CROQUET:  Sir MacPhearson Robertson

Gold Coast Croquet
by Bernard J. Gleeson

Australian Patron Saint of Confectioners, Entrepreneurs, Sponsorships, TaxPlanning, Croquet and Aviation

"Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted."
Sir MacPherson (Mac) Robertson  1860 - 1945

        MacPherson Robertson, was born in 1860, at Ballarat, Victoria - up the road from Eureka Stockade - the Site of the recent Miners' Rebellion against Regimented Authority. His Father, a carpenter, was wild with the idea of creating Wealth - in a hurry - so had come to find his own "Welcome Nugget".

        When gold lost it's steam the Father, David, talked Mother an Irish lady, Margaret (Browne) into going to Rockhampton Qld. to build a new hospital - as the Main Contractor. However, with the money in the pocket, Dad departed for Fiji on a wild urge. This left Mother to return to Leith, in Scotland, with four small children - and one on the way.

        It fell to MacPherson - "Mac" a Scot/Irish Australian - to go to work to support the family at age 9. He was up at 3am to pick up and deliver newspapers over ten miles and by 6am he was lathering faces at a barber shop until 9am. Then school until 3pm and back to lathering faces until 9pm. Unfortunately, this work load did not bring in sufficient income, so Mac had to give up schooling  to work full time.

        After ten separate jobs he finally took on an apprenticeship in a confectionery factory. The grounding and knowledge he acquired ultimately led to the founding of the biggest confectionery empire in the Southern Hemisphere.

        It was not too difficult for Mac to find work, but - with the long hours he had little in the way of an easy life - he still had time for fun. In time, the Father desired the family to return to Australian. Mac made up his mind to 'Succeed in Life' and be responsible for his entire family. On arrival in Australia he apprenticed himself to a confectioner in Fitzroy, Melbourne, and began his long journey which would see him as the most successful entrepreneur - and the highest taxed person - in Australia.

        At age 19, a skilled confectionery craftsman, he set up a small factory in his Mother's bathroom with a "nail keg for a stove, a tin cup for a kettle and some sugar" (even now on display somewhere) His total Capital was about 2  pounds - probably about $200 in today's money. He made the confections on Mondays to Thursdays and sold them around Melbourne on Fridays and Saturdays.

        Originally, his business was called the Mac Robertson Steam Confectionery Works and by 1925 MacRobertson's Chocolates employed 2500 people. Mac had built so many factories in Fitzroy that the block was known as "White City".

        Although Unions were trying hard to bring manufacturers under their thumb for exploiting workers his works never had a strike. He often said that he should liked to have done more for his workers but the union made it too difficult. Never the less, he instituted a form of pension scheme which was innovative as well as being the forerunner of it's day. His annual turnover in 1880 was 300 Pounds and by 1925, it was 2,000,000 Pounds.  (almost $200,000,000 per annum of 1998 money)

        He was not one to indulge himself with fine homes, yachts and beach houses, as others of his status did.  However, he did have an obsession with keeping fit both physically and mentally. For the former he punched a boxing speed ball each day. For the later he choose Croquet because the strategy required to excel relieved his business mental stress and reinforced his own business psychology.

        While others owned race horses, Mac preferred to train his own sulky and tandem ponies and for many
years his many famous working Grays - including Wattle, Pride and Captain were the pride of Melbourne.

        In 1925, wishing to give something back to the people of Australia, he sponsored the MacRobertson Shield between Australia and England in his beloved sport of Croquet. This Shield is still the most skilled and prestigious Tournament Series on the International Croquet scene - now played with the addition of the New Zealand and US of A. National Teams.

        In 1927, he co-founded MacRobertson-Miller Aviation Co. and sponsored an around Australia Expedition by two motor lorries in 1928. Then, in 1929-30, Mac sponsored the British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition which ensured Australia's hold on the Antarctic mainland.

        Sir Douglas Mawson named MacRobertson Land (on Antarctica) after him and he was awarded a Fellowship of the Royal Geographic Society in 1931. He was Knighted in 1932 and appointed K.B.E. in 1935

        With the great depression beginning, he was able to go against the trend and put on even more employees as his "Old Gold" Chocolate Box and Columbines were exceptionally well sponsored and advertised. Mac supported Charities and unemployment relief and was often disappointed at the wretchedness and demands of the poor together with the stupidity and avarice of Federal Politicians -  who used the poor for their own ends.

