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.