Herbert Debeck – Early Hunter Region Entrepreneur

Herbert Debeck (1899 – 1991) used to live in the back of a truck from which he hawked goods all over the Hunter Valley of New South Wales.

Herbert Debeck was born in the mountains of Lebanon at Bechare in 1899. He had three brothers and two sisters. Sadly his mother died when he was four years old.

Living in a poor village, he saved enough money to be able to migrate to better opportunities and so arrived in Sydney in 1929 where he was met by friends who had previously migrated and were able to offer initial advice and help.

At that time immigrants were unable to gain bank credit to buy goods to the sell to the public and so the Lebanese from other more established families provided help to the new arrivals so they could set themselves up in business.

Herbert Debeck - horse drawn hawker's van
Herbert Debeck – horse drawn hawker’s van

Herbert was unskilled, couldn’t read or write English and had meagre funds and little prospect of employment. His friends encouraged him to start his own business and took him to Redfern police station to obtain a hawker’s licence. They give him two suitcases and introduced him to a wholesale clothing distributor.

Herbert headed for the Hunter region where he bought a horse and cart and sold fabrics, work clothing and boots to district farms. In 1935 he bought a truck which allowed him to visit more isolated farms. He lived in the cramped conditions in the back of his truck.

Herbert married Rosa Peters in 1936 at Redfern and they settled in Krambach where he bought a shop with a home attached. Rose served in the shop and Herbert continued his hawking run, travelling 10 to 12 days at a time.

Herbert Debeck eventually upgraded to a truck
Herbert Debeck eventually upgraded to a truck

His hawking run took him to farms in the Paterson, Singleton, Lochinvar, Rutherford, and Nabiac areas and as far as Foster. He sold many lengths of black cloth to the nuns at Lochinvar because, at that time, the nuns, made their own habits.

The couple moved to Abermaine as the family grew and later settled in West Maitland. They had seven children. They bought a number of other properties in Maitland. However, the family was victim to the Maitland floods and so decided to return to Sydney.

Herbert died aged 91 on Australia Day, 1991 survived by Rosa and seven children. His time as an early entrepreneur and hawker in the Hunter region from 1935 to 1961 is commemorated by a plaque in the Maitland Heritage Mall.

The [Maitland] Mercury, November 12, 1988, p. 13.

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