“I thought if I can do it for him I can do it for others. That was 20 years ago and since then I have worked in Sydney, Perth, Adelaide and for a number of big companies like Dick Smith.” John moved to Bendigo after his wife Kary applied for and got a job with the City of Greater Bendigo. His spruiker’s cart – the second prototype complete with its little garden of baby’s tears and English box – came too. “I could have retired, but to be honest I love the work too much. I love it because I meet so many different people. He has become a popular fixture in the city, even making the front page of the Bendigo Advertiser after he was laid low for a few weeks by a white-tailed spider bite.“How many people can say they got front page because they were off work because of a spider bite?” John laughs. He was particularly touched that he was missed by a number of his young friends from the mall who sent him a get well card and gift. “There are so many lovely young people out there, it really is only a handful causing all the controversy,” John says.“I have witnessed or seen a lot of it and to me a lot of those incidents have been caused by children below the age of 14. It’s the same handful of repeat offenders.” He really is the eyes and ears of the CBD. “I am aware of a lot of things that happen in the city both good and bad. Quite a few times I have rung triple-0 when I have seen something untoward; people selling drugs, breaking into cars. “I am also a beacon for the lost. I have found lots of lost children, quite a few lost wives and husbands as well. “It is amazing how many people come up and ask me where can I get this or that. The most common is where is the closest toilet, but they also ask directions and where they can buy certain things. In Armidale I was given a stipend by the council who saw I was like a mobile information centre. I am a little disappointed the council here don’t seem to see my value.
In his lime green jacket, John Morrow mimics the colour of his favourite creature – the Queensland tree frog. The spruiker of downtown Bendigo has a special licence to keep the endangered amphibians who live in their own rainforest tank. The biggest of them, Bill – so named for one of John’s best mates – is the size of a saucer. John has also recently added a pair of Mitchell’s hopping mice to the household and thinks more people should be encouraged to keep native wildlife to boost species numbers. Conserving endangered species seems a fitting interest for a man who proudly upholds the occupation of old-style spruiking. “There are not a lot of us about,” he agrees. It is a job which has taken him all over Australia, but like so many good stories it started with pure happenchance. “I was working in a hardware story in
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Maryborough in Queensland,” he recalls. “It was the middle of summer. It was stifling hot, 45 degrees and 98 per cent humidity, and I was sweating over this stocktake, counting nuts and bolts, and I thought, there has to be more in life than this. “I threw the job in. They said, ‘You won’t get your holiday pay’. I said, I don’t care, I can’t stay here another minute. “That night I got a call from an old mate who was selling out of his menswear store. He said, ‘I can’t afford to pay you much, but have you got any ideas how I could sell out the rest of my stock?’ “I said, I will spruik it up and we will sell it. So I got dressed in old cowboy gear with a 10-gallon hat and cowboy boots. He ended up paying me for five days a week because every time I walked away people didn’t go in the store.
“I would say 99 per cent of people love me and 1 per cent find me aggravating. The secret is not outstaying your welcome. I don’t stay in the one spot any more than five minutes. I am moving all the time. When I am moving on I am playing music and it’s not offensive. Like today I am playing classical piano.” Certainly John’s view of the mall is kinder than many. “I think all they need is to buy a couple of big established trees to soften it. That would provide shade and soften it no end and people would stop whingeing. “I very firmly believe in the product of Bendigo and I very much believe in the heart of Bendigo. I believe every city has a heart and I believe our heart is Hargreaves Mall.” For as long as the traders of downtown Bendigo want him John will be there spruiking for them. “The thing about a good salesman is you have to believe in the product. I liaise with the shop owner first. One or two will give me a bit of script with particular specials or dot points and I go from there. I have been told I have the gift of the gab.” ■
Published on Nov 24, 2011