A freelance writer and father of two, I am interested in almost anything the ever-changing city of Brisbane has to offer. When I am not seeking the kid-friendly and affordable, I am tracking the home-grown and the unique... Come and discover with me!
Published February 27th 2012
If one or more of your favourite words appear in the title of this article, then this writer strongly suggests paying a visit to 163 Boundary Street West End sometime soon.
I have been traversing West End's main drag with varying degrees of purposefulness for years, and each of what must be thousands of such journeys has proven interesting in one way or another. Whether in edible, audible, visual or social form, I have always found this magical thoroughfare to present a concentration of sensory and intellectual stimuli which is rarely equalled elsewhere in Brisbane.
I was mildly intrigued but unsurprised, therefore, when during a recent stroll down the western footpath of Boundary Street I beheld a striking, apparently brand-new red-and-black sign which read: "Ecclectica Esoteric Books and Curiosities". Of course, I smiled to myself, where else but here? Only when I drew close enough to the window to be able to take in, at a single glance, a life-sized suit of fantasy armour, a complete human skeleton, a haunting original painting, an exquisitely-detailed statuette of the God Anubis, and a copy of The Egyptian Book of the Dead, did I realise that I had just happened upon a store which, even in this most colourful and diverse of Brisbane's commercial precincts, stands out as truly unusual and unique.
In a matter of seconds I was inside, gawping at a fascinating variety of books, art-works, gifts, meditative tools and magical artefacts. I regained my senses a few minutes later, only to find myself bombarding two lovely ladies behind an old polished-timber desk with such questions as: who are you, where did you come from, and how exactly did you manage to arrange four of my all-time favourite words on your sign in such an irresistibly-attractive combination?
Fortuna's golden greeting at Ecclectica's front door
One of these lovely ladies, as it turned out, was none other than store owner and manager Andrea Wilkes. Fortunately for my readers, Andrea not only endured my impromptu inquisition with a friendliness and patience refined over years of experience in West End retail, but also generously agreed to give me an hour of her time when I returned a few days later with camera, notebook and tape recorder.
I might have expected the personality behind Ecclectica to be as creative and as uncompromisingly original as the store itself. I had immediately detected, also, evidence of a canny business mind at work in the store's beautiful lay-out, which not only affords a distinctive presence to each of the hundreds of books and objects within, but also allows the customer to browse at leisure without feeling crowded by the diversity of the display. Indeed, I was soon to discover that the experience and local knowledge which has been poured into Ecclectica is considerable. At a time when bookshops and New Age-inspired stores alike are closing their doors in great numbers, and in an area where small businesses appear and disappear with sometimes-disorienting rapidity, Andrea and her business partner Lachlan Errey are currently preparing to celebrate the seventh birthday of Ecclectica's "hippie sister", Crystal Earth, which has not only survived but thrived in its nearby Russell Street location.
Had I not spoken to Andrea personally, though, I could not have fully understood the passionate belief which animates both the creative and practical aspects of her business approach. Though even my unschooled eyes can see that Ecclectica has every chance of flourishing, the birth of this unique store is far from a simple business expansion geared towards the further accrual of monetary wealth. Rather, the driving force behind both Crystal Earth and Ecclectica is a firm conviction—shared by partner Lachlan—that their businesses are providing a service to the people of Brisbane. As Andrea says:
The main reason for wanting to open was the fact that Brisbane no longer had an Esoteric Bookshop, and hadn't had for at least six years. So we really wanted to fill that hole—that was our main objective. We felt that Brisbane was really lacking this, and that it was really important to bring it back.
Moreover, the reason why Andrea has no doubt that Ecclectica will quickly fulfill its raison d'etre, and become not only a well-known focal point for the celebration of esoteric literature, but also a first port-of-call for seekers of entirely singular gifts, art-works and home decorations, is a simple one:
We practise what we preach. We run both our businesses by the phases of the Moon—we're Pagans, so we follow the Earth and what She gives us, and we feel like we repay Her in that way, by honouring Her, and honouring the things from the Earth, like crystals, and knowledge. At the end of the day we're not in it for the money. We see it as a service rather than as a money-making machine. That's really how we view it, and we run our whole business by Pagan principles, and magic ... We call ourselves Eclectic, which is pretty broad, because we don't like following anything really rigid, and we're open to lots of things. That's where Ecclectica came from, because our knowledge was broad—eclectic in knowledge.
