Shocking truth behind Golden Circle

This month marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of Queensland’s and Australia’s iconic Golden Circle brand, but the true stories behind its founding are shocking. I told a version of the story on West Bremer Radio.

The Golden Circle cannery was established at Northgate on the northside of Brisbane, Queensland, on the 28th of October 1947. Golden Circle was initially part of the Committee of Direction of Fruit Marketing in Queensland. It was called COD for short.

Golden Circle was bought by the Americans in 2008, but that doesn’t change its history and iconic status in both Queensland and Australia. It also doesn’t change the history of the impressive founders, and the perjurous and murderous tales associated with the early days.

Firstly, there was Percival James Savage. In the First World War he’d been mentioned in dispatches three times, awarded a Distinguished Service Order and later made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE).

Percival Savage

Savage was born in Ipswich in 1894 and he attended Ipswich Grammar School. After the war, he started a pineapple farm at Brookfield in the western suburbs of Brisbane, and there’s still a Savages Road there today. He was chairman of the board of COD for thirty years, and one of the two people directly responsible for the founding of Golden Circle.

The other person was Bernard Flewell-Smith. He was also a hero in the First World War. He was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry and later bestowed as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).

Bernard Flewell-Smith

Flewell-Smith was born in Lowood in 1898. He also went to Ipswich Grammar School and was the top student in the state. He was later the general manager of COD.

Golden Circle became known for marketing brilliance that took Queensland pineapples to the world, and Ipswich – both of the founders’ hometown – was front-and-centre.

In 1930, the Ipswich Chamber of Commerce sent a case of thirty tins of canned pineapples to the Ipswich Chamber of Commerce in England. This marketing initiative was thanks to COD that presented the idea to the chamber because of the surplus of pineapples that season. It was a marketing masterstroke, and other chambers of commerce in Queensland followed suit.

In 1931, the editor of the Queensland Times newspaper received a case of pineapples as gift from farmer Michael Erbacher of Nambour. This was another marketing masterstroke. Erbacher was another who had grown up in the district. He only left Ipswich to go growing pineapples in Nambour.

But his story is perhaps not as golden as Golden Circle itself.

When Michael’s mother Frances immigrated to Queensland in the mid-19th century, her ship got shipwrecked, the passengers survived but they lost everything.

One of Michael’s brothers George lived in Rosewood was in and out of the Ipswich Courthouse in a child maintenance case. At first the case was dismissed, but perjury charges were brought, and the brother was ultimately ordered to pay up.

Another one of Michael’s brothers Leonard was a shearer in Charleville, and while he was busy clipping the golden fleece, another man had shorn him of his domestic happiness and run off with his wife.

Then there was a cousin Charles who was one of five victims who were shot and their bodies burned in a mass murder at Pittsworth.

Charles Erbacher

And as for Michael himself, after he left Ipswich to go pineapple farming, while he was stepping into his cart, he slipped and fell and broke his leg. Later a tree fell on Michael and broke his leg again. And when he was riding a horse along the Bruce Highway, his horse slipped on the bitumen and Michael broke his leg for a third time.

So happy seventy-fifth birthday to Golden Circle. It was founded thanks to some great men, but not all the stories about those pioneering pineapple men are golden.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO A VERSION OF THIS STORY TOLD LIVE ON RADIO.

Photo credits
Golden Circle label – State Library of Queensland.
Major Percival Savage 1916 – Wikimedia Public Domain.
Bernard Flewell-Smith – Ipswich Grammar School.
Charles Erbacher – Courier-Mail, Brisbane, 22nd July 1935, page 11.

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