Rundle Street, Adelaide, at the start of the 20th Century.
Image courtesy State Library of South Australia
 

ENTERPRISING SHOOTS KEEP POPPING UP in 20th Century South Australia business despite
the state's economy taking some major blows

 

ENTERPRISING POCKETS OF SOUTH AUSTRALIAN HOME-GROWN BUSINESS kept shining through in the 20th Century, despite the state’s economy taking some major blows.

The big hits were, firstly, the loss of a major car makers Chrysler/Mitsubishi and General Motors Holden’s, part of a general vulnerability of the protected industries brought into the state under premier Tom Playord’s era.

The other big blows were the loss of established 19th Century companies, the Bank of Adelaide, Elders Smith and Adelaide Steamship, through the 1980s corporate excess that would also deal the biggest catastrophe: the State Bank’s collapse.

Iconic state companies and brands such as South Australian Brewery, Jacob’s Creek and Farmer Union Iced Coffee were lost to overseas and interstate in a continuing theme that reflects South Australia’s inability to compete with bigger outside resources.

And yet the 20th Century South Australian business is a ongoing story of inventive enterprise, flowing on from the 19th Century, despite the state’s limited size. That enterprise produced its range of big department stores; the Holden family and J.D. Richards as major car builders; and Simpson and Pope as dominant whitegoods brands.

Rossi Boots, R. W. Williams, Steriline, Ennio International, Seeley International, Hills, Caroma, Argo, Sam Remo, Hickinbotham, Codan and the internet companies Adam and Internode represented a formidable litany of exceptional examples of business produced during the 20th Century.

A theme among the home-grown companies is the philanthropic commitment to the state by their founders.
Another theme is that the state government has to nurture and protect strategic local companies such as Santos and SeaLink from the sometimes-destructive effect of bigger outside forces.

 

TRADITION OF MIDDLE-CLASS FAMILY ENTERPRISES STILL ALIVE IN THE 20th CENTURY

SOUTH AUSTRALIAN BUSINESSES MAKING BIKES, BISCUITS, CEMENT, SHOES and other goods at the start of the 20th Century

Vivian Lewis and the Elliott brothers start thriving businesses on the back of bicycles

Vivian Lewis and the Elliot brothers created businesses that made the most of South Australia’s cycling boom’s peak continuing into the 20th Century. Lewis started with Ormonde Bicycle Depot in Freeman Street (later Gawler Place), Adelaide, in 1896 to make and import cycles. Beyond the success of his roadster cycles, Lewis experimented with building a six horsepower two-cylinder three-speed Lewis Motor Car. At the 1913 Spring Show (later the Royal Show), his 3.5 horsepower water-cooled three-speed gear hub motor cycle was popular and, by 1914, his motor cycles won every event except one and, in an Australasian first, set a 24-hour ride world record. Super Elliot was founded by Bertrand and Laurie Elliot in 1902 making cycles in a small Payneham shop where Laurie finished first in the SA League 25-mile road race. After extending to Norwood, Elliot Brothers also added imported motor cycles to the bicycles offering. From 1908, the Elliott Bros were hosting their own one-mile scratch race at Payneham where they displayed and sold their range. This included a special cycle for road champion Charlie Baulderstone. In the 1920s, Vic Elliot joined brother Bertrand to continue the business as Elliott Bros with a store in Pirie Street, Adelaide, and later in a factory in Gawler Place. Vic Elliott, who oversaw company growth and buit the Super Elliots brand, also recruited factory expertise to the factory, including Jack Wise and Frank Duckett who were top grade speedway motorcyclists. Super Elliotts Cycles at 200 Rundle Street, is still one of Adelaide's leading bike stores.

Carl Laubmann, Harold Pank create a national optical stores chain from Adelaide in 1908

Carl Wilhelm Laubmann and Harold Pankin 1908 in Victoria Square, Adelaide, founded an optometry practice that, by the 1930s, was Australia’s largest retail optical business. Laubmann was born in Adelaide inner suburb Stepney, the eldest of seven with German parents. He left Norwood Primary in 1892, aged 14, to be trained as an optician by noted Adelaide ophthalmologist Dr T. K. Hamilton. A perfectionist, Laubmann used woodworking learnt from his carpenter father to make his own optical cabinets and metal tools. In 1900, Laubman noted a demand for optician services in regional areas and set up his own business in Broken Hill. He married local musician Maude May Sullivan. In 1907, young Adelaide optometrist, Harold Pank contacted Laubmann while visiting Broken Hill as a cellist. A firm friendship formed, particularly as Pank and Maude Laubmann shared an interest in music. With changed family circumstances, the Laubmanns moved to Adelaide where Carl took up Pank’s idea of a partnership. Laubmann & Pank soon moved from Victoria Square to busy Rundle Street, where business flourished. In 1913, Carl was a founder of the South Australian Optical Association. Due to anti-German attitudes, he anglicised his name to Charles William Laubman. The now-Laubman & Pank diversified into selling optical instruments. Their field glasses were popular parting gifts to military officers. With Laubman as technician and Pank the entrepreneur, they invented and developed important optical instruments, lenses, and processes. They also pioneered taking optometry to rural and remote areas. 

