A Tribute To Bruce Standish – Elwood Natural Health Supplies

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by Mantis Kane

The full spectrum of life dances in the air. The fresh lies next to the condemned; puckered vegetables perish miserably beside the juiciest most sensuous fruit. In the absence of any noxious chemical preservatives, insects tinker lazily from crate to crate, nature allowed a free run. Here, skins are tender, as God intended, at the mercy of the elements. The floor tells a tale – stained with sticky juice, seemingly the aftermath of a drive-by vegetable shootout. Boxes of dried pulses hang precariously on shelves. Glass jars full of unrecognisable potions dare you to try them. The refrigerator and light bulbs crackle with Victorian efficiency. Indeed, the level of technological sophistication is a glimpse into a bygone era. There’s no EFTPOS, no tap-and-go, no BitCoin transaction or smartphone pay. Just cash. The checkout is analogue, a heaving vintage apparatus – ironically cool – only a few evolutionary steps from an abacus.

Some see Bruce’s Natural Health Supplies on Ormond Road as a relic, a sore thumb amongst manicured fingers of Elwood’s nouveau riche. In stark contrast to the rest of the strip, this place is deemed an outlier. The shabby frontage, peeling paint and messy boxes all defy the glossy gravitational pull of gentrification. 

But for many, it’s an oasis. 

Bruce’s Natural Health Supplies has been around for 45 years. It significantly predates the boom in organic food, and stubbornly resists pandering to the industry’s upmarket and upscaled persona. Barely modified since opening, the unapologetic floor arrangement is born purely out of pragmatism: No bunting, no fancy display cabinets, no digital barcodes, no glossy packaging, no inflated prices, no polished fruit – just boxes of organic groceries, scribbled prices and a pair of rusty scales. In a world of monetisation, scalability and homogenisation, the template here is contrarily piecemeal: Buy and sell, in return for a modest profit.  

But scratch the surface and you’ll discover that Natural Health Supplies is more than just a grocery store. More a portal into an underground ethical community. As President of the Vegetarian Society of Australasia, much of Bruce’s life was spent supporting animal rights, ethical eating and natural health remedies. Compassion emanates from the store, with Bruce donating time and produce to such causes as Lentil As Anything and ALV Rescue Animals.

Yet he wouldn’t suffer fools gladly. And for this reason alone, it took me a while to crack through his infamous frostiness. I remember my first tentative visits, feeling a mixture of awe and intimidation, standing in front of him trying to make small-talk in my silly little leather shoes. But the more I eased into his confidence, the more magical Bruce and his shop became. 

As a quiet flag-bearer for the type of life we must lead if we’re to slow the wheels of environmental burnout and avoid making an indelible stain on this planet, he was prescient to many of today’s green issues. As a spokesman for cleaner living, he dispersed a wealth of knowledge with guru-like humility. 

Sadly, Bruce passed away on 1st January 2018. He was 79 years old. 

Bruce Standish RIP

Bruce Standish RIP

We hope Elwood’s Natural Health Supplies will live on – it has such poignancy in a city that accelerates at such unsustainable speeds, yet offers hope in its earthy remit. 

Bruce’s place is a vision – a vision of the past and the future. What things were, and what things need to become again. Because of over-farming and diet-induced illness and overpopulation, we’ll need to head backwards to move forwards, and Bruce maintained a blueprint from the past, whilst we were busy losing our way.


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