Kerrin Walker has been bringing a store to the door of country people across Victoria for 40 years, following in the tracks of his father and uncle who hawked their wares before him.
Story By Genevieve Barlow
He’s dressed everyone from petrol sellers to pastoralists. He can size up a bloke’s shirt, shorts, workpants and sock size at 50 paces. And there are few short cuts and back roads on his run that he hasn’t travelled in his time on the road.
Meet Kerrin Walker, the hawker; the man who brings the store to your door. For 40 years he’s travelled from door to door and farm to farm peddling goods – men’s and women’s clothes and boots mostly – from the back of his truck. Thirty and 40 years ago, people of his ilk abounded. Remember the baker and butcher who sold door to door? And the Rawleigh’s man with his elixirs and ointments and vanilla essence? Most of them are gone but Kerrin’s still travelling central and western Victoria along roads and byways that his father John (“Jack”) Walker and uncle Bill Walker travelled earlier last century.
His run takes in the rich pastoral country of western Victoria from Linton to Lismore and north from Avoca to Amphitheatre. It’s here where pants size, not paddock size, counts for Kerrin. Mention a name and he’ll automatically come up with a size. “Oh, him, he used to take 107S in shorts but now he’s 112-inch,” he says, or, “When I first met him he wasn’t that big. He was a 92R but he’s 112S now.”
“You get to know people’s sizes, how they’re going and what’s happening in their lives,” Kerrin says. “It all comes out in the back of the truck while I’m making a sale. But I never ever go down the road and say such and such has happened. People bounce things off me and that’s where they stay.”
The first-generation hawker Walkers – the brothers John and Bill – hit the road in the 1920s and ’30s. Even before the Great Depression they were destitute. Their father died young. There were five sisters and by the age of 15 John had already worked as a brickie’s labourer, joining Bill in travelling sales on weekends. Then, in the 1930s, John got lucky. He won a car in a raffle, sold it for 200 pounds, bought his mother a house, himself a motor bike and three suitcases and he was off, bound for ‘hawkerdom’ and a life on the road. Thirty-seven years later on June 11, 1969, at the age of 22 and having never sold a thing in his life bar fruit in a shop on a schoolboy job, Kerrin joined him. “I took $114.23 in cash and $12.57 in credit on my first day,” Kerrin says. “I was elated.”
This story excerpt is from Issue #65
Outback Magazine: June/July 2009