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Crebbin, Richard Charles (Dick) (1913–1989)

by John Edwards

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Richard Charles (Dick) Crebbin (1913-1989), businessman, was born on 21 November 1913 at Paddington, Sydney, younger son of Victorian-born Thomas George Crebbin, police constable, and his wife Maude Alice Alma, née Farindon, who was born in New South Wales. Richard attended Sydney Boys’ High School, leaving aged 15. He enjoyed rowing at school, later became a State champion and continued to coach as an adult. His first job was at Copmanhurst on a peanut farm that belonged to Marrickville Margarine Pty Ltd. Charles Abel had founded this company in 1908 with his sons, one of whom, Albert, had married Richard Crebbin’s aunt Frances Farindon in 1912. After a year or two on the farm Richard returned to Sydney and, by the mid-1930s, was a master butcher, with two retail shops. He studied accounting at night and joined Marrickville Margarine as an accounting clerk.

Enlisting in the Citizen Military Forces in 1941 and employed as a pay clerk, Crebbin transferred to the Royal Australian Air Force on 18 July 1942. In May 1943 he was commissioned as a pilot. He served in Australia with No.107 Squadron and in New Guinea with No.8 Communication Unit, whose commanding officer described him as `an excellent officer of outstanding personality’. Crebbin was demobilised as a flight lieutenant on 15 October 1945.

Returning to Marrickville Margarine as a senior executive, Crebbin took on other business roles. In 1949 he became chairman of Kork-n-Seal (Aust.) Pty Ltd, a cork-manufacturing business. A publicly listed company, Marrickville Holdings Ltd, was created with Crebbin as a foundation (1951) director; from 1955 he was managing director, and from 1957 chairman. That year he became a director, and in 1968 chairman, of Waugh & Josephson Holdings Ltd, importers of Caterpillar products.

On 7 January 1954 at St Mark’s Church of England, Darling Point, Dick Crebbin had married Joan Hazel Cridge, widow of his wartime friend Keith Cridge, and adopted their daughter. They lived at Castlecrag, a residential estate designed by Walter Burley Griffin, and their home was furnished by Marion Hall Best. Crebbin acquired a collection of Australian art that included paintings by (Sir) William Dobell, (Sir) Sidney Nolan, Charles Blackman and (Sir) Russell Drysdale, and sculptures by Robert Klippel, Gerald Lewers and Clement Meadmore. In 1966 the Sydney Morning Herald reported that he had two Drysdale paintings on the wall of his office, which had also been decorated by Best. His chauffeur drove him to work each day in a 1962 maroon Cadillac with the number plate RC 900. He arrived at the office at 9 a.m., and was rarely home before 7.30 p.m.

Marrickville Holding’s brands included Mother’s Choice flour, Eta peanut butter and cooking margarines derived from animal fats. The growth of the market for table margarine based on vegetable oils was blocked by Stategovernment-imposed quotas to protect the politically powerful dairy industry. Marrickville Margarine tested the New South Wales Dairy Industry (Amendment) Act, 1951, by producing table margarine without a licence. In 1955 the High Court of Australia found in Grannall v. Marrickville Margarine Pty Ltd that, while section 92 of the Australian Constitution guaranteed freedom of trade between the States, the manufacture of margarine was distinct from interstate trade in margarine and hence not protected.

The Cahill government did increase the quotas and reallocate licences in 1955. Marrickville Margarine was given a quota of 2166 tons of table margarine but felt that its market position was threatened as Allied Mills Ltd acquired other quota-holding table margarine companies. When Marrickville later manufactured above its quota, the Country Party members of the subsequent coalition government, led by William Chaffey as the minister for agriculture, insisted on enforcing the New South Wales Dairy Industry (Amendment) Act, 1955. Crebbin’s counsel argued that Marrickville’s production above quota was only for interstate orders and therefore was protected by s.92. In 1966 in Beal v. Marrickville Margarine Pty Ltd the High Court upheld its earlier ruling. The company launched an advertising campaign devised by Sim Rubensohn’s advertising agency, Hansen Rubensohn-McCann Erickson Pty Ltd, and featuring the margarine-buying housewife Mrs Jones.

The quotas had become a potent symbol of Country Party protection of farming interests at the expense of Australian consumers and taxpayers, and Crebbin had become one of the best known proponents of change. He argued for the removal of both the quotas for table margarine made from Australian fats and oils and the restrictions on the use of Australian vegetable oils in the manufacture of cooking margarines. The journalist Maxwell Newton, a vehement economic rationalist who became a friend and business associate of Crebbin, assisted the campaign against the quotas.

By the late 1960s Crebbin had close connections with the Australian Labor Party, which he had long supported. Following the success of the party in the 1972 Federal election, the Whitlam government announced in 1974 that it would phase out quotas on margarine production in the Australian Capital Territory over two years. The New South Wales government increased quotas in 1973 and 1975. Following the abolition (1976) of quotas in South Australia, those in New South Wales were withdrawn by the Wran Labor government in the Dairy Industry (Amendment) Act, 1977. Mrs Jones had won. Through energetic appeal to public opinion and political alliances and persistent pressure, Crebbin had succeeded in removing the Country Party’s restrictions on the production of margarine. He achieved a victory for competition and market deregulation in the Australian economy.

In the 1970s the Marrickville business attracted the interest of Melbourne’s Liberman family, which controlled Southern Packers Pty Ltd. Despite Crebbin’s opposition, Southern Packers and associated interests acquired just over half of the shares in Marrickville Holdings in October 1977. He resigned from the company in November.

One of Crebbin’s major interests was arts administration. The Whitlam government had appointed him chairman of the interim board of the Australian National Gallery in September 1974. Under the Fraser government, he chaired (1976-82) the permanent council. He also chaired (1980-83) Artbank, a government agency that bought works by Australian artists and leased them to public and private clients. Survived by his wife, their daughter and two sons, he died on 23 August 1989 at Wahroonga and was buried in Northern Suburbs cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • S. Newton, Maxwell Newton (1993)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 27 Sept 1966, p 6, 8 Nov 1966, p 1, 11 Nov 1966, p 5, 16 Mar 1967, p 9, 26 Aug 1989, p 11
  • Age (Melbourne), 12 Feb 1977, p 14
  • series A9300, item Crebbin Richard (National Archives of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John Edwards, 'Crebbin, Richard Charles (Dick) (1913–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/crebbin-richard-charles-dick-12368/text22225, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 18 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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