Mem­o­ries worth pre­serv­ing

Shepparton News - Country News - - SPC CENTENARY - By Ge­off Adams

For­mer Ard­mona chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer David Tay­lor may have it right in his pub­lished com­ments about the fruit in­dus­try:

‘‘You don’t start with fixed qual­ity in­puts, you start with a bit of fruit. You don’t know what the qual­ity is or how the size mix is ar­ranged within a bin, so you start with chaos.’’

He also speaks of the re­quire­ment for a mas­sive amount of ex­pe­ri­ence in man­ag­ing a fruit pro­ces­sor.

Of course Mr Tay­lor was the chief of the merged com­pany, Ard­mona Fruit Prod­ucts, which be­came part of the modern-day SPC.

And his re­marks, pub­lished in the new book, Worth Pre­serv­ing: 100 years of SPC, may well be salient for the cur­rent owner of SPC, Coca-Cola Amatil, as it pre­pares to sell the com­pany af­ter not be­ing able to make it prof­itable.

SPC had a rocky start. Af­ter open­ing the fac­tory in 1918, the busi­ness faced the costly pur­chase of over­seas-made equip­ment, a cyn­i­cal mar­ket sus­pi­cious of Aus­tralia’s record in fruit pro­duc­tion and a shortage of cap­i­tal as all shares of­fered had not been taken up.

The Ard­mona can­nery, built around the same time, also faced a cou­ple of dif­fi­cult years in the early 1920s.

SPC’s his­tory seems lit­tered with a se­ries of crises, as it was vul­ner­a­ble to the va­garies of in­ter­na­tional mar­kets and chang­ing weather con­di­tions.

In some years the com­pany had to bor­row money to pay its grower-share­hold­ers for their fruit, and of­ten the com­pany could not take all the fruit that was of­fered.

Match­ing sup­ply and de­mand seems to be an an­nual co­nun­drum for the com­pany, which plagues it to the present day.

Worth Pre­serv­ing de­tails the SPC his­tory and pep­pers the time­line with some sto­ries about the mis­ad­ven­tures and ex­per­i­ments tried by the co-op­er­a­tive, some of which peo­ple might not know about.

A for­mer gen­eral man­ager, Jim Hut­ton — who was by all ac­counts a colour­ful char­ac­ter — was re­spon­si­ble for a few of the for­ays in the 1960s.

Mr Hut­ton, known for his am­bi­tious plans and fre­quent dec­la­ra­tions of ‘‘why can’t it be done?’’, had the use of a chauf­feur-driven car with a uni­formed driver.

SPC got in­volved in run­ning a can­nery at Man­jimup in West­ern Aus­tralia and, in 1969, Mr Hut­ton con­vinced the board to buy a farm prop­erty in east Shep­par­ton so the com­pany could ex­pand. The prop­erty was sold off at a loss af­ter Mr Hut­ton re­signed.

SPC also bought land near Orange with the aim of set­ting up a cherry pro­cess­ing plant to re­place its re­liance on im­ported cher­ries. The com­pany aban­doned the project in 1970.

The book also re­counts the story of the ‘SPC siege’ from 1971 when a trou­bled grower, up­set at the can­nery’s de­ci­sion to limit its fruit in­take, took staff hostage in a weigh­bridge of­fice with a gun.

The dis­grun­tled grower ac­tu­ally fired off a warn­ing shot and the place was soon sur­rounded by po­lice and emer­gency ser­vices.

The siege ended peace­fully af­ter 15 hours and also af­ter SPC chair­man John Cor­nish had promised the man he would get ex­tra ton­nage into the can­nery.

The book rep­re­sents a mas­sive amount of work, pulling to­gether the two threads of Ard­mona’s and SPC’s his­tory, and should be a use­ful ad­di­tion to the Goul­burn Val­ley’s his­tory.

It does miss a few of the tougher sto­ries that the lo­cals still talk about; like the for­mer chair­man who was voted out, de­manded a retirement pay­ment the next day, and then sued the com­pany in the courts.

But with many of the play­ers still around to­day, we may have to wait for the ex­pi­ra­tion of time be­fore a few of these harder tales are told.

Worth Pre­serv­ing: 100 years of SPC is by Jenny Mountstephen.

Mile­stone . . . A cel­e­bra­tion of the mil­lionth case of canned fruit pro­duced by Aus­tralian fac­to­ries.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.