1966 Tarax sole Australian-owned soft drink company

By 1966, as overseas companies bought up all the soft drink manufacturers, only one all-Australian company remained as a major marketer of soft drinks: Tarax. The Tarax company was acquired by Cadbury Schweppes in 1972.

In his essay Pop Goes the Bottler! Soft Drinks, 1945 – 65, Humphrey McQueen points out that in 1955-56, the average number of people in each soft-drink factory was still only nine, the same as in 1945-6, with many having between one and four workers.

Most of these operations were ‘backyard businesses’ with unsophisticated management processes and rudimentary accounting practices. McQueen suggests that while wartime shortages had led to a sellers’ market, the proprietors of these businesses were unprepared for new requirements to market their products. They made half their sales in the four months over summer and often home delivered.

Tarax began as a small business based in Numurkah in northern Victoria. It was founded by George Pethard (Snr), an English-born storeman, and taken over by his son in 1898. The business was moved to Bendigo in 1909.

With the rise of self-service groceries and vending machines, small companies gradually disappeared. Companies like Tarax, Cottees, Shelley’s and Marchants proved that Australian owner-managers could be innovative. Yet such successes made those firms prime targets for take-over.

Marchants was taken over by Shelley’s which was, in turn, take over by British Tobacco in 1964. Cottees was acquired by British Tobacco in 1966, leaving Tarax as the only major brand under Australian ownership.

Tarax had proved to be adroit marketers. They were among the first brands to use television, sponsoring a children’s program, Tarax Happy Show, that first went to air in January 1957. At first called The Happy Show after its host, Happy Hammond, it subsequently became The Tarax Happy Show. After Happy Hammond left the show it was renamed The Tarax Show,  and was hosted by Geoff Corke (Corky King of the Kids) and later Norman Swain (Uncle Norman) with Panda Lisner (Princess Panda). The show also featured ventriloquist Ron Blaskett with his dummy Gerry Gee. It ran until 1969.

Tarax was listed on the stock exchange in 1959 and took over many smaller soft drink companies including Ecks and Sharpes. However, the company’s time as an Australian-owned operation was not to last: it was taken over by Cadbury-Schweppes in 1972.

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