There are a number of businesses claiming to be Australia’s oldest bakery. Among them is Balfours Bakery of South Australia, a manufacturing operation that dates its origins to 1853. However, their suburban factory is a world away from the small city bakery James Calder and his wife, Margaret Balfour, opened in Adelaide’s early colonial days.
Other claimants to the title are more focused on the actual bakery premises and the continuity of baking operations on the site. Gundagai Bakery, in the New South Wales river town, still calls itself Australia’s oldest bakery. A bakery is still to be found on the site of the original business, opened by a German immigrant, William Bibo, in 1864.
Victoria’s Maldon Bakery, however, has a stronger claim. The bakery, in Main Street, still has its original Scotch Oven, built in 1854 and said to be the first brick structure in the town. The current operators have had the oven restored and are using traditional baking methods.
The Maldon Bakery website lists all the bakery operators from 1854 to the present, citing research by a local historian. George McArthur, Maldon’s first baker, was a Scottish immigrant who arrived in Victoria in 1852, opening his bakery two years later. We know little about George Snr, other than that he made some unfortunate investments in gold mines and got into financial difficulty. As a result, his son, George Jnr, was called upon to take over the business – and the mortgage.
George McArthur Jnr was a fascinating character. Learning the bakery trade as a youth, he taught himself to read Latin and, in his early 20s, travelled the world collecting rare books, documents, coins and curiosities. Returning in 1870 to assist his father, he ran the bakery for 16 years before selling it to his brother and resuming his adventures. On his death by suicide in 1903, he left his books to the University of Melbourne and other objects from his collection to the National Museum of Victoria. His donation of more than 2500 items formed the basis of the university’s Baillieu Library collection.
The McArthur family continued to run the bakery until 1937. It has since passed through many hands, including a 33-year period when it was owned by John Friedrich. The current (2023) operator is Rebecca Barnett.