Eclectic in knowledge - a copy of one of the books which first inspired Andrea towards her Eclectic journey, some seventeen years ago.
Eclectic, according to the Random House On-Line Dictionary, is defined as: not following any one system, but selecting and using what are considered to be the best elements of all systems. Far from being some frothy New Age concoction, however, the benign and inclusive approach to knowledge which is Eclectic Paganism is in fact deeply-rooted in Western culture. Today's practising Eclectic Pagan may yet be a rarity, but nevertheless is in many ways the natural inheritor of Hermetic and Western Esoteric traditions which some historians contend can be traced as far back as the Mystery Schools of Ancient Egypt. Whatever the truth of such theories may be, however, no deep historical or philosophical research was required on my part to realise that a lover of literature and free thought such as myself could endorse Andrea's calm, simple, and humanitarian outlook without dilemma.
We believe that this sort of information needs to be out there. The books that we carry are not going to be something that you see everywhere, and we hunt down a pretty broad range of things ... We know that people need these things, but if you don't even know they exist, then to find them is almost impossible. We get so many people saying: we didn't even know that there was stuff on this subject, I was interested in it, I read things on the Internet, but I didn't know I could actually buy a book on it, that there was a whole range of books on this subject. So it's really good in that way to know that we're helping people to access information, whereas I think we live in a society where we're force-fed information that's not necessarily what we need, or what's beneficial for us. So I feel like we're doing the opposite of that: we're giving a broad range of information so people can make their own choices.
We hunt down a pretty broad range - an offering from Findhorn Press.
A natural extension of this broad world-view is Andrea's conscious and rapid effort to involve her local community in the life of this new venture. Since its Grand Opening on January 17th Ecclectica has already become firmly embedded in West End's enormously-creative collective consciousness, which means that from this point onward just about anything could happen—and no doubt frequently will. Already Ecclectica's walls are adorned with original works by several local artists who had previously struggled to find showcasing opportunities for their creations. These include a disturbing yet captivating acrylic-on-canvas from seventeen-year-old wunderkind Isabella Grounsell (a.k.a. Isabella Blue)'s Alice in Wonderland series,
Individually-signed prints from Isabella Grounsell's haunting Alice in Wonderland Series are available at Ecclectica for $25.
Andrea has also been approached by a diverse array of local characters, ranging from fellow bone-collectors eager to share their most recent discoveries, through to photographers wanting to use the store's unique decor as the backdrop for their next shoots. In addition to welcoming these more random interactions, Andrea will soon throw open the secluded but surprisingly-large space at the rear of Ecclectica for meditation circles, shamanic workshops, and Tarot and Psychic consultations with local Readers Hannah, Belinda, Kathleen and Penny.
The future possibilities which seem to light Andrea's face up most brightly, however, centre around the Curiosities aspect of her fledgling business. To me, Ecclectica already seems like a wondrous modern-day version of Ali Baba's Cave, but to a passionate collector such as Andrea, the stock now on display represents the barest beginnings of a truly exciting trade in uncommon artefacts and antiques. Andrea plans to acquire her second-hand dealer's licence very soon, at which point those with a penchant for the exotic and the bizarre would be well-advised to begin making visits to Ecclectica at least twice-daily. If even one of the stories which Andrea told me about some of the collectors who have already approached her are true—and I have no reason to doubt that they are—then in the months and years to come Ecclectica will witness the exchange of some rare and magical treasures indeed.
Already, though, Ecclectica's four lush-red walls house as much enchantment as one is ever likely to encounter on a shopping excursion in Brisbane, and I would encourage all those whose tastes in books, art-works, gifts and collector's items tend towards the atypical and the inspiring to pay a visit to Ecclectica Esoteric Books and Curiosities soon. For those who may perhaps need more to convince them than the words of one spellbound hack, however, I have assembled some visual evidence below. I hope, dear reader, that this (admittedly highly-idiosyncratic) show-reel might be the first of many magical monthly treasure-hunts, during which you and I may—in true Eclectic spirit—both celebrate the old and welcome the new together.
Pagan's Picks for March - Beautiful Book Boxes start at $35
Thanks Rob very evocative description makes me feel like I've actually been there already. Including photos is helpful, especially an outdoor shot so I know where it is in relation to existing shops. I will definitely be making a real visit tO this shop on the weekend.