        At this time Mac re-evaluated his charitable actions and financial support to the individual poor which simply encouraged others to ask for a free handout. He found the idle poor were malicious and ever demanding while despising and abusing the prosperious and hard working. He resolved that in future he would cease indiscriminate donations to the individual poor. They had an adverse effect upon himself and his product. In future he would concentrate on Sponsoring worthwhile projects that created the Wealth for the Nation.

       In 1933, he donated 100,000 Pounds to Victoria for it's Centenary Celebrations (worth now about $10,000,000) Asked what to do with the money he suggested first, a Girls High School; a much needed bridge over the Yarra River at Grange Rd.; a fountain in front of the Shrine of Remembrance on St Kilda Rd. and a Herbarium in the Melbourne Botanical Gardens. These new building projects would help to employ many of the unemployed who wanted to work rather than criticise the rich.

        To advertise Australia, and Melbourne in particular, he organized and Sponsored, with part of the donation, the great London to Melbourne Centenary Air Race. This was the most gallant and grueling Air Race of all times and bought to Australia unprecedented publicity. The top Aviators of the world competed and it made the future participation of Australia in International Commercial Aviation assured.


        The Federal Government, in the Politician's wisdom, demanded 42,000 Pounds ($4.2M) from the 100,000 Pounds donated - as tax. This was, at the time, considered scandalous by the rich and charitable, but Mac preferred to pay the 42,000 Pounds tax, himself. He vowed to investigate this iniquity and bring it before the highest Court in the land. He was, at the time, the highest tax payer in Australia, besides one of the biggest employers of labor - and possibly the person least interested in party politics.

        From this and other responsible interpretations of our Australian Federal Constitution, Sponsorships would, in future, be dealt with as a tax deduction. Donations would have to be made to prescribed Charities in order to be tax deductible. Gifts would have various interpretations - particularly if made to a political party. While Grants would have other strings attached - particularly if from a political party in power.

        Mac pioneered the "Freedom of Choice" in Australia which would result, at the time of his death, with the United Nations having an Australian as the first Secretary, Dr Evatt.

        From this grew the myth for some - Australia "the Lucky Country" - providing you would "try and have a go" and not "assume something is not possible before you even try" - which was then, the basic attitude.

        Sir MacPherson Robertson was, without a doubt, the greatest entrepreneur and philanthropist in contemporary Australian History.

        His confectionery empire, MacRobertson's (with his distinctive signature) was the envy of his International contemporaries. In later years it has been said, his "Old Gold" Chocolate Box was the cause of more nuptials than the back seat of an FJ Holden.

        His interest in Commercial Aviation put Australia on the map and has helped QANTAS be one of the great - and the safest airline in the world.

        His Sponsorships proved themselves to be the "20% of the total advertising budget that worked". He was before his time in personally pioneering advertising, sponsorships and product promotion.

        His contribution to the sport of Croquet will live forever wherever thinking men and women gather in harmony and fellowship within this, his beloved sport.

        His contribution to the Australian public in making TaxPlanning both a legal and patriotic necessity is recognized in legal and accounting circles in the "Choice Principle", the "Duty of Care", and what the High Court considers "necessary" for the survival of the Small Family Business and its employment capability.

        Mac is truelly an inspiration to us all for he really wanted to give back something to the land that gave him so much. In later years,  the President of the US of A, John F Kennedy,  would look at similar rich and patriotic Role Models around the world and say:-

          "Ask not what your Country can do for you.  Rather - what you can do for your Country"

        Sir Mac loved Australia and patriotic Australians and made "rich" a proud and honorable accolade. It is said that, whereas Ned Kelly is the Patron Saint of the Australian poor, Mac is the Patron Saint of those who are prepared to learn, work hard, persevere and - who never give in. The true Aussie Battlers!

          Born 1860, at Ballarat Victoria, Sir MacPherson Robertson, a rich Croquet Player, died in 1945, happy and successful at age 85.