By ERWIN CHLANDA
Murray Neck, the head of an Alice Springs retail dynasty that put its mark on the growing town for decades, has passed away aged 91.
Mr Neck and his four children, Chris, Greg, Anthony and Jenny, traded in white goods, furniture, electronics and ranging to music and motor vehicles.
We reported on the family businesses on February 11, 1998, The Murray Neck dynasty: If you want good staff, make your own!
Pictured at top: Barbara and Murray Neck.
Murray Neck arrived in Alice Springs (then known as Stuart) in September 1929 as a six month old baby.
In primary school he won one of six NT secondary school scholarships to attend Scotch College in Adelaide.
Arriving back in Alice Springs with his Leaving Certificate under his arm in 1947, he joined the family ice and soft drink manufacturing and retail business.
The conclusion of World War Two heralded the arrival of revolutionary electrical appliances including the refrigerator, washing machine and wireless.
The family business evolved into electrical appliance retailing, sports goods and toys.
In 1956 Murray purchased the business from his father and set about creating a dynamic enterprise that was to become the longest established retail business in Alice Springs.
Active also in community organisations he was serving on the Town Management Board and the Alice Springs Port Augusta Road Development Organisation, promoting the sealing of the South Road.
He was a charter member of the Rotary Club of Alice Springs and served on the Alice Springs Flood Mitigation Committee and the Catholic Church building Committee.
In sports Mr Neck competed in golf and having hung up his boots after his football and basketball days he remained active in the administration of sport.
Mr Neck reinvested the success of his business back into the town creating capital city style retailing outlets
Supporting many sports, in particular junior sport, he aided the Finke Desert Race.
Alice Springs News
The Murray Neck dynasty: If you want good staff, make your own!
Published on February 11, 1998
We conclude our historical feature about the town’s oldest trading family.
As anyone who runs a business knows, staffing as much as product is a make or break factor in success.
After 60 years in electronics retailing, Murray Neck has an interesting perspective to offer on staff recruitment and management.
He has also had a wealth of experience in diversifying and consolidating business interests and has been able to make both approaches work. This is the final part in the Alice Springs News special historical and advertising feature celebrating the long-lived achievements of this unique Central Australian company.
While Murray Neck arrived in Alice Springs as a babe in arms, with some family and friends already here, for most non-Aboriginal residents of the town, this is not the case.
The transience of the population is a long-term problem for employers.
In Murray’s experience a lot of men like the Central Australian environment, but “some of their ladies are not all that keen”.
“They miss home, their parents and relatives,” he says, “and so eventually the man has to pack up and go back to the bright lights.”
For every four service-related people who come to Alice Springs, three leave.
It’s a great pity but that’s always been the case and still is, to a lesser degree, even though Alice Springs is now quite a sophisticated city, offering services that most country towns can’t offer.
“Well, if you can’t attract staff, make your own!” In 1951 Murray married Mary Kerrison from Renmark.
They went on to have four children, Chris, Greg, Anthony and Jenny.
For their primary schooling the children went to the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Convent school in Alice, but then, like their father, went to boarding school in Adelaide, the boys to the Christian Brothers’ school at Rostrevor and Jenny to the Loreto Convent school at Marryatville.
“The children all eventually came back to Alice Springs and joined the business. It was never planned that way, it was their wish to do so,” says Murray.
“They are an integral part of it and have been now for a long time, working awfully hard at what they do.”
Greg was the first to come back in 1972, as Chris had gone on to do a business studies course at the Institute of Technology in Adelaide. Anthony went to Melbourne to study accountancy at the Footscray Institute.
He passed with honours, joined the firm of De Loittes, working as an auditor with them for a couple of years in Adelaide before he too came back to Alice Springs, at first with De Loittes, then joining the family business as their accountant.
Jenny’s first job was with the Commonwealth Bank in Alice Springs before being transferred to Forster in NSW.
She ultimately left the bank to return home and take over the management of the family’s fledgling videotape business, set up in 1980.
Greg had joined the business as second-in-charge at the Alice Springs Sports Depot.
Murray had started stocking sporting goods as an add-on to his electrical business, after becoming involved, as secretary of the Federal Football Club, in the purchase of all the teams’ requirements.
Eventually he established a separate shop on Gregory Terrace.
Greg went on to manage the Sports Depot for a number of years before it was sold.
He then started work in the electrical shop as Murray’s deputy.
After Chris’s return, the family took on the Honda franchise, operating out of the old Lackman Agencies building on the present site of Coles’ supermarket.
When, in 1977, they received notice to move from the Coles site, they bought their present site at the corner of Stott Terrace and Railway Terrace, opposite Billygoat Hill, where they set up the Alice Springs Honda Centre and later added the Volvo franchise.
