Few High Street traders were in place as long as chemist John McSwiney. He moved into premises owned by J. Bambrick, opposite the Terminus Hotel, in 1901, and by 1915 had purchased the shop.
Born at Chiltern in 1875, he completed a four year pharmaceutical course in 1896 and received further training from pharmacist David McEwen of Chiltern who was the father of Sir John McEwen (Black Jack) 18th Prime Minister of Australia.
From an unidentified newspaper cutting from 1967 we read that back in the early part of the century women would call Mr McSwiney into a dark corner of his Wodonga pharmacy to ask him for a box of face powder. “They would beckon me round a corner away from the other customers and hesitatingly whisper they were out of powder.”
Back then chemists made up prescription pills using mortar and pestle and with manually operated machines that compacted the mixture into pills. He said he did not worry about sugar coating.
Over time he had to keep pace with thousands of new drugs which had been developed since he first started out in business. In the beginning it was a matter of dispensing great quantities of cascara, epsom salts, castor oil and bicarbonate of soda with a dash of peppermint. By the time he sold the business it was insulin, sulpha and penicillin.
When he opened his pharmacy he was the only chemist and Dr. Schlink the only doctor. There was no dentist and it was not unusual for the chemist to be called on to extract teeth.
A 1931 advertisement for McSwiney Chemist shows you could purchase strychnine for 5/- an ounce.
For a time John McSwiney put a manager into his Wodonga business while he set up and operated a pharmacy in Wangaratta, but he returned to Wodonga after a while.
At age 90 John McSwiney was still keeping his hand in, part time behind the counter, and dispensing prescriptions, making him possibly the oldest practicing pharmacist in Victoria at the time.
John was 92 when he sold the business to J. R. Pope who commenced trading on 1st October 1967.