 

Menz and Co. keeps on growing from its 1850 start as a small shop in Wakefield St., Adelaide

The 1885-1910 turn-of-the-century era saw W. Menz and Co. making more leaps of growth. The Menz biscuit story had started in 1850 with a small Wakefield Street, Adelaide, grocery shop/bakery run by John Menz and his wife Magdalena who arrived in Adelaide from Hamburg on the Steinwaerder the year before.
When John, a qualified architect, died in 1856, Magdalena ran the store until one of her two sons, William, became one of Adelaide’s first biscuit makers and, in 1867, took control of the small company. In 1885, W. Menz and Co. built a plant to increase biscuit production and, in 1893, expanded into confectionary. During 1910, it grew again to produce more chocolate under the name Menzona. Over the next 30 years, it increased production and introduced new products, including the honey-flavoured Yo-Yo biscuits, in 1932. As a public company in 1951, the company kept expanding in a bigger Marleston factory with its Yo-Yos, Crown Mints (1892) and FruChocs (1948), now South Australian icons. By the mid-1960s, after takeovers and mergers, W. Menz & Co amalgamated to form Arnott-Motteram-Menz. Arnott’s took over biscuit and confectionery production and was eventually sold in 1992 to the Sims family’s South Australian dried and confectionary Robern Dried Fruits, later to become Robern Menz of Glynde. The former Menz products still are being produced but Arnotts removed Yo-Yos from their family assorted packets in 1997 because they weren't popular enough Australia wide. Menz FruChocs was declared a South Australian icon by the National Trust in 2005.


 

Adelaide's Motteram biscuit legacy lost in the mesh with Menz and Arnott's takeover

Motteram is a lost name in the rich legacy of Adelaide biscuit making, even through its identity survived into the second half of the 20th Century. Charles Motteram, who founded Adelaide’s Motteram & Sons biscuits, in 1919, was the London-born son of a Bendigo solicitor. After two years as assistant librarian at Bendigo Mechanics Institute, he moved in 1873 to South Australia where he joined the Aerated Bread and Biscuit Company in Adelaide. By 1881, he was manager of the company whose products included Pilot Bread, Arrowroot biscuits and Bush biscuits. Motteram and fellow-employee engineer Edward Williamson took over the business in 1894 and Motteram & Williamson became South Australia’s leading biscuit manufacturer. In 1909, Motteram left to start his own company; Williamson continued as E. Williamson & Co. in Waymouth Street, Adelaide. He sold it to E. Williamson Ltd, three years before he died in 1927. In 1919, Motteram opened his new factory in Grote Street, Adelaide, near West Terrace, as Motteram & Sons. The Motterams joined in 1950 with the New South Wales-based Arnotts. In the 1960s, more amalgamations and buyouts in the Australian market resulted in the Australian Biscuit Company. This included Arnotts and other companies such as Menz in South Australia, Brockhoff and Guest’s in Victoria. Australian Biscuit Company was later renamed Arnott’s Biscuits but regional varieties such as Menz Yo-Yo were kept. Arnott’s became a subsidiary of US Campbell Soup Co. It cut 30% of biscuit production at the Adelaide Marleston bakery in 2014.

 

After 1880s start, via Marino, Angaston, Yorke Peninsula, 1970 cements Adelaide Brighton firm

Welshman William Lewis set up kilns at Brighton, in 1880, using limestone from Precambrian formations at Marino, Reynella and Hallett Cove. Brighton Cement Works began in 1882 with a large kiln to replace the 8,000 tons of Portland cement imported each year. But it closed in 1883, with the local product considered expensive and inferior. In 1892, Lewis and others founded South Australian Portland Cement Company with a plant at Marino. In 1896, its quality was good enough to construct Happy Valley Reservoir. By 1900, the company was selling more than 3,500 tons a year but a fire in 1909 destroyed the Marino works. The revived South Australian Portland Cement Company, in 1911, upgraded Marino, including the first electrified cement mill. In 1913, the company had 74 horses cart cement to the city and return via Brompton with coke. Horse-drawn trolleys carted stone from Reynella quarries to the railway station, to be freighted to Marino. The Reynella horses were replaced eventually by the “flying fox” labour-saving ropeway that became a tourist attraction. A.W.G. Pitt, in 1913, founded rival Adelaide Cement Company at Birkenhead. It used Yorke Peninsula limestone and black mud from Port River. With a lack of stone reserves, South Australian Portland Cement Company moved from Marino to Angaston in the 1950s. After failed attempts back to 1927, Adelaide Cement Company and South Australian Portland Cement Company merged in 1970 as Adelaide Brighton Cement. Today, the company makes and distributes cement products nationally. 


