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For more than 90 years Walter Davis stood for elegance and high quality fashion. The iconic Ballarat store serviced the ladies of Ballarat in all their fashion needs from day wear to wedding and debutante dresses. The sign you see at the top of 86 Bridge street, has a hidden story behind it of an immigrant searching for a better life in Australia and a tenacious woman who established a successful business for generations of her family.
Tannous Dabes (later known as Davis) emigrated to Ballarat from his home village Bkfaya, in Mt Lebanon in 1891, joining a small Lebanese community in the city. Separated from his wife Elizabeth and three young children, Joseph, Walter and Victoria for six long years, Tannous spent his time setting up a hawking business travelling around Ballarat and surrounding districts selling goods.
By 1897, Tannous had saved enough money for his family to emigrate to Australia and in 1899 their daughter Minnie was born in Ballarat. That same year brought much hardship for the family when Elizabeth was left with an infant and three young children to support when Tannous died suddenly from pneumonia.
Elizabeth however was not going to give up. With her husband gone, and a young family to feed she set about ensuring their survival. Taking her young boys Joseph (12 years) and Walter (10 years) out of school, she set about travelling the Ballarat districts in a horse drawn cart selling her wares.
"Elizabeth's determination and resourcefulness and the assistance of her two sons enabled the family to pull itself out of poverty. Over the next few years the hawking business prospered and the range of their activities increased. By 1906-1908 they were able to hire a railway carriage twice a year and stop at country towns sometimes for a week to sell their goods before moving on to the next town. An elderly lady in Mildura recalled the great excitement of the hawkers' visits and the lovely goods they would sell." - Dr Trevor Batrouney, Australian Lebanese Historical Society of Victoria
By 1908, Elizabeth with her son Joseph were able to purchase and manage a white goods business in Prahran.Walter continued the hawking side of the family business, and in 1920 purchased and opened Walter Davis at 86 Bridge Street - the shop you see before you today. Situated in the shopping centre of Ballarat, the store sold ladies, men's and children's wear, manchester and household furnishings before specialising in ladies and girls fashion by 1930.
Walter and his brother Joseph became well known in the Ballarat commercial community and early adopters of new business innovations. Walter was the first to introduce time payments (layby or installment purchases) to Ballarat, becoming known in Ballarat as "TP Walter".
When Elizabeth died in 1935 and Walter Davis continued to thrive into the 1940's and all members of the family - brothers, sisters, cousins would work in the store over the next 60 years until the business was sold in 2004.
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