Category Archives: Lollies

Australian confectionery in the twentieth century

FiftyUp Club


I recently joined Kayley and Nick on their new “Daily Drive” show (2UE Talking Lifestyle 954AM Sydney) for a chat about one of my favourite topics – LOLLIES. The programme is aimed at the over fifties and raises issues relevant to them. Callers took the opportunity to phone in with memories of deliberations at corner shops and complaints about companies tampering with beloved childhood treats. Confectionery still pulls our early years sharply into focus and causes us to smile.

This is me at the Ipswich Show with Roslyn and her cousin in the late sixties. Tucking into fairy floss. How is that stuff even possible?


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Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Oxford Sweets small

At last, it’s here: my very own copy in my sticky little hands. Sugar and Sweets was launched in New York earlier this year – sadly, too far to go for a book launch, but I take comfort in knowing that the world will at last get to read something of the rich confectionery and baking heritage of Australia and New Zealand. In The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets you will read about Sweetacres and Jaffa-rolling, Macpherson Robertson the Chocolate King, pavlova, lamingtons, Iced Vovos, Milk Arrowroot and lots more.

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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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Afternoon Delight Radio

I’ve just been chatting with Jonathan on community radio in Colac, where an interest in the sweet little things in life is alive and well. Our discussion was a real mixed bag: we covered some of the major Australian companies and the iconic Australian lollies they produced, what kids do with lollies (apart from eating them), how our perception of childhood lollies changes with age, how political correctness influences lollies . . . and lots of other interesting topics.
Among the questions younger listeners asked was ‘What is the most disgusting lolly you ever came across?’ and ‘What was the first lolly produced in Australia?’ Great questions kids!
Yes, Australians certainly love their lollies, and down in Colac they devote one afternoon a month to the topic. The local paper likes lollies too:
You’ll find today’s discussion on their facebook page.

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Jaffa-rolling is one of the most common memories people relate when the subject of lollies comes up. Not everyone’s story is the same: some kids did eat them after they had rolled down the floor and, of course, some would never have wasted a Jaffa in a fit. The age of the speaker is an important factor: Jaffa-rolling seems to belong to the baby-boomers. Earlier generations would never have ‘wasted’ a lolly by rolling it on the ground because lollies, for them, were too hard to come by. And children of more recent generations know nothing of children’s matinees, which disappeared with the advent of television. The noisy, bare, sloped wooden floors are gone too, and I believe Jaffas were banned from many picture theatres in the 1970s because children wreaked such havoc with them. Not me, of course.

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The Colourful History of Lollies

From elusive treats that dazzled kids at the local corner shop . . . to playthings young patrons bounced down suburban cinema aisles . . . to Sour Tongue Pops and Rip Snorter Booger Balls that offer young consumers extreme gustatory sensation and the opportunity to gross each other out: the history of lollies was the subject of a recent ABC 7.30 Programme. Peter McCutcheon did an excellent job of condensing twentieth-century Australian children’s lolly consumption into a few minutes through the use of interviews, objects, images and even film footage (if you haven’t seen Smiley then you are missing out on a revealing aspect of children’s lolly purchases and a superb Australian classic from the 1950s).

For those who missed the episode (could have been watching the State of Origin final) you can view it online:


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The Taste of Home

False teeth, fantales, spearmint leaves . . . we’re so used to the lollies we grew up with in Australia that it’s easy to think that’s what lollies are like, without realising that lollies in other countries can be quite different. They wouldn’t call them lollies of course, but the little kids in Mexico get chilli in their sweets. And I recently sampled some Chinese confectionery and a sour salty plum – one of the most unusual tastes I have ever encountered and obviously one you have to grow up with. At the moment I am experimenting with American candy, which is making its way into the land of Minties and Violet Crumble Bars. Americans have a lot of peanut butter candies and some hot cinnamon ones: Red Hots and Atomic Fireballs. The hot cinnamon is rather nice – completely different from anything we have in Australia, except perhaps for strong peppermint – but it does dreadful things to the tongue if you’re not used to it. Perhaps you have to grow up with cinnamon sweets too. Steve Almond, an American confectionery historian, reckons Americans hate coconut.

Another confectionery historian claims that Australian confectionery is marked by a preference for coconut, along with mint and musk. What do you think? Children from the 30s seemed to have had a passion for licorice. What’s your favourite flavour? Starbursts and clouds seem to be the ‘hot’ lollies for Australian kids at the moment.

I was standing in a queue at the movies today and two women behind me were deciding what confectionery to buy to take into the movie with them. One said, “Jaffas, I think. We can chuck ’em,” and giggled. No one has ‘”chucked” them in the movies for decades – it’s a bit hard with carpet now isn’t it? – but the mythology lingers on.

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