The Heart of the Village – Pittwater Pharmacy

If you ever find yourself in Mona Vale Village on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, you will find there is one building in particular that stands out as a noticeable hub of activity. This building is Pittwater Pharmacy, owned by the same hard-working Italian family – the Papandreas – for almost 50 years.
In the first few weeks of this subject, I was encouraged to reflect upon where I belong and the communities that I consider myself a part of. As I reflected in my diary entry, I came to the realisation that I do not actually feel very connected anywhere, an epiphany I found quite distressing. I pondered this personal dilemma deeply, asking myself the question: “Where do I actually belong?”. It eventually came to me that while I may not be able to refer to Sydney as my ‘home’ with conviction, I nevertheless feel a sense of belonging whenever I am in Mona Vale. I grew up in Church Point, about a 15-minute drive north of Mona Vale, and the latter served as our local centre of sorts – when I was a child, I would find myself in Mona Vale regularly, whether it was spending a day at the beach, doing the grocery shopping or catching up with family friends.
When my parents moved back to New Zealand, they made the decision to purchase a unit in Mona Vale to serve as a base. Whenever my parents are in Sydney, I often spend time with them there, and have come to appreciate Mona Vale as a trendy, vibrant, friendly and laid-back community. Most importantly, it is a place I feel a connection to.
Pittwater Pharmacy features heavily in this connection, going back all the way to my birth, when Ralph Papandrea, the pharmacy’s founder and patriarch, used to give my mother advice on the best ointments and treatments for a newborn baby. ‘The Boys’, as we fondly call them, are a group of five Italian men, aged from 22 to 73, who work in this pharmacy and are almost like family to me. Everyone in Mona Vale knows and loves the Pittwater Pharmacy – not only do they have time for everyone and deliver unparalleled personable service, but their charitable contributions and pro bono community work are renowned throughout the village.
For example, Ralph Papandrea continues to work every Wednesday in order to provide older members of Mona Vale’s Italian community with free medical advice in their native tongue. In my family, we refer to this as ‘Wacky Wednesdays’ – you know to steer clear of the pharmacy on these days because the line of customers goes out the door! The family also provides assistance and funding for local charity events and organisations, and regularly makes generous donations to the local Catholic Church.
I have often wondered how the Papandreas came to run their small, bustling pharmacy in the heart of Mona Vale. Although the pharmacy has a website, there is virtually no information about its history. Therefore, I plan to start off by interviewing members of the Papandrea family and generating transcripts in order to document their migration to Sydney’s Northern Beaches and the work they have done for the community since the 1970s. I will then conduct research into the role the business has played in Mona Vale’s local history by investigating resources from the Northern Beaches Council’s archives.
Finally, I would like to either design and publish an informative brochure or create an addition to the pharmacy’s website that will amalgamate these elements. If I decide to produce a brochure, this can be made available at the pharmacy so that its many customers will have the opportunity to read about its history and form a better understanding of the role the family has played in shaping the community.
My ultimate wish is to give back to a family that has given myself and the local community so much by making their numerous and diverse contributions visible to the public they selflessly care for.