SIR George James Coles opened the first Coles variety store in Smith Street, Collingwood in 1914, but the history of the Coles family and their stores goes back a lot further, and begins in the Wimmera.
A newspaper article printed in 1969 reported that George James Coles' father, also named George, was indirectly responsible for founding the Coles empire.
The article said it was a Wimmera myth kept alive by belief that the first Coles store was at Jung or Diapur and the Australia-wide chain spread from a Wimmera foundation.
The journalist wrote that there was a strong link, but it was `more in spirit and personality than in direct business connection'.
Born in Daylesford, George Coles began his business career when he bought a butcher's shop in the tiny mining township of Stuart Mill, near St Arnaud. He sold the store in the late 1870s and went to manage a general store for J. and A. Price at Jung, widening his knowledge of business and management.
After five years, he was given credit to buy the store from the Prices, based solely on his good reputation and ability to work hard.
In 1882 George married Elizabeth Scouler, who lived south of Jung near Darlots Swamp. Elizabeth gave birth to 10 children in 18 years, and died suddenly of pneumonia in 1900.
The family sold the Jung store in 1887 and moved to Diapur, 25 kilometres west of Nhill, where George built a store, a blacksmiths shop and a hotel.
Business flourished, and in 1890 George was able to move into a large house at Newtown, Geelong, after leasing all of his Diapur properties.
His children watched as he sold nails, flour, harness, sugar, wheat bags, spices, cutlery, plates, fencing wire, boots, jars and the thousands of items needed in a district that had no quick connection with bigger centres.
The Coles youngsters learned the foundation of their business without realising it. The lessons they learned in selling merchandise and store management in the Wimmera became the basis of their retail empire in 1914.
In 1892 George spread his business beyond the Wimmera when he bought a store at St James, north of Benalla, and a branch store at Lake Rowan. Ten years later he sold them and returned to Geelong where he was responsible for his 10 children's upbringing.
George eventually sold the Diapur and Nhill stores to his brothers, ending his business connection with the Wimmera.
The business of G.J. Coles and Co Ltd did not start in the Wimmera, but the life and personality of the business began in the quiet town of Jung and the wheat plains around Diapur.
Coles will recognise its Wimmera roots with a plaque unveiling during Back-to-Diapur celebrations next week.