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 ‘back yard 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, starting the Happy Show on GTV-9 in Melbourne in the very early days of television. The show was hosted by Happy Hammond, then by “King Corky King of the Kids” (Geoff Corke) and finally by “Uncle Norman” (Norman Swain), and featured ventriloquist Ron Blaskett with his dummy Gerry Gee.
Tarax 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.