 

Joseph Florey heads a Gawler Place factory producing 1000 pairs of shoes every day

Joseph Florey, the father of Howard Florey – one of Adelaide’s four Nobel Prize winners –  was manager of the Standard Shoe and Leather Company, a manufacturing and importing business with factories in Adelaide and Melbourne entering the 20th Century. Standard Shoe and Leather was part of the largest boot manufacturing operation in the southern hemisphere with 1,000 staff nationally. The Adelaide factory had nearly 300 staff and produced 1,000 pairs of footwear a day.


 

HOLDEN'S AND T.J. RICHARDS MAKE HUGE LEAP IN VEHICLE-BODY PRODUCTION

TWO EARLY POWER HOUSES OF AUSTRALIA'S CAR BUILDING
grow from an 1850s Adelaide saddlery and a horse coach builder

Clutch of horse coach and omnibus factories in Adelaide city adjust to the motor car era

Several large successful carriage and coach factories were set up in Adelaide by the 1870s, surrounded by smaller horse-transport enterprise such as wheelwrights, livery stables, blacksmiths, saddlers and horse auctioneers. The industry had developed the skills to replace American and English materials imports except for patent leather coach trimming and special woods. With the advent of the motor vehicle in the early 20th Century, the skills were ready to build car bodies for the importers.

Holden's grows from saddlery in 1856 to making car bodies for USA giants from 1919

The Holden story began in 1856 when James Alexander Holden, who emigrated from England in 1852, set up J.A. Holden & Co saddlery business in Adelaide. In 1885, German-born Henry Frederick Frost joined the business which become Holden & Frost Ltd. Edward Holden, James' grandson, brought an interest in automobiles to the company in 1905. In 1908, Holden & Frost moved into minor repairs to car upholstery. It began making complete motorcycle sidecar bodies in 1913, and Edward experimented with fitting bodies to different carriages. After 1917, wartime trade restrictions allowed the company to start full-scale production of vehicle body shells. Holden in 1919 became Holden's Motor Body Builders (HMBB) specialising in building car bodies and using a building on King William Street south, Adelaide. By 1923, HMBB was producing 12,000 units per year. HMBB was the first company to assemble bodies for Ford Australia, before its Geelong plant was operating. From 1924, HMBB exclusively supplied car bodies for the US General Motors in Australia, making them at the new Woodville plant. These bodies also suited imported chassis from makers such as Chevrolet and Dodge. In 1926, General Motors (Australia) had assembly plants in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and Birkenhead, South Australia, using bodies produced by HMBB Builders and imported chassis. General Motors bought HMBB in 1931 and merged it with General Motors (Australia) to form General Motors-Holden's Ltd (GM-H).     

 

Edward Holden takes company to productive high before Depression hits and buyout by GM

Edward Holden took his Adelaide family business into a partnership with General Motors to create Australia's first and biggest motor car body builder. In 1917, after the Australian government restricted imports of cars, Holden negotiated with General Motors to fit bodies to imported chassis. By 1929, Holden's Motor Body Builders employed 3,400 and was the biggest in the British Empire but its plant closed temporarily for lack of work. In 1931, Holden accepted General Motors’ buyout offer of £1,116,000.
 

T.J. Richards & Sons: from building horse coaches to assembling cars in Keswick in 1920s

Tobias John (“T.J.”) Richards founded the horse-coach company that became the manufacturing base for Chrysler Australia cars. He opened his horse coach business in 1885 in Pulteney Street. In 1914, the firm began selling Dixi, Palmer-Moore and Swift motor vehicles. In 1920, T. J. Richards & Sons moved into building car bodies at a large new factory in Keswick. In 1928, with a second factory at Mile End, the company started building car bodies for Chrysler, Dodge, DeSoto and Plymouth.





 

ADELAIDE MANUFACTURERS READY FOR 20th CENTURY WAR WORK AND WHITEGOODS REVOLUTION

SIMPSON, POPE BECOME AUSTRALIAN APPLIANCE BYWORDS, build their enterprises on drive/innovation – and munitions work 

Alfred Simpson starts Adelaide industrial dynasty in 1853 making pots, pans and cans

South Australia’s remarkable Simpson dynasty began with Alfred Simpson, apprenticed in London in 1820 as a tin-plate worker who also studied science and chemistry.  Admitted to the Worshipful Company of Tinplate Workers, in 1829, he became a Freeman of the City of London. After joining his brother in a tailoring firm, he set up as a hatter. Fire and depression hit the business and Simpson and his family had to migrate. They sailed for Melbourne but got off at Port Adelaide in 1849. After unsuccessful business ventures and twice going to the Victorian goldfields while wife Sarah gave piano lessons, in 1853, Simpson turned to tin smithing, making pots and pans, and cans for Glen Ewin jam factory. In 1862, he leased premises in Gawler Place, Adelaide. His son Alfred Muller Simpson, apprenticed in 1857 and as partner in 1864, took the firm's range from jam tins to snuff scoops. The younger Simpson, one of the first members of South Australian Chamber of Manufactures, introduced products such as fire-proof safes, bedsteads, japanned ware, colonial ovens and gas stoves. The fire- and thief-resistant Simpson safes became an early speciality, used in offices and banks throughout South Australia and interstate. The business expanded in 1871 to the former Congregational Chapel in Freeman Street, Adelaide. In 1878, Simpson visited Paris Universal Exhibition, prompting him to mechanise his factory. He brought an American double-action press back to Adelaide along with ideas for new products and refining existing ones. 

