COFFEE WITH GEORGE
Getting a few quiet minutes with Darwin tackle pioneer George Voukolos isn’t easy, as Steve found out. When I arrived at the Cavenagh St headquarters of Fishing and Outdoor World to meet George Voukolos, the first thing he said was: “Do you want a coffee?” Later, I found out why. In the coffee shop, I had George’s undivided attention. He talks quietly with a slight stammer, but there is a surety about the way he makes his points. When we went back to the tackle shop, the foot traffic was so intense that I had to wait for a long time to take a couple of photos. It wasn’t that George was ignoring me; more that everyone who came in wanted to catch up with him. And he’s too nice to ignore them. There are many commonalities among successful tackle stores, and one of these is the number of established stores that started out as partnerships. Erskine’s Tackle in Cairns grew out of a partnership between famed game boat skipper, George Bransford, and tackle guru, Jack Erskine. In Melbourne, Jim Allen started out in the tackle business in partnership with Bob Roles in 1967. Roles and Allen went the way of many partnerships and failed; subsequently Jim went it alone and started up the Compleat Angler stores. It’s not so different in Darwin. In 1972, George Voukolos was working in a sporting goods store. Across the street was another sporting goods store where Col Stringer was working. The two men were in retail competition on behalf of their various employers, but that didn’t stop them fishing together. The problem for the pair was time; it seemed they could never get time off to spend on the water together, so they decided to start up their own business. George said Darwin didn’t have a dedicated fishing tackle store in those days, so he and Col took advantage of the opportunity. In May 1972, they opened Fishing and Outdoor World in Cavenagh Street. Col is no longer in the business, selling out to George in 1978. There are other similarities between stores. Many established stores have developed into father and son businesses. Even though the late Jack Erskine no longer owned Erskine’s Tackle, his son Robert is still the manager. One of the biggest and best known southern stores, Ray Long’s Tackle in Geelong, is in the hands of Ray’s son Brian. As for George, 41 years after starting out, and at 62 years of age, he is still in business; however, these days his son Ronald handles more of the business than he does. “He’s been working in the shop since he was seven years old,” George explained. “Ronald left school in Year 12, and spent six months at university studying accounting. My father-in-law used to run the books, and when he retired Ron left uni and took over.” Another commonality among many of the older established stores is that they were early customers of the then fledgling Shimano fishing tackle company, started by John Dunphy. Fishing and Outdoor World is now one the tackle giant’s biggest individual Australian accounts. George said that, if it were not for the support he received from Shimano about 10 years ago, he might not still be in business. Shimano boss Dunphy is famously loyal to his friends, and those who supported him. When A-mart moved into Darwin and started a discount campaign to attract customers, Shimano sold product to George at a price that allowed him to compete, and stay in business. As well as the Darwin premises, George has owned tackle stores at Katherine and Casuarina, but sold them. The Darwin shop is a major service centre for Shimano reels, with Matty West regarded by George as the “best reel mechanic in Australia.” The store’s lure range is impressive, not surprising given George’s long history of association with some of Australia’s most innovative lure makers. George introduced Nilsmaster and Vibrotail to Australian anglers. There are local lure makers as well, people like Chris Hurt who has been making barra and mackerel lures exclusively for George for more than 35 years. Master lure maker Rob Gaden is another who has sought George’s advice during the design stages of lures. George brought Rob Gaden and John Millyard together when Rob designed the Classic lure. “It’s still the number one barra lure in the country,” George said. George has an unassuming manner, but deep down there is a competitive streak. How else do you explain how, in between running a business, George found the time to be an all round sportsman, playing competitive squash, tennis, soccer, cricket, 10-Pin bowling and A-Grade basketball. “Life has been one big game,” George said. Son Ronald has followed in his father’s footsteps. A member of the Australian 10 Pin bowling team, he is the highest-rated team bowler in Australia. As for the store, you name the tackle and chances are you will find it. Fishing and Outdoor World is wallto-wall fishing with iconic brands including Shimano, ABU and Jarvis Walker. The wall stock might change with trends over the years, but some things never change: as I was leaving the store, George moved in behind the counter to chat and serve, just as he has done for more than 41 years.