Wally’s West Maitland

A Retired Dentist Promotes His Town

Was it unbridled civic pride or simple commercial interest that inspired local dentist Wally Harkins to write and compile this ‘With Compliments’ booklet about West Maitland in 1922? What was in it for him?

Providing an historical overview and singing the praises of Maitland and its surrounding district, the booklet includes photographs, descriptions, and brief histories of some of the town’s key public buildings and businesses. As one of Australia’s oldest towns, Maitland had much to celebrate in the 1920s, with substantial colonial architecture and long-established institutions and local businesses.

In May 1922 the Maitland Daily Mercury announced that it had received a copy of the ‘handsome brochure’ from ‘the publisher Mr Wallace W Harkins’. The editor hinted that the purpose of the booklet must have been commercial, since a ‘number of the principal business people in the town have been enterprising enough to secure space in the publication’. The Mercury was sure that those who lived ‘afar’ who would receive copies of the booklet would surely be impressed by the ‘solid prosperity’ of the town.

William Wallace ‘Wally’ Harkins (1879-1922) established a dental practice at 362 High Street, West Maitland in 1918. Having moved to the town about three years’ earlier, Wally was relatively new to Maitland. But a few years later, suffering from diabetes, he had to retire from dentistry, and in late 1922 he died.

So was this booklet a commercial undertaking? Perhaps yes, as a project intended to fund his retirement, but with a healthy dose of respect and fascination for the history and character of the town Wally called home. It survives today as a snapshot of West Maitland and its businesses in 1922, and a quaint 1920s settler account of the town’s history and achievements.