Alfred Muller Simpson leads with munitions, enamels; whitegoods emerge in the 1940s

Alfred Muller Simpson brought back ideas from the Paris Exhibition 1878 for labour-saving machinery and for new products and refining existing products from A. Simpson and Son ­– the company originating in 1864 when he became partner in the Adelaide business started by his father. In 1885, Alfred Muller Simpson became the first maker of munitions, including submarine mines, in South Australia. This was in response to Australia’s fears of a Russian invasion. A new Simpson plant in Wakefield Street, Adelaide, in 1894, included electroplating and furnaces for hollowware and porcelain enamelling – a first for Australia. Enamelled street and advertising signs from Simpson’s soon appeared in most Australian capitals, making the firm’s name known throughout the country. Besides creating the largest metal manufacturer in the country, with three factories and 500 employees, Alfred Muller Simpson was also prominent in public life including being elected in 1887 to the Legislative Council, representing the Protectionist Party. With World War I, Simpson’s returned to making munitions but also enamelled water bottles, harness fittings and mess tins for the Australian forces, and boilers and enamel ware for hospitals. With the next Simpson generation, Allen (Alfred) and Frederick, as directors, the company expanded further in the 1920s. A new factory was opened at Dudley Park in the 1940s and the company began making whitegoods.

Pope Products grows from its World War II munitions work to be a 1950s appliances giant

Pope Products, notably washing machines and refrigerators, grew out of a father-and-son operation making irrigation components at home in Robert Street, West Croydon, in the late 1920s. The assets of Pope Sprinklers were taken over by the two Pope brothers, Barton and Clifford, who set up Pope Products in a factory at Beverley in 1935. From 1939, an increasing output from the factory was directed towards the war effort; chiefly stamped and cast parts for the Commonwealth munitions factory and aircraft production in Victoria. This allowed for major expansion after the war when the company bought premises in Finsbury. Pope Products had a poor employee relations record in its early days when it used juniors aged 14–16 as machine operators and menial labour to avoid paying award wages (hence its local nickname “The Boy Farm”). Accidents were common. With growing union militancy and the Communist threat in the late 1940s, Pope Products became a model employer. It introduced a generous incentive scheme in 1953 and bonuses to workers exceeded dividends to shareholders. It set up an employees’ recreation hall and sponsored sporting activities for its workers and staff. Pope Products grew to include lawn and garden sprinklers, agricultural sprinklers, Ned Kelly repeating cap gun; woodworking tools: planes, chisels; rotary lawn mowers (endorsed by tennis champion Lew Hoad); hand and powered tumbler mowers; wringer washing machines, refrigerators, PopeAire air conditioners, Pope-Motorola television sets and hi-fi stereo cabinets, (endorsed by Jack Davey) and electric motors.



 

Simpson, Pope merge in 1963, then with Email; Electrolux takes over whitegoods in 2000

In 1963, A. Simpson and Son merged with the other Adelaide whitegoods maker, Pope Industries, to form the publicly-listed company Simpson Pope Holdings. This entity merged in 1986 with industrial conglomerate Email. In 1999, Email was taken over and broken up with appliances going to Electrolux Australia in 2000. Electrolux Australia still operates from the site of the Simpson plant in Dudley Park and the Pope brand has survived on garden watering and sprinkler products to celebrate its 90th birthday in 2015.

LOSS OF AN ARRAY OF HOME-GROWN MAJOR SHOPS

MILLER ANDERSON'S, JOHNNIES, JAMES MARSHALL, BIRKS
big stores from a deluge of drapers; all taken over by interstaters

Miller Anderson's last of many drapery shops and oldest department store, from 1839 to 1988

Miller Anderson’s had 148 years of trading: the oldest survivor of the “scores of” drapery shops in early Adelaide city and longest-lasting department store. Miller and Gale, a small drapery shop, opened in Hindley Street in 1839. After partnership changes, J. Miller Anderson & Co. emerged and in 1863 settled on a Hindley Street site of a department store for the next 100 years. Initially taken over by Sydney’s Marcus Clark and Co. in 1927, Miller Anderson’s finally failed in 1988 after a brief move to Station Arcade.