At first they ran cars only but gradually got into Honda motorbikes and power products, and then Kawasaki bikes.
“It was an excellent business,” says Murray.
“We had a full service department, and it was quite profitable for those early years but it wasn’t really compatible with the rest of the things we were doing.
“We had sold off our Sports Depot, we were building up our videotape rental business and we made a decision to sell our motor vehicles and associated products, in favour of expanding the videotape business and re-entering recorded music sales.
“We moved the videotape rentals from the initial Todd Street site, where it had been amalgamated with appliance rentals, to Billygoat Hill, and as we kept expanding, we kept taking over more showroom space.
Like so many of the things we have sold, our family introduced video products to Central Australia.”
When Alice Springs finally got TV in 1970, it could have gone straight to colour.
However, the ABC, the sole transmitter at the time, had put a colour bar on its equipment.
“Nobody realised this,” recalls Murray, “but we had a technician here called Stan Hillard in charge of the transmitter.
He went to Adelaide and while he was having a look at their equipment, he noticed the colour bar, pulled it out and all of a sudden Alice Springs had colour.
“He got into hot water for doing this, the ABC were going to reinstate black and white but the Northern Territory Government intervened, someone in the ABC got their knuckles rapped and Stan was a hero for the town!”
Murray has heard that Stan now lives in Rockhampton.
Many people wanted television once it arrived, yet couldn’t afford to buy a set.
This prompted Murray to set up a rental company, to provide finance for the purchase of black and white TVs, later colour, and ultimately the arrangements were extended to white goods.
The introduction of the videotape recorder in 1979 upset the sale of recorded music for a number of years.
People were investing in VCRs rather than hi-fi equipment, but after that initial wave, interest in hi-fi returned, and when the compact disc came onto the market the Necks decided to rebuild their recorded music business, initially at their Billygoat Hill site.
“When the Ford Plaza was built, Chris established a stand alone music shop called Murray Neck Musicworld. It’s now a flourishing business in the Alice Plaza. In fact Chris keeps winning awards for it, including last year’s Best ABC Shop for South Australia and the NT.”
After 15 years in the videotape business, first under the management of Jenny, then later Chris, the Necks decided to sell out to Blockbuster in 1995.
They knew the national chain were interested in coming to Alice Springs: “Although we were running an extremely good operation, we knew we would lose some of our market share. As well as that, because of the expansion of the recorded music business, we no longer had a family member to monitor it.
“So, we approached Blockbuster and negotiated the sale, retaining them as a tenant.
They run a very good operation and we’re happy that they are next door to us.”
At the same time the Necks also refitted the showroom of Electricworld, reasserting their presence at the Billygoat Hill site.
They had been a member of the Retravision buying group for 25 years, but along with some 10 other South Australian members, resigned from Retravision to join the Better buying group.
“We feel very comfortable with them because they give us a lot more freedom in the way we merchandise,” says Murray.
Jenny is now in charge of the computer side of the family’s business: “We have a very sophisticated computer system that runs our total operation. We certainly couldn’t run this business manually.”
Jenny also has other responsibilities including staff training.
The four children, their mother Mary, and Murray make up the board of directors, meeting almost every week to make changes as the need arises.
“Nothing’s forever,” says Murray.
“Some decisions are easy, some are hard. We’ve made them in the past and we’ll have to make them in the future. The family will be taking over. I’ve got eight grandsons and four granddaughters. No doubt some of them will come into the business.
“We have a policy whereby if they do, they’ve got to bring in some additional qualifications that none of us have. They’ll probably be sent away to get this technical specialist knowledge that they’ll bring back to this business and to the community of Central Australia.”
Last year was Murray’s fiftieth year in the business. He was supposed to be in semi-retirement but took on the supervision of the installation of the AUSTAR antenna system.
Now, after some 2,000 installations, AUSTAR can be said to be well established.
Maybe 1998 will see Murray once again roaming the hills and gullies of his beloved MacDonnell Ranges.
“I’ve had an exciting 50 years in this industry and I’m very happy to spend the rest of my time here and I think my children are as well.”
What future does he see for the town?
A key issue for any expansion will be water, says Murray, with supplementary surface storage becoming the rule of the day.
As for race relations, he is optimistic: “Generally speaking, we have a pretty good working relationship with Aboriginal people here and there are many positives.
“In the sporting area we associate very closely with them, we recognise their skills in this area, and they have skills in other areas. Indeed they have no peers in certain arts and crafts. I haven’t ceased to be amazed by their imagination.”
Communication, he says, is the bottom line of peace and progress, here as throughout the world.
The future of our global village will require goodwill to match the undreamt of improvements brought about by the industry to which Murray has dedicated his life.