JUST as they have done for more than half a century, the young and the old, the healthy and the sick of Newcastle East have been wandering into the City Pharmacy in Hunter Street.
However, in recent weeks, they have been more than customers. They have also been admirers and disciples seeking an audience with Bob Lundy.
Having been the pharmacist here since 1960, Mr Lundy is an institution in this part of town. With any institution, we just assume it will always be there in our lives. Until it is gone.
And so it is with Bob Lundy. He is retiring this month.
"I'm 81, and I want to squeeze a few more things in," explains Mr Lundy.
As word has spread that Bob Lundy is hanging up his white coat (not that he actually wears one of those; his attire is more coastal casual than formal clinical), people have been coming into the pharmacy to pay homage, to pay tribute - or perhaps just to pay a debt.
"That's the five dollars for the [arm] brace"," says a woman, as she hands over the money.
"We're all square now, Bob! Wouldn't want you to leave town without me fixing that up."
Walking into Lundy's pharmacy is like entering a scene from a Dickens novel. This is Newcastle's own Old Curiosity Shop. It is very much a reflection of its owner, colourful and filled with character.
The interior is festooned with opened "art" umbrellas, and a set of shark's jaws hangs above the dental products ("that's the teeth department"), and a forest of vines dangle from on high.
"I even brought in some of the garden," says Mr Lundy, a keen green thumb, as he points to the vines.
On shelves lining the shop are hundreds of old medicine and galenical bottles. Some of the bottles date back to colonial days, dug out of the nearby sandhills by local kids and sold to Mr Lundy.
One of those young treasure hunters has made the journey from his home at Boomerang Beach, and back in time, to see his old bottle buyer once more.
Stephen Gatland is standing at the counter, cradling his newborn daughter, Tamara, and a trove of memories from 40 years ago, when he was a teenager.
"He's been here since I was here," Mr Gatland says.
Young Stephen, who grew up in Newcastle East, and his surfing mates would sneak in at night to the construction site where the promenade was taking shape and poke around in the sand, listening for the tell-tale "clink" of an old bottle.
"It was similar to opal mining," Mr Gatland says.
"The next day it was time to cash in, so we'd come and see Bob. We were the richest teenagers in Newcastle!"
"Do you want to take a couple of the bottles?," offers Mr Lundy.
Stephen Gatland gets to leave with a couple of souvenirs of his childhood.
Many of the other bottles on the shelves relate to Bob Lundy's early days as a pharmacist.
He can read the labels with the weird and wonderful names written on them, from "Coccus" to "Mist. Alba", and what's more he knows what they mean and what to do with their contents.
"We'd use a bit of this and a bit of that to make a mixture of some sort," he says. "It was more hands-on in those days.
"In my time in pharmacy, it's shifted from vegetable- and mineral-type substances to synthetic substances. So everything out the back now is man-made."
The son of a miner and a nurse, Bob Lundy was raised in Carrington. When he missed out on an engineering cadetship at the council, the teenager convinced the local pharmacist to employ him.
He worked for a year in Newcastle, learning about the mysteries of compounds and human behaviour, before studying pharmacy at the University of Sydney. By the time he returned in the late 1950s, Bob Lundy was hankering for Novocastrian life - especially the beach. He was an avid surfer and fisherman.
"I walked down Hunter Street, after being at the beach, to see where I could get a job closest to the beach," he recalls. Bob Lundy found work at Robertson's pharmacy further down the street, before he moved here - even closer to the beach - to build up his own business.
"It's a regular community I've served for all these years," Mr Lundy says. "It was a busier commercial hub. The light rail has stuffed it."
"He's a good man, it's a good shop," says customer Paul Webb, who lives in the city. "He's old school, old school service, he knows what he's talking about. He cares."
That caring nature sees customers coming in from the margins. For many years, the pharmacist dispensed methadone. To many, they may be "addicts" or "junkies", but Bob Lundy uses a more respectful, hope-filled name; he calls them "methadonians".
In Mr Lundy's pharmacy, everyone has been welcome, as all sorts have rubbed shoulders at the counter.
"One time in this part of town there would be solicitors, barristers and judges coming in here, while earlier in the day I'd be serving methadonians their daily dose," he says.
As we talk, a young woman enters and asks for a couple of "barrels" [syringes] and "lines" [infusion sets]. After she leaves, Mr Lundy says it's important not to judge. After all, "there but for 'whoever is up there' go I."
"We get the feeling they know we're not looking down at them," he says.
"That's why they all like coming in here," says his dispensary technician Roberta Cucinelli.
"Yeah, fellow humans," Mr Lundy nods.
Ms Cucinelli, who trained as a pharmacist in Italy, says she has learnt "so much" from Bob Lundy since she began working here almost three years ago.
"All his knowledge, not just in pharmacy but in everything," she says. "So every day is a learning day."
"All the town is going to miss him. Everybody is saying it's the end of an era. It won't be the same.Roberta Cucinelli, City Pharmacy
Just around the corner is the practice of Dr Jon Kochanski. He's a relative newcomer, having had his practice there for only 46 years. They're not just long-time professional neighbours. They also live only a couple of doors from each other.
Jon Kochanski and Bob Lundy have been like a healing duo, dispensing help around the city. For many years, they provided medical services to ships in port.
"He's been someone who has been one of those old-fashioned, caring chemists," Dr Kochanski says.
And the doctor will be watching how the pharmacist negotiates retirement. Jon Kochanski is also planning his departure from a long career.
"We're highly likely to have a beer together of an afternoon after we retire," Dr Kochanski says.
It is not just familiar faces wandering into the pharmacy. Bob Lundy and his pharmaceutical curiosity shop have become a tourist attraction.
"We thought we'd come in and have a sticky beak," says Graham Sehilg and Lee Cameron, who are visiting Newcastle from Albury-Wodonga.
Mr Sehilg had heard about the display of old bottles, "like I used to collect".
And Bob Lundy has the one-liners ready to entertain the visitors/customers.
Lee Cameron holds up a tube of sunblock and asks, "Is this zinc-based?"
"I zinc so!," Mr Lundy replies.
Pharmacy assistant Wanda Melia has worked in the pharmacy for 32 years, since leaving school.
"He is an icon, he's a font of information," she says. "Working for someone else is going to be quite different for me."
The pharmacy will stay, with Mr Lundy leaving many of the bottles and even the formulae for some of his special potions for the new owners.
He is holding a farewell party in the pharmacy for his customers on October 19 and will finish up at the end of the following week. Beyond that, Mr Lundy is looking forward to having more time for overseas travel, gardening, and cycling to places other than to and from work.
As Mr Lundy says to a mournful customer, "I'm only leaving. It's not the end of the world. It's a generational move."
But to many, the retirement of Bob Lundy feels painful, and not even he can mix up a potion to cure that.
"We're all very sad," says Roberta Cucinelli.
"All the town is going to miss him. Everybody is saying it's the end of an era. It won't be the same."
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