 

Johnnies stores, woven into Adelaide fabric since 1866, finally unstitched in 1998

John Martin & Co. Ltd, also originally a drapery store, operated for more than 130 years: 1866 to 1998. Johnnies was owned by the Hayward family for most of its life, with its Rundle Street/mall store an Adelaide icon and focus of the famous Christmas Pageant and sponsor of the Beatles’ 1964 visit. Facing national competition, John Martin’s was bought by David Jones in 1985. Johnnies crumbled in its discount-store role. The flagship Rundle Mall store closed in 1998 and was demolished soon after.

 

Hard-working draper James Marshall builds major store taken over by Myer in 1928

James Marshall, steeped in the drapery trade in Dundee and London, even before he arrived in Adelaide in 1867, bought the drapery and furnishing business of John Hodgkiss & Co. in Rundle Street in 1881. By 1889, J Marshall & Co. was the largest business of its kind in South Australia, with a workforce of 800. The company was taken over by the Myer Emporium in 1928 and its buildings demolished in the 1980s to make way for the REMM complex housing Myer store and other shops from 1991.

 

Charles Birks and J. Craven and Co. carry their drapery traditions through to the 1950s

Again from a drapery start, Charles Birks & Co. Ltd department store was founded by Charles Napier Birks in Rundle Street, Adelaide, in the 1870s. The store traded as Charles Birks until 1953 when it merged with Sydney’s David Jones. In 1961-62, its 1880s store was demolished and rebuilt as David Jones  – demolished in turn in the late 1990s. Another Rundle Street drapery and clothing specialist store, J. (John) Craven and Co, broadened its scope and traded from the 1880s to the 1950s.

 

STATE'S TRADITION OF CREATIVITY CONTINUES

IDEAS OF CHARLES ROTHAUSER, LANCE HILLS, FRANK SEELEY 
set off 20th Century revolutions in plastic and steel from Adelaide

Charles Rothauser's Adelaide inventions: world firsts in syringes and dual-flush toilets

Besides inventing the world’s first disposable plastic hypodermic syringe in Adelaide in the late 1940s, Charles Rothauser, a pioneer of the injection-moulding of plastics, also developed the first all-plastic toilet cistern. Hungarian-born Rothauser, educated as an architect in Vienna, had begun making dolls with his wife Christine in Adelaide in 1939 as the Quality Toy Company. Finding a niche in the nascent plastics field enabled Rothauser to invent the plastic hypodermic syringe – a medical breakthrough that benefited millions of people. Starting with a factory in Norwood in 1941, his Caroma company became Australia’s leading manufacturers of bathroom products, including the world-first dual flush toilets system in 1982. He developed the Caroma Deluxe, the world’s first all-plastic one-piece moulded toilet cistern to combat Adelaide water’s corrosive effect on brass fittings. He built on the Caroma innovations with the first two-button dual flush and smartflush technology. Caroma was the first company to achieve the Australian water efficiency labelling and standard (WELS) five-star rating. Rothauser won a swag of export and design awards for his Caroma products out of the factories in Wetherill Park, Sydney (closed in 2014) and Norwood (closed in 2017).
Caroma products continue but are now all made overseas, with the Norwood plant shutting in 2017. The Caroma Dorf group of companies continues to offer bathroom, kitchen and laundry products from brands such as Fowler, Dorf, Clark, Epure, Radiant and Irwell. But its products are now made in Malaysia, China and Europe.

Lance Hills' hoist takes Adelaide company to manufacturing leader and TV antenna king

Hills Limited, a publicly-listed technology-solutions company with branches across Australia and New Zealand, is the evolution of firm founded by Lance Hills and Harold Ling in 1948 to make the Hills Hoist clotheslines.  Lance Hills’ claim to inventing the Hills hoist in 1945 has been disputed, with credit given to Gilbert Toyne’s patent in 1925. But it was Hills that grabbed dominance in the national post-war rotary clothes hoist market as well as successful offshoots such as television antennas.
 

Frank Seeley's plastic air conditioner move sets off cool revolution around the world

Plastic thinking motivated the start of Seeley International in 1972 when Frank Seeley switched from selling portable evaporative air conditioners to making them. Seeley saw plastics as the way to overcome the problem of corroding metal air conditioners. He set up in his garage at home in suburban Adelaide, making 1000 plastic air conditioners in the first year. Despite the doubts of others, Seeley persisted and developed all-plastic evaporative air conditioners – first portable and then, in 1983, ducted rooftop air conditioners. This was a breakthrough for the whole industry. The all-plastic air conditioners helped grow the rooftop cooling market in Australia from 12,000 units each year to around 70,000 units a year. Plastic air conditioners became industry standard. This growth led to Seeley expanding in own manufacturing capacity and approach. After using assembled parts made by suppliers, Seeley gradually brought more and more processes in house at its Lonsdale plant. This included its own injection moulding of plastic, as well as making motors, pumps and filters. The in-house manufacturing at first happened because suppliers had a monopoly and were increasing their prices. Since then, it has become part of the Seeley philosophy to provide local jobs. During the 1980s, Seeley began exporting evaporative air conditioners – first to the Middle East, then USA, then UK. It opened several sales offices around the world and won awards for design and manufacturing best practice. Seeley’s passion for innovation continued in 2010 with another revolution: Climate Wizard.

