located at the eastern end of St Mary Street. We hadn’t noticed it before.
Tony: “Look! The bakery’s open. I’d like to buy some bread for lunch. A bun or something.”
Me: “But we already have lunch. We have buttered bread rolls and I’ve bought ham and tomato to go on them. And there’s fruit. We have plenty of food.”
Tony (defiantly): “Didn’t you hear me? I want to buy some bread. You know Croatians like their bread.” He got out of the car and started to walk towards the bakery.
Me (calling out): “I think you’re just being greedy. You don’t need it. Anyway, you’ll probably have to use cash there. If you want it, I have a $50 note.”
Tony returned to the car. Holding out his hand, he said (forcefully): “Please give me the money!”
Me (thrusting a $50 note into Tony’s hand): “Okay! Off you go. I’ll wait here. Don’t be long – it’s very late and I’m hungry.”
Tony strode over to the bakery while I sat in the car, fuming.
I watched as Tony disappeared into the little shop. He wasn’t inside very long when he reappeared at the doorway, with the largest smirk across his face. He was still clutching the $50 note. He signalled to me to come over. Reluctantly I got out of the car. “What’s Tony’s problem?” I thought. “What does he want now?”
I soon found out.
The bakery is a museum!
The bread in the shop window is not edible. Imitation bread set out neatly on the window shelf, a dummy shop-assistant standing behind the counter, and an old cash register, antiquated scales and visitor’s book on the counter. These are the things Tony encountered when he entered the “shop”.
Together we discovered there was more to see out the back of the “shop”. There, the baker’s work area, baking equipment and oven were on display, complete with a dummy baker overseeing the operations.
Oh, dear. Talk about Tony having to eat “humble-pie”! His determination to buy bread from this shop (despite my protests) had come to nought! Amidst our amusement, Tony confessed he had been completely “taken in” by the shop and its realistic window display. Of course, I was very gracious (!!) and tried awfully hard not to “rub it in”.
Clearly, this entire incident involving the baker’s shop was a real-life comic drama (and we were the unwitting players)!
All for love of bread.
This bakery was not the town’s first.
Isisford’s first bakery was located elsewhere in the town (the building has long gone). Today, the site is marked by a sign displaying the following information:
“A Chinaman named Ah Sue was alleged to be Isisford’s first baker, from the early 1890s through to 1926. Over the years he was assisted by two off-siders, one named Hong Fah and the other named Harry Fong Sang. Ah Sue was followed by another Chinaman named Jimmy Gun Bow who baked there until the late 1930s. These bakers would leaven their bread with homemade yeast made from fermented potatoes. … During the 1930s Mrs Atherton purchased the bakery and employed a baker by the name of Tom Hutton of the well-known bakery family of Huttons of Yeppoon. He passed his knowledge to Henry Costin who continued as baker until the 1940s.”
Our visit to Isisford ended as it began: happily. After the bakery drama, Tony and I found a pleasant, green, shady spot where we were able to sit down and enjoy our lunch: Isisford Town Park, off St Helena Street. We can recommend it to other visitors. It’s fully grassed, clean and well-maintained, with tables and seats under cover, drinkable water, a toilet and shower block, and a children’s play area.
9 thoughts on “For love of bread: The Isisford Bakery”
We visited Isisford in Feb last year. Visited the bakery also. Next to Bakery an elderly gentleman took my husband in his garage to show him his old car cant quite remember what it was but was in great condition. A lovely little friendly town and well worth the visit
Julia, that’s terrific. Like us, you obviously enjoyed your visit to Isisford last year. Thanks for sharing your personal experience with us. Best wishes, Judy.
Judy it must have been a shock for poor Tony when he could not get his lovely bread.
How disappointed he must have felt. Your story is so interesting and as we have never
been out there it was an eye opener. We know it is dry out west but that was just the
pits.. Hot dry and dusty and I do not know how people live there. It is strange however
as they probably would not live any where else. Thank you for the photos too. Well done.
Very interesting and rather funny. Sorry I have taken so long to answer.
lovely story Judy been around these places Blackhall etc
Peter, thanks for your encouraging feedback. I’m glad to relate to the places I mention in the story. Best wishes, Judy.
Thank you Judith, your story brought back some wonderful memories. My father Dave Bignell was the baker in Isisford for a number of years. My grandfather Bernie owned what is now the Welcome Mart. I remember we kids “helping” Dad in the bakershop, and the smell of fresh bread wafting through the town. Dad made the bread from scratch, no premixes in those days, ingredients measured carefully, and the dough hand rolled. It was absolutely the best bread, straight from the oven, hot with melting butter and crunchy crust.
Wendy, how fortunate you were to have a baker as your father! Your experience of helping out in the bakery, the smell of freshly baked bread, the taste of hot bread and butter – these all sound so wonderful. I’m so pleased my story revived these memories for you. Thank you for identifying your father as a previous owner of the Isisford bakery. Thanks also for telling me and my readers about your grandfather who owned the grocery store (now the “Welcome Mart”). A little bit of your heart must remain in Isisford! Kind regards, Judy.
Hi Judith, I was born in Isisford on the 3rd of June 1958 and my Father was the Baker in Isisford then, I came out to Isisford back in November 2006 on my Bike and visited the Hospital where is was born and gave a copy of my Birth certificate to hang on the wall of the ward that they were setting up as a museum. I will be coming out to the area leaving on wednesday 14 October 2020. I live in Eumundi and will be taking two stop overs to get to Ifracombe and I’m staying at the Wellshot Hotel for a bit of a look around, I should be coming into town around the 20th. You will know when I arrive as I am driving out in my 1955 Morris Minor Ute, which is a creamy beige colour. I’m sure you won’t miss me if you see the car, hope to catch upwith you soon. Don. Oh my Dads name was Joseph Merz, we may have only been there for 3years as we went from there to run the Ilfracombe General Store, which has sadly been destroyed by fire.
I was the town baker for a short period in 1957 I took over from Dave Bignell. Dave and I became good friends and I went to his wedding when he married Marg who was also a good friend of mine.I can remember a big red kangaroo with a bell around his neck that used to call in early in the mornings to get a slice of bread.The Megaw brothers would ride their goats down to collect their bread. I have many good memories of Isisford having worked on Isis Downs Gowan Hills and Springfield in the 50s and 60s