A Rich Confectionery Heritage

At present I am writing an entry for a volume called The Oxford Companion to Sweets, and I find myself dazzled by the array of stories that deserve a place in such a volume. I feel like a kid at a lolly counter…..this is a hard one (no pun intended. Well, maybe).

A recent visitor to this blog has asked about products from the 1920s-1930s and, since many of Australia’s lolly stories come from this period, I thought I’d share my response here.

Some of our major firms were operating by the 1920s. James Stedman, whose dad was a convict, was well under way and selling hundreds of products, sherbet among them. Alan Marshall, in his memoir, I Can Jump Puddles, describes kali busters (sherbet) as “rocking the lolly-loving fraternity” in the early 1900s. Stedman’s company became known as Sweetacres in the 1920s, and the first iconic Sweetacres lolly was invented in 1922: Minties with their ‘moments like these’ wrappers. That’s the longest-running slogan in Australia’s advertising history, by the way.

Also in the early 1920s, about eight years after they were developed in Cleveland, Ohio, a group of Aussie confectioners got together to secure the rights to produce LifeSavers in Australia. Here the product took on new meaning. In the U.S. a lifesaver is a flotation device, which we call a lifebuoy. Here, however, a lifesaver is a tall, bronzed symbol of national identity, which the Americans call a lifeguard. The 1920s was the beginnings of our beach culture, so handsome lifesavers and 1920s bathing beauties offered great advertising potential for this new product.

On an international level, Australia’s most influential company has to be MacRobertson’s Chocolates. Macpherson Robertson started making sweets in the family bathroom in the 1880s. He had paid nine pence for a second-hand saucepan, for boiling sugar, and an old nail can, which he converted into a small furnace. By the 1920s, when he produced a promotional book called A Young Man and a Nail Can, his company was huge and his staff massive, but he could still identify the spot in the factory where the old bath once stood. MacRobertson’s products were known as the “best-dressed chocolates in the world” because he spared no expense with packaging.

In the 1930s, along came Hoadley’s White Knights, Sweetacres Jaffas (1931) and Fantales, MacRobertson’s Freddo Frog and lots lots more, since A. W. Allen, Hoadley’s, Plaistowe and Darrell Lea were all rising to prominence at this time. It’s a wonderful industrial heritage. The quip about this being a “hard one” refers to the fact that kids didn’t have much money in the early decades, and were likely to spend their hard-won halfpennies on hard-boiled lollies (up to 20 a penny), rather than a chocolate, because hard lollies lasted longer. 

Hmmmmmmmmm….. now, what to have.

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12 Comments

Filed under Lollies

12 responses to “A Rich Confectionery Heritage

  1. jodie

    i have stumbled upon your blog! did you get any history from allen’s lollies? i know the son/grandson of allen’s lollies (well ive moved away but my parents are still in touch with him – he’s a lovely guy). he has some fantastic stories about all sorts of things lolly related from his youth. snowballs, early refrigeration, the invention of butter menthols, 2 or 3 digit phone numbers in melbourne! the rise and fall and rise and falls of the business. pm me if you would like his details.

    • tonirisson

      Hi Jodie. It’s so hard to find information about our lolly heritage because it is not written down anywhere. Mostly, it resides now in the memories of people who worked in lolly factories, reps who travelled the countryside and people who stood behind counters stuffing the likes of black cats, Redskins and false teeth into little white paper bags. I’d love to talk to your friend from Allen’s. Sweet!

  2. Phillip

    Toni – do you intend to publish your PhD as a book and if so, when?

    • tonirisson

      The PhD manuscript is with an Australian publisher at the moment, so I’ll keep you posted. It is also my intention to produce a volume for a more general readership, one that tells lots of great stories about Aussie confectionery. There are a lot of people who would like to get their hands on that one. Thank you for your continued interest Phillip.

      • Phillip

        Thanks Toni

        Look forward to buying an autographed copy.
        Perhaps I should wait for the Lollywood produced movie to come out first? I understand the movie version has a number of tentative titles;

        Gone with the Jaffas
        Planet of the Lollies
        Star Wars – Return of the Cobbers
        Walter Minty
        Dr Freckle and Mr Hyde

        etc

        Phillip

  3. toni risson

    What BRILLIANT titles; love your style Phillip. If MGM is surfing blog posts I doubt they’ll be able to pass up the opportunities suggested on this one. The Secret Life of Walter Minty should be a kids’ cartoon.

  4. Hi Toni,
    If you want to talk to the great grand children, great great grand children or great great great grand children of James Stedman, I can help you out.
    My Husbands Father and Aunt are still alive and they would have lots of stories about visiting the Sweetacres factory.
    Sam

  5. Ross Challinger

    Hi toni,
    I worked in Hoadley’s Sth Melb, in the middle 60’s. I have just finishing restoring one of two only National Recorder time clocks purchased by Abel Hoadley in 1925. One clock was still being used to clock in with, but my clock had been put in the boiler room and forgotten about. It was in a sad condition, and Gordon Hoadley was good enough to let me have the wreck.
    It has taken me almost 50 yrs to do the restoration, mainly because it’s hard to find tradesmen with suitable knowledge of this machine.
    I wish to write the history of this recorder and have it with the machine.
    I am desperate to get a photo of Abel Hoadley, and also one of the factory in Sth Melb. to form part of the written history.
    Can you help?

  6. Wayne Oates

    Violet Crumbles are very nice.

  7. mike

    does anybody know about a company called Mac Jones. it was my grandparents confectionary company in Sydney, but closed before i was born and i cant get any info about it. they had a chocolate called Helenmaree, or something like that, which was named after my aunty and mum.

    • toni risson

      Hi Mike,
      I haven’t come across that company at all. It didn’t surface in the Nestle archive. There were hundreds and hundreds of small companies that have melted like chocolate in the car so there may be no paper trail left to follow. But clues and memories come from unexpected sources. Someone might see your post here and offer information. Sorry I can’t help. All the best in your quest.
      Toni

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