The Federated Confectioners' Association of Australia was registered with the Australian Industrial Relations Commission in 1925, based on forerunners including the NSW Confectioners Society and the NSW Journeymen Confectioners’ Union. The Female Confectioners’ Union, founded in 1916, merged with the Federated Confectioners’ Association in 1944/1945.

The union changed its name to the Confectionery Workers’ Union of Australia in 1986 and in 1992 merged with the Food Preservers Union of Australia to form the Confectionery Workers and Food Preservers Union of Australia.

Sir Macpherson Robertson

Several items in the exhibition relate to MacRobertson’s Steam Confectionery Works, founded by Macpherson Robertson in the 1880s. MacRobertson’s created enduring classics of Australian confectionary, such as the Freddo Frog and the Cherry Ripe, packaging and promoting them skilfully. Journalists dubbed Robertson ‘an Australian Carnegie’ and ‘sugar daddy’ for his generous charitable giving, and he took an unusually benevolent view of unionism.

In public the man and the enterprise were synonymous. Dressed immaculately in white, he presided over his Great White City at Fitzroy, a complex of white-painted factories housing several thousand white-uniformed employees. His delivery trucks were drawn by prize grey draughthorses, which he readily lent for public processions and drove himself on Eight Hours Day. His assiduous promotion of the romanticized tale of his business, A Young Man and a Nail Can (1921), gave Melbourne an equivalent of the Dick Whittington legend. (ADB)

Female unionism

The confectionary industry was relatively feminised, and heavily unionised in many factories, thanks to the organising work of stalwarts like Margaret Wearne, a union official for 36 years.

In Victoria, women employed in the confectionary industry organised on their own behalf and established the Female Confectioners’ Union which functioned as a separate union until 1944. Miss Margaret Wearne and Miss Daisy Diwell, the pioneers of the Female Confectioners’ Union, were in the main responsible for the success of this union. As shop steward, Miss Wearne was able to enrol 95 per cent of women and girls employed in MacRobertson’s huge factory, where some departments boasted one hundred per cent membership. (D’Aprano, pp30-31).

The Noel Butlin Archives Centre holds the records of the NSW branch of the Federated Confectioners' Association of Australia, covering the period 1889–1993. There are also records relating to confectionary workers held within Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union deposits. The University of Melbourne Archives hold the records of the Female Confectioners Union.


Zelda D'Aprano. Kath Williams: The Unions and the Fight for Equal Pay, Melbourne: Spinifex Press, 2001.

John Lack, 'Robertson, Sir Macpherson (1859–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 24 October 2018.