Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Toft, Colin Bramwell (1921–1990)

by Bill Kerr

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

Colin Bramwell Toft (1921-1990), sugar-cane farmer and businessman, was born on 24 July 1921 at Bundaberg, Queensland, elder child of Queensland-born Joseph Toft, farmer, and his second wife Catherine Emma, née Palmer, from New South Wales. His father also had five children from his first marriage. Colin was educated at Bundaberg West State and Bundaberg Intermediate schools. Like his brothers, he worked on the family farm from an early age, experiencing the hard work and drudgery of cutting and hand-loading sugar cane during the annual harvest.

In 1939 the oldest half-brother, Joseph Alfred Toft (1910-2006), built a simple mechanical cane-loader. The following year he and his brother, Harold Elvin Toft