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Malpas, Charles Henry (1899–1982)

by David Dunstan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Charles Malpas, by Rennie Ellis, 1980

Charles Malpas, by Rennie Ellis, 1980

State Library of Victoria, 49300515

Charles Henry Malpas (1899-1982), inventor and businessman, was born on 28 April 1899 at Leicester, England, eldest of four sons of Charles Edward Malpas, kit cutter and toolmaker, and his wife Florence, née Merry.  As a boy he spent time in a children’s home, possibly connected to the Barnardos charity, to which he donated later in life.  From April 1918 to February 1919 he served as a cadet in the Royal Air Force.  On 31 July 1920 at the Congregational Church, Wylde Green, Sutton Coldfield, he married Elsie Moore, a clerk.  The couple migrated to Australia the following year, arriving in Melbourne in March.  In 1924 their daughter died in infancy and Elsie returned to England alone.  They divorced in 1935.

Malpas is believed to have worked on a government sustenance scheme at Fort Queenscliff during the Depression.  On 14 September 1935 he married Victorian-born Betty Meryl Cutler at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Manse, Geelong.  Cutler had worked with Malpas in an iron foundry and engineering workshop he started in Geelong in 1933.  Subsequently known as Victorian Diemoulders Pty Ltd, it manufactured zinc and aluminium diecast components and later specialised in plastic injection moulding, assembly work, toolmaking and die maintenance.  Malpas was a paternalistic employer, proud of his factory, and he encouraged older as well as younger workers.  He was a Geelong city councillor for Kardinia Ward (1944-47) and Barwon Ward (1949-56).

An inventor all his life, Malpas developed heating-oil gauges, drum spouts, and pourers for wines, spirits, sauces, fruit juices, cordials and detergents.  He is best known for developing the 'Airlesflo' airtight tap and seal for packaged liquids that assisted the so-called 'wine cask' to commercial success.  He did not invent the plastic 'bag-in-the-box' for wine; an English company Waddington Duval had such a container for vinegar with a comparable tap from the 1950s.  Malpas was their Australian agent for a time.  In 1965 South Australia’s Angoves Pty Ltd sold wine in a patented one-gallon (4.55 l) polyethylene bag in a cardboard box.  The wine poured through a spout, which was cut by the user, and a makeshift seal prevented spoilage.

These early prototypes required considerable development and the key was the tap.  Penfolds Wines Australia Ltd introduced its short-lived 'Tablecask' in 1967, a plastic bag in a tin for which Malpas designed a special flow-tap.  Penfolds’ Victorian manager, Ian Hickinbotham, was amazed at his ability, after discussion, to produce new prototypes, each of which Malpas patented.  In 1970 David Wynn of Wynn Winegrowers Pty Ltd purchased the Australian rights to the Airlesflo tap, which he used to develop his company’s cardboard wine cask, as it was popularly known.  It became the dominant form of packaging for bulk wine with huge sales in Australia and internationally.

Malpas retired in 1978 and sold his company to his son Jon.  Recognised as a pioneer of the Australian die-casting and plastics industries, Malpas was an inaugural winner of the Advance Australia Award (1980) and featured in a television advertisement promoting Australian innovation.  Survived by his wife and their daughter and two sons, he died on 1 January 1982 at Leopold and was buried in Point Lonsdale cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • I. Hickinbotham, Australian Plonky (2008)
  • Herald (Melbourne), 24 October 1974, p 27, 8 January 1982, p 3
  • Age (Melbourne), 9 June 1976, p 21
  • private information.

Citation details

David Dunstan, 'Malpas, Charles Henry (1899–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/malpas-charles-henry-14891/text26084, published in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 31 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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