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Sweets and chocolates today are largely made by specialist manufacturers, distributed by dedicated agents, and marketed through supermarkets, convenience stores and service stations. Direct marketing, by firms such as the Sydney-based Darrell Lea chain, and fine chocolate-makers such as Ernest Hillier, is now the exception, and even these over-the-counter sales are perhaps rivalled by direct selling by clubs for fundraising purposes. The story of confectionery is essentially a story of the industrialisation of manufacture - its separation first from the home and then from the province of the baker and pastrycook, and then the separation of manufacturing and retailing functions - the growth of family-owned manufacturing companies, and in the 25 years to 1985, their decline and purchase by multinationals.

Commercial confectionery-making in early Melbourne was the business of bakers and pastrycooks. Melbourne's first confectioner's shop, according to 'Garryowen' (Edmund Finn), was opened in a wattle-and-daub hut in 1838 by William Overton, a Lincolnshire Englishman. Overton 'manipulated the first buns and lollipops for sweet-mouthed adults and juveniles', prospered, and moved to larger premises. His rival confectioner, Phillip Burgin, was renowned as a singer of comic Irish songs, 'but his muffins were always more palatable than his melodies' and Burgin had abandoned baking for billiard-marking by the time Kerr's Melbourne Almanac was published in 1841. Kerr listed five baker-pastrycooks-confectioners, and Mouritz's 1847 Directory distinguished five confectioners. From 1857 Sands and Kenny's (later Sands and McDougall's) Melbourne Directory, with its increasingly detailed trade index, allows the historian to distinguish more readily, if not always unerringly, between manufacturers and retailers.

During the 1850s Melbourne had three quantity manufacturers and wholesalers of confectionery: James & Robert Black, bakers of North Melbourne; Dillon & Barfoot, manufacturing confectioners in Brunswick and the City; and the City-based T.H. Nott. In the 1860s they were joined by Charles Bates and Walter Lucas, both of Melbourne, the peripatetic Richard Miller, and the St Paul brothers of North Melbourne; in the 1870s by Giraud & Jesper of Melbourne, and by Owen Strachen & Buhler who established the Victorian Confectionery Works on Yarra Bank South near Princes Bridge. During the 1880s land boom, Dillon & Barfoot, reorganised with new partners as Dillon Burrows & Co., gobbled up, in turn, Walter Lucas and the Victorian Confectionery Works, to become by 1888 reputedly the largest confectionery firm in Australia, with 250-300 Melbourne employees and a branch in Sydney. During the 1890s jam manufacturers took over the larger premises and factories: George Peacock assumed the old North Melbourne premises started by the St Paul brothers, and Abel Hoadley, of the Rising Sun Preserving Works, absorbed Dillon Burrows, whose name had disappeared in 1913, when the Hoadley family abandoned jam-making altogether to form Hoadley's Chocolates.

Many smaller companies survived these convulsions, failures and amalgamations, and others arose, for confectionery-making originated as a domestic and cottage industry, and long remained one that offered opportunity for the ambitious, energetic and imaginative amateur. Some Melbourne confectioners came from an experienced British background, as bakers and pastrycooks. Others ran cocoa and coffee shops, like Charles Bates' Bourke Street 'Cricketers' Reading and Coffee Rooms', before moving into the making of chocolate confectionery. Still others had no discernible background, most notably MacPherson Robertson and A.W. Allen. Each started making sweets at home, Robertson in the 1880s in Fitzroy, and Allen in the 1890s, also in Fitzroy after a period working for Robertson. Robertson gained his experience with Walter Lucas and Black & Spence at North Melbourne, went on to found MacRobertson's, centred on his Great White City in Fitzroy, and became a generous benefactor of Melbourne's Centenary celebrations, whereas Allen during the 1890s took over the premises of two apparently failed companies and forged a major business by amalgamation with fellow manufacturers.

The coming of refrigeration eliminated the protection afforded local industry by the tropics through which imports had to pass, so local manufacturers had to win a reputation for quality. Both MacRobertson's and Hoadley's earned a name for fine chocolate, respectively Old Gold and Violet Milk, and were perfectly positioned to take advantage of the suddenly expanded domestic market when Britain forbade the export of confectionery during World War I and the Australian Commonwealth Government introduced prohibitive duties on foreign imports. MacRobertson's and Hoadley's were family-based companies with several generations of males available as managers and supervisors; by contrast, Allen, who had no sons, in 1917 organised an amalgamation of five independent specialist sweets-makers (one partner was a dentist!) as A.W. Allen Pty Ltd to pool resources and expertise, rationalise production, and carve out a niche in competition with the chocolate giants. Within a few years the company was Melbourne's third largest confectioner with spanking new red-brick works on the Yarra opposite Flinders Street Station.

