Best Foot Forward

Celebrating Each Step of Maitland's History

A symbolic aeroplane and the bold letters ‘PROGRESS’ keep no secret that William Claude Johnston, who published this booklet, had a clear message to communicate. It was 1935, and the 50th anniversary of his family’s footwear business coincided with the centenary of the proclamation of West and East Maitland. It was a golden opportunity to celebrate the region’s history in this booklet, while also promoting the family’s shoe store. Business is business.

The store was established in 1885, by his father Alfred Johnston (1847-1925), so William says in the booklet. But over 100 years later, in an oral history recording, Alfred’s grandson, Colin, noted that it was Alfred’s wife, Maitland-born Sarah Jane Bardon (1845-1931), who has ‘always been given credit’ for having established the business. All while Alfred went on the road as a sales representative for McMurtrie’s shoe manufacturers. Somehow, Sarah was not even mentioned by name in the 1935 booklet, though it is stated that Mr Johnston was ‘ably assisted by his wife…’

Featuring a portrait of Alfred Johnson, and a foreword by William, the booklet provides a timeline of key events in Maitland, with sections about Johnston’s footwear woven into the wider history. It celebrates the success of the family business in the broader context of Maitland’s history, with an underlying message of local prosperity and achievement.

Sarah and Alfred married in 1878 and after their footwear business in Tamworth failed, they tried their luck in West Maitland. Initially named ‘Johnston’s Cheap Boot House,’ in Paskins Arcade, it reopened in 1923 in the purpose-built premises where Alfred’s descendants still sell footwear today.