THE AUSTRALASIAN JAM COY PTY LTD
The label collection was compiled during the period 1950 through 1955. I was, at that time, employed by the Australasian Jam Coy Pty Ltd, Garden Street, South Yarra, Victoria – Australia, commonly known as the AJC or Jam Factory.
I was employed as an Electrical Apprentice, which enabled me to traverse throughout the factory in Chapel Street, South Yarra, conducting electrical maintenance on the machinery and electrical installations.
Today, the building in Chapel Street remains in part only, having been replaced by an in-theme, upmarket shopping centre aptly called the “Jam Factory”.
In its heyday, the Jam Factory employed hundreds of people; mostly process workers, who were engaged in filling cans with processed fruit, pears, peaches, apricots and tomatoes, and making jams of various types. Other canned products included asparagus, peas and pineapple; the jams included marmalade, quince and melon, and plum.
These products were manufactured for both local Australian markets and the vast export markets which were available to the company at that time.
When processed, the cans were usually stacked eight to ten feet high and, in the case of popular lines such as peaches, pears and apricots, much higher. The fact that the floors did not collapse was a miracle; the weight of the cans was enormous. There were stacks reaching 15 feet in some places. As an apprentice, I noticed that many beams underneath the stacks (in the ceiling below) were cracked and mended together by temporary planks and wooden “two by ones”.
At this stage, the cans were unlabelled. They were marked with a stamp or machine-indented at the end of the can indicating the product within.
When the time came to fill an order, a labelling team was dispatched to locate the required cans and affix the appropriate labels. The labels would be one ordered by the buyer and was often custom-made for the distributing or retail company, or printed for the market in which the product would be sold.
Many of the purchases were for export and, when this was the case, a higher quality of canned product was chosen to fulfil the order. A higher standard was maintained for the consumer overseas than for our own local consumers in those days. The export can tops were indented with “EE”. When the maintenance staff took fruit home, they knew which ones were the preferred products!
The label store was situated at the bottom of the factory and near to the Chapel Street front of the building. This store maintained the label collections and issued them on written request to the label teams that assembled the orders. A team would comprise approximately six people and the label machine was a Heath Robinson device which used gravity and sticky glue to complete the task. The machine had metal wheels and this was moved over old wooden floors, rattling its way to the appropriate unlabelled can stack.
The labels would be placed flat at one end of the machine just before a pool of glue through which each can would roll by gravity, picking up a strip of glue, then rotate onwards to roll over the label, picking it up and miraculously wrapping it around the can. The cans stopped at the end of the machine, were removed by an operator and placed on a trolley ready for removal.
When all the cans were prepared for the order, the problem of what to do with the excess labels exercised the mind of the operator in charge. The proper procedure was to return them to the label store. However, the store was often at the other end of the very large factory and invariably the remaining labels would be thrown up and out of sight on the top of the can stack or the nearest office ceiling.
Thus, as an electrician, often on a ladder and on top of office ceilings, I came across these discarded labels, which were often in pristine condition, except for the topmost one, which was covered in many layers of dust. The factory was very old and some labels could have been there for 50 years or more.
Having a mindset for historical things, I took samples of all of the labels I came across and kept them in a file for the future.
The labels show the variety of products canned over the many years of operation of the jam factory and the exotic places the cans were sent to. These included products that we don’t see in a can today – such as gordo grapes and gooseberries, scallops, tomato jam and quince jam; and other products long forgotten in the mist of time. There were labels for Princes, Simpson Roberts Pty Ltd Liverpool and London, which advertised “21 Canned Varieties”. These included: lobster, salmon, crab, prawns, pilchards, sardines and something called brisling which were fish like herrings. Others were meats, tongues and asparagus.
The names on the labels indicate the range of distribution of AJC projects in their heyday: Bendigo Jams; National Trading Perth WA; Sunny South Tasmania; Gold Leaf, Auckland, New Zealand; Eekhorn Brand for Java-Sumatra Celebes. There are many famous brand names shown – they were household names once upon a time.
An interesting addition to my story at the AJC was that, for a time, the Head Electrician for whom I worked was a very significant and brave individual by the name of George Aspinall. George was a former Prisoner of War, incarcerated in the notorious Japanese-run Changi Prison Camp in the Eastern part of Singapore during WW2. At great personal risk, he took secret photographs of the camp and the appalling Thai–Burmese Railway. He actually processed the photos on the spot. The story of his time in captivity can be read in a book authored by Tim Bowden titled: Changi Photographer. Naturally – as I was a keen young photographer myself at the time – I recall the many discussions we had about our hobby and George enthralling me with his Changi photos which were to be the focus of the book published in 1984, 30 years later!
Tom W Newman OAM