When export embargoes were lifted at the end of the war, several overseas companies wishing to re-enter the Australian market decided to evade high import duties by manufacturing here. England's Cadbury-Fry-Pascall went to Tasmania, the Anglo-Swiss Nestlé and Condensed Milk Co. established a plant in Sydney, and Murray's set up in Melbourne. MacRobertson's, Hoadley's and A.W. Allen's remained dominant in Melbourne, which was central to interstate markets. MacRobertson's made its name in chocolates from the humble penny Freddo Frog, through the nougat bar and Cherry Ripe to block chocolate and the lavishly boxed Old Gold chocolates; Hoadley's pioneered the Violet chocolate-coated combination bar, notably the technically demanding but triumphantly successful Violet Crumble and Polly Waffle; and A.W. Allen provided an expanding array of jubes, cough drops and soft-centred sweets: Kool Mints, Coconut Quivers, Irish Moss Gum Jubes, Cure 'Em Quick, Steam Rollers, Anticol, Butter Menthols ('The butter soothes the throat while the menthol clears the head'). A.W. Allen also became a major sweets distributor to retailers.

While the large companies had the lion's share of the market, specialist manufacturers occupied niches, including catering for the children's market. Some of the specialists were established in the interwar years, for hard times stimulate gratification spending, and others flourished in the prosperous years after World War II : Darrell Lea opened its first Melbourne shop in 1942, and expanded steadily. Other companies to flourish were Allsep's of Richmond (today at Oakleigh), Australian Licorice, and Bester Bros Chocolates (Carlton, later Braybrook), and Lagoon Confectioners (Port Melbourne, today Williamstown). Fyna Foods, a family company established in 1947, is now the largest supplier of extruded confectionery paste in the southern hemisphere. Newman's Chocolates, founded in 1924, still remains in the Troedel family.

The large companies fell victim to foreign takeover: MacRobertson's was sold to Cadbury Australia in 1967, and Hoadley's merged with Rowntree as Rowntree Hoadley in 1972. In 1985 the last two large Australian-owned confectioners, A.W. Allen and Life Savers (Australasia) were sold to, respectively, the UK-based Rothmans Holdings and the international Nestlé. Although some of the lines beloved of sweet tooths survived these amalgamations, the distinctive copperplate MacRobertson's signature and the elegant Hoadley art nouveau violet logo disappeared forever.

The geography of confectionery manufacturing also changed substantially. In 1918 Victoria's 36 firms accounted for about 45% of Australian confectionery employees and output, mostly centred in Melbourne. In 2001 some 120 firms were manufacturing confectionery in Victoria, and employing almost 60% of the national confectionery workforce. But three major foreign-owned companies - Mars Confectionery, Cadbury Schweppes and Nestlé - had a combined market share of 75%, and both Mars and Nestlé had significant manufacturing operations in rural Victoria. At present only about one-third of manufacturer members of the Melbourne-based Confectionery Manufacturers of Australasia are located in Melbourne, and only the smaller, specialist firms still occupy inner-suburban sites. Victoria's continuing prominence in the industry reflects the State's competitive advantage in supplying major ingredients: two-thirds, and the best and cheapest, of Australia's milk, and Melbourne remains the head office of the nation's largest sugar logistics company. Victoria produces 30% of the Australian output but 70% of all Australian confectionery exports.

Melbourne's confectionery industry began in the 1840s with children's noses pressed to the windows of the first lolly shops. Children's pocket money still drives a significant component of the industry - the assorted lollies once bought over the counter in small quantities at what came to be called milk bars: the buddies, freckles, black cats, licorice blocks, straps and ropes, umbrella and patty pan toffees, conversation lollies, mint leaves, false teeth, bananas, milk bottles, aniseed balls, gobstoppers and 'gumboils', rainbow balls, raspberries, sherbets, snakes, and the like. The agonising choices made at the lolly shop were among Australian children's first lessons in decision-making, and counting. Nowadays sweets are mostly sold packaged in larger quantities through self-service grocers. Indeed, 65% of all confectionery is sold through grocers, mainly self-service, and another 12% through convenience stores and service stations. Fluoride abolished the bogey of the dentist; gluttony and child obesity are the modern watchwords.

John Lack