 

ADELAIDE QUALITY 20th CENTURY PRODUCTS STILL MAKING AN IMPACT GLOBALLY

FROM BOOTS (ROSSI, R.M. WILLIAMS) TO HORSE-RACES GATES (Steriline) to food/drink packaging (Detmold) to meat nets (Ennio)

Rossi Boots still march on in Adelaide from its beginning in a backyard tin shed in 1910

Arthur Edward Rossiter started making boots in a backyard tin shed in Adelaide in 1910. Crafting Rossi Boots for hard work saw the company win national military contracts during the world wars and become a popular choice for cricket and football. The company struggled during the 1930s Depression but it has stayed a Rossiter family company and is still an Australian-made operation in every aspect, making 250,000 pairs of shoes a year at its Hilton factory.

 

R.M. Williams' boots, bush clothing becomes global brand from a Prospect shed in 1934

Reginald Murray (R.M.) Williams rose from bush swagman to millionaire after starting to make saddles in 1932 and then bridles, saddles and riding boots in small factory in his father’s shed at 5 Percy Street in the Adelaide suburb of Prospect in 1934. Today, it’s part of global network of retail outlets and hosts the outback heritage museum. R.M. Williams boots, with a then-unique single piece of leather stitched at the rear, are part of a  range of Australian bushwear now recognised worldwide.

 

Detmold Group, a global foodservice packaging force, starts from small Adelaide factory in 1948

Detmold Group is an innovative South Australian-based family-owned and -operated business, started in 1948 in Adelaide, now supplying some of the world’s largest brands – KFC, McDonald’s, Hungry Jacks, Burger King and Starbucks –  with premium packaging solutions. Colin Detmold founded C.P. Detmold Pty Ltd that grew rapidly, making toilet rolls and other paper products in a small factory in Flinders Street, Adelaide. In 1955, the company moved to Brompton. After those premises were bought by the state government in 1970, the Detmold Group moved to headquarters at 45 Chief Street, Brompton, where it remains family owned and operated. The group expanded into other Australian states, with an extensive product range. Its Detpak division was formed in 1981, dedicated to packaging for the foodservice industry. In 1984, the business expanded from Australia into Singapore, with a factory established to support the needs of McDonalds in the region. With continued expansion, Detmold Group have sales offices in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, China, Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, India, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, Netherlands and USA. Detmold offers more than 1000 paper and board packaging solutions including cups, cartons, bags, napkins, trays and wraps. Its design and printing service has a reputation for high-quality custom-printed packaging. Detpak has been a foodservice innovator; the first to bring waxed wraps to the Australasian market. Other leading innovations include the Ripple-Wrap™ hot cup. In 2017, it introduced a RecycleMe paper plastic-free coffee cup that was revolutionary in breaking through manufacturers' resistance to this recyclable product.

Mt Barker's Steriline at the start and finish of most prestigious horse racing around world

The world’s most prestigious thoroughbred racing clubs rely on Mount Barker-based Steriline Racing’s race-track infrastructure for perfect starts and finishes. The Mount Barker-based South Australian company designs, manufactures, installs and services everything from starting gates and running rails to finishing posts and presentation podiums. Steriline Racing began in the 1950s when it built the first movable starting gates in Australia and has grown into a global powerhouse exporting to more than 50 countries. Already holding 100% of the British market (including Royal Ascot), Steriline Racing’s racetrack equipment is now used at virtually every racetrack across Australia and it has most of the South East Asian market. Many major horse racing organisations including the Hong Kong Jockey Club (Happy Valley and Sha Tin Racecourses), Singapore Turf Club (Kranji Racecourse), Victoria Racing Club (Flemington Racecourse), Australian Turf Club (Royal Randwick Racecourse), Meydan in Dubai, and Riyadh Equestrian Club in Saudi Arabia use Steriline equipment. Starting gates involved sophisticated engineering but it also has to consider the psychology of horse and rider. This involves understanding the dynamic of the horses and also the thought processes of the jockey Safety is a key consideration. This pressure is on to load horses quicker so they are not standing in the gates for such a long time, because that reduces the risk. In 2015, the company was given the South Australian Regional Exporter Award and was a national finalist in the 53rd Australian Export Awards.

