Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Smorgon, Norman (1884–1956)

by Rod Myer

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Norman (Naum) Smorgon (1884-1956), businessman, was born on 17 December 1884 at Heidelberg, Ukraine, Russia, and named Naum, son of Gershon Smorgon, butcher, and his wife Leah, née Batagol. Naum received a traditional Jewish education—predominantly involving religious studies that focused on the Bible, the Talmud and the Hebrew language—and learned to read and write Russian. The region around the village of Heidelberg was inhabited by German farmers, in whose language he also became fluent.

As a young man, Smorgon followed his father's trade and helped in the family's small business. On one of his rounds with the butcher's cart, he met Tzippa Mejov, from the neighbouring village of Blumental. Breaking tradition, they made their own courting arrangements without a matchmaker. They were married at Blumental in 1908 and were to have four children. Naum and Tzippa lived at Heidelberg and opened a small mixed-goods store in a shed adjacent to their cottage. Russian laws which restricted the movement and occupations of Jews were abolished in March 1917. In the following year the Smorgons settled at Bol'shoy Tokmak, where Naum established a tannery with his youngest brother, Isak. The two then went into the flour-milling business with their brothers Abram and Moses.

To escape anti-Jewish violence during the Russian Civil War, the extended Smorgon family moved to Mariupol (Zhdanov) on the Sea of Azov. Naum and his brothers again took up flour-milling. Tzippa suffered from paralysis. Because her husband was unable to care for her, she returned to her own family. He divorced her in 1925. Within a year he married Vera Naumovna Feldman at Mariupol; they were to remain childless. After political and economic turmoil caused the mill to close, the brothers eventually re-established themselves in tanning. The rise of Josef Stalin worried Naum deeply. In 1927 he persuaded the family to migrate to Australia, where his sister Bertha had settled.

Having worked as a hawker in Victoria, Smorgon established a kosher butcher's shop in 1927 at Carlton, Melbourne, in association with Moses, Abram and some cousins. The business expanded rapidly and Norman's younger son Victor developed a wholesaling arm. When the original partnership broke up, Norman, and his sons Eric and Victor turned to meat canning and exporting. In 1944 they built large meatworks at Brooklyn. About that time the family reunited and the enterprise continued to grow. Norman Smorgon & Sons Pty Ltd began to export rabbit meat and canned fruit, competing with larger concerns such as the Shepparton Preserving Co. Ltd.

Smorgon was a heavy-set and powerful man, the acknowledged leader of the family. He pushed those around him to try new ventures and improve their lives. In the early 1950s he began to spend much of his time in London, overseeing the family company's export operations. He divorced Vera in 1954. That year, at Honolulu, Hawaii, he married Michelle Langer, a Polish-born divorcee. His first wife Tzippa had recovered from paralysis and migrated to Australia; she lived with their daughter Annia Castan and her family. While holidaying in Israel, Smorgon suffered a stroke and died on 11 March 1956 at Tel Aviv and was buried there. His wife survived him, as did the two sons and two daughters of his first marriage.

Over the next forty years the family enterprise diversified into the manufacture of paper, cardboard, steel, glass, plastic and electronic equipment. Prominent in philanthropic causes, Smorgon Consolidated Industries was one of the largest private industrial corporations in Australia by 1995 when the family decided to sell its operational arms.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Myer, Living the Dream (Syd, 2000)
  • Age (Melbourne), 18 Feb 1995
  • naturalisation file, series A435/1, item 1945/4/6996 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Rod Myer, 'Smorgon, Norman (1884–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/smorgon-norman-11729/text20969, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 1 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Smorgon, Naum
Birth

17 December 1884
Heidelberg, Ukraine

Death

11 March 1956
Tel Aviv, Israel

Religious Influence
Occupation