Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Gawith, Charles Sherwin (Charlie) (1910–1982)

by Charles Fahey

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

Charles Sherwin (Charlie) Gawith (1910-1982), bread manufacturer, politician and racehorse owner, was born on 3 June 1910 at Wallasey, Chester, England, son of Thomas George Gawith, baker, and his wife Elizabeth, née Roberts. Charlie was educated at St Augustine’s school, Liverpool, and in 1927—following the failure of his father’s business—migrated to Australia with an older brother, George. They took whatever work they could find until, in 1930, in the depths of the Depression, they determined to return to their father’s trade.

Purchasing a shop at Brunswick, Melbourne, for £50, the brothers began baking pies and pastries, initially buying a bag of flour each day. Gradually they expanded into bread production and in the mid-1930s moved to premises at Elsternwick and then Prahran. The firm of Gawith Brothers was ideally located to expand with the postwar growth of Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs. They pioneered the packaging of sliced loaves and by 1953 sixty distinctive red, white and blue delivery vans were distributing their bread from the Dandenongs to Mornington. In 1960 their South Yarra bakery was celebrated as the first fully automatic bread-making plant in the world.

This success enabled Charlie, the firm’s `outside man’, to pursue other interests. He established a Hereford cattle stud at Officer, and became chairman of the engineering company Milgate Jones & Gawith Pty Ltd, and a director of Willetts Pty Ltd, Consolidated Insurance of Australia and Gawith Biscuits. In 1968 Gawith Brothers was sold to Sunicrust Bakeries. From 1949 to 1964 Charles was a conscientious Prahran City councillor (mayor, 1953-54, 1960-61). He launched the Gawith Villa Trust in 1954 to establish a training centre for children with intellectual disabilities, and served on the councils of Melbourne High School and Prahran Technical School (chairman, 1955). Having unsuccessfully contested the Legislative Assembly seat of Prahran for the Liberal Party in 1952, in a 1955 by-election he became the member for Monash province in the Legislative Council. As a parliamentarian, however, he made little impact beyond bitter exchanges with the outspoken Labor member Jack Galbally. He failed to gain preselection for the 1967 election.

Both brothers were keen racehorse owners, although Charlie—a `dapper man’, smart in dress and proud in demeanour—became the more public figure through a series of controversies surrounding their most successful horse, Big Philou. The winner on appeal of the 1969 Caulfield Cup, Big Philou was `nobbled’ for the Melbourne Cup later that year (Gawith offered $5000 for information leading to a conviction for this offence) and scratched from the same event in 1970 following Gawith’s open break with his trainer, Bart Cumings.

On 31 January 1942 at All Saint’s Church of England, St Kilda, Gawith had married Beryl Constance Holden, a dental nurse; they divorced in 1965. On 27 August that year he married Margot Frieda Irmgard Schwisow, a nurse, at the office of the government statist, Melbourne. Charlie Gawith retired to Queensland and died on 16 September 1982 at Buderim. Survived by two sons and a daughter from his first marriage, and by his wife and their daughter, he was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Watson, Breaking Wishbones (2003)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Legislative Council, Victoria), 21 Sept 1982, p 142
  • Herald (Melbourne), 13 July 1960, p 27, 18 Nov 1969, p 2, 7 Oct 1970, p 7, 13 Oct 1984, p 4
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 27 Sept 1964, p 7, 8 Oct 1970, p 35.

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