Ennio International goes global in clever switch from fashion clothing to smallgoods netting

Ennio International of Holden Hill has built up a global market for its seamless smallgoods netting. This is a triumph in innovating for a company that started life as fashion business.  Husband and wife Gervasio and Giovanna Mercuri brought their design experience to Australia from Italy in 1957 and founded Mercuri Knitwear in Adelaide. They built their business with quality garments winning numerous Australian awards. But the dropping of tarrifs on imported textiles in the 1980s forced the Mercuris to diversify. They realised they could use their machines to make netting for meats and smallgoods. Forming Ennio Pty Ltd in 1983, they soon added several new purpose-built knitting machines. The Mercuris were among the first in the world to make seamless smallgoods netting. Ennio International went global in the late 1980s with an improved design of elastic netting launched as String Cling. It now exports to Europe, China, the USA and Canada, as well as dominating the Australian and New Zealand markets. It won a $2 million federal government manufacturing grant to buy high-tech textile equipment for meat packaging. The Mercuris have launched more patented netting and casing products to fill gaps in the Australian and international market with quality packaging solutions for the meat, poultry and smallgoods worldwide. Ennio International was inducted into the Family Business Australia hall of fame in 2016 and won its distinguished family business of year award in 2017.

 

NEW SOUTH AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL BUSINESS REPLACING THOSE LOST

SANTOS, ARGO, SEALINK ACHIEVE NATIONALLY AND ELDERS,
MAYNE PHARMA 
head offices salute Adelaide business pioneers 

Government protects its oil/gas giant Santos from an outside corporate takeover

Santos was on its way to becoming South Australia’s biggest company after being founded in 1954 to explore and exploit Cooper Basin natural gas in the state’s far north east. It is Australia's second-largest independent oil and gas producer. In 1979, the state government imposed a 15% shareholding cap on Santos, to stop a takeover by West Australian businessman Alan Bond. The cap was lifted in 2007. In 2018, the company rejected a takeover offer from American equity company Hambour.
 

Adelaide loses News Corp head office status but regains Elders and keeps Mayne Pharma

Multinational mass media company News Corporation was incorporated in Adelaide until 2004 – a consequence of Rupert Murdoch building his empire from the  afternoon tabloid The News in the 1950s. But Adelaide has regained the head office of Elders Ltd – with South Australian roots from 1839 – after it survived the 1980s national takeover ructions. Also a takeover victim, Mayne Pharma, the latest guise of F.H. Faulding & Co., started in Adelaide in 1845, still has its head office in Salisbury.

 

Don Bradman chairs Argo Investments in its journey from 1946 to joining ASX Top 100

Don Bradman was chairman in the 1980s of Argo Investments that has risen since 1946 to be South Australia’s second biggest stock-exchange-listed company, Australia’s second biggest listed investment company and in the top 100 with market capitalisation of $5 billion. Using a conservative approach and avoiding debt, Argo has paid a dividend every year to its now-80,000 shareholders from bought in solid blue-chip Australian companies like BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, the big four banks and Woolworths.

 

SeaLink now a national tourism operator after buying Kangaroo Island ferry service in 1994

SeaLink Travel Group has become a boom national tourism company on the back of the Kangaroo Island ferry service that staff members, island residents and other investors took over the from Malaysian owners in 1994. Among its ventures since, SeaLink has taken over New Zealand's Subritzky Ferries (2004), the Captain Cook Cruises on Sydney Harbour and Perth; ferries between Townsville, Magnetic Island and Palm island in Queensland; South Australian Murray River cruises on Murray Princess; and holiday packages throughout Australia. In South Australia, it owns Adelaide Sightseeing that does Barossa Valley tours. SeaLink's ferries SeaLion 2000 and Spirit of Kangaroo Island cross Backstairs Passage from Cape Jervis to Penneshaw in about 45 minutes up to 10 times daily. SeaLink bought the previous ferry service founded by Peter March. Its first vessel was Philanderer 3, the first of March’s vessels to carry vehicles. The later Island Navigator (1990), also taking cars, carried freight and fuel. Other competitors, including Western Australia’ Boat Torque (1994-97) and Kangaroo Island Ferries (2004-05) failed to break SeaLink’s monopoly, mainly due to its lease from the state government that, until 2024, stops other operators using Cape Jervis berth for one hour before and one hour after any SeaLink service. Family-owned Kangaroo Island Connect had plans to cut ticket prices with a Penneshaw-to-Cape Jervis service for up to 95 passengers in 2018. Meanwhile, SeaLink pushed its own growth. Listed on the Australian Stock Exchange in 2013, it had 1600 staff nationally in 2019. 

RESPONDING TO 20th CENTURY CHALLENGES

SAN REMO, HICKINBOTHAM, CODAN, ADAM AND INTERNODE:
making the best of tradition and pushing frontiers of technology

Crotti family creates San Remo pasta giant with South Australian points of difference

Luigi Crotti founded what became the San Remo pasta brand company when he arrived with his wife in Adelaide from the Lombardy region in 1936 ­– when there were about 2000 Italians in the state. San Remo is still a family company, based at Windsor Gardens, but now the No.1 dry pasta producer in Australia and exporting to 35 countries from its 750 products. Luigi Crotti’s son Aldo was founding partner in his family business that survived the days when pasta was still a niche product in Australia. When pasta was more common in the 1960s, the Crottis’ San Remo brand was competing with nine others. The San Remo Marcaroni Company turned to a high-quality product at low cost through economies of scale. It was the first manufacturer to foster distribution to supermarket model developing in Australia. San Remo is Australia’s No.1 pasta brands, with a 50% market share, and one of its largest manufacturers. Since the 1990s, San Remo has worked with farmers and Adelaide University’s Waite Agricultural Research Institute at Roseworthy developing a better-quality durum wheat. San Remo’s special durum wheat mill is one of the largest and most sophisticated mills in the Australian and South-East Asia. San Remo semolina mill at Windsor Gardens is also the largest in Australasia. The company had been inducted into the Family Business Australia Hall of Fame. In 2008, San Remo bought another iconic South Australian food business: Balfour's, maker of pies, parties, sausage rolls and famous green frog cake.

Alan Hickinbotham a leader in environmental innovation for housing estates in Adelaide

Alan Hickinbotham brought a radical innovative environmental philosophy to South Australian housing. His family-owned company is now Australia's 10th biggest and the state's biggest home builder of 35,000 houses and more than 50 estates. Alan Hickinbotham came to housing as an Adelaide University graduate (after RAAF war service) in science and education and teaching science and maths in his birthplace town at Geelong Grammar. He also was a footballer with Geelong, South Adelaide and South Australian state teams. With his father, Alan entered housing by building on a block of land in Sturdee Street, Linden Park, in 1954. The house, that quickly sold, still stands today. With environmental awareness and saving precious water, the Hickinbotham family, also in the wine industry, were the first developers to put phone and powerlines underground and have restrictive covenants on felling trees at their Athelstone estate in the 1960s. This estate was the first development to win a Civic Trust award. The concept of storing run-off stormwater in the aquifer for later reuse was pioneered by Hickinbotham with the CSIRO, put into practice at the company's Andrews Farm estate. This project set standards for Australia. Hickinbothams were instrumental in Australia's first joint ecumenical Anglican/Catholic school St Columba College at Andrews Farm estate. When the state government couldn't provide a primary school for Woodend Estate, Hickinbothams found private investors to fund it. The company built the campus and leased it to the government, creating the first privately-owned public school.

Adelaide University trio in 1959 opens way for Codan as global leader in electronic links

Codan is an international company developing rugged electronics solutions for government, corporate, NGO and consumer markets across the globe. It originated in 1959 from Adelaide University friends Alastair Wood, Ian Wall and Jim Bettison setting up EILCO (Electronics, Instrument and Lighting Company) to tackle challenges in electronics engineering. Codan now makes and supplies communications, metal detection and mining technology, headquartered at Mawson Lakes in Adelaide. Codan (then EILCO) released its first high-frequency radio – a Type 6104 HF transceiver in 1961 for the School of the Air operating in the Australian outback. In 1980, Codan equipment was chosen by the United Nations to support its relief efforts in Uganda, cementing Codan as the leading global supplier of high-frequency communications to humanitarian organisations. Codan now has a global footprint, with offices in the US, Canada, Ireland, United Arab emirates, South Africa and China. Its customers include some of the world’s largest aid and humanitarian organisations, mining companies, security and military groups and governments. Its products are sold in more than 150 countries, with exports making up about 85% of revenue, through a global network of dealers, distributors and agents. Publicly floated in 2003, Codan bought Minelab Electronics in 2008, supplier of world’s best hand-held metal detection technology. Minetec and Daniels Electronics were added to the Codan Group in 2012, cementing its world-class offerings in radio communications, metal detection and tracking solutions.

 

Greg Hicks and Simon Hackett make brilliant internet forays with Adam and Internode

Greg Hicks (Adam Internet) and Simon Hackett (Internode) put Adelaide at the early internet cutting edge with their service providing companies. Hicks’ venture started as a hobby from his home in Flagstaff Hill in 1986 and formed Adam in 1991 – the same year as Hackett’s Internode was introduced. Both companies grew rapidly with their pace-setting ventures and were taken over in 2011-13 in multi-million deals by Western Australian provider iiNet but have retained their own identities.  Greg Hicks began in 1986 by creating bulletin boards that preceded the internet with users dialling into a computer. Adam Internet became a leading South Australian internet service provider and data warehouse supplier from 1991. Between 1996 and 2012, its market value from $100,000 to $70 million and, at its peak, employed more than 200. Hicks and Adam won entrepreneur and second generation family business of the year awards. Simon Hackett’s Internode pushed the boundaries in internet service. Among its strings of innovations were: • The Coorong (2001) and Yorke Peninsula (2001) communications networks offering low-cost voice and data services to regional customers. • The largest gaming network in Australia (in daily player count. • Internode’s infrastructure company Agile installed its own equipment in the Telstra exchange at Meningie in 2003: the first in regional Australia where ADSL was available from a non-Telstra DSLAM (digital subscriber line access multiplexer). In 2008, Internode launched a national Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6), the first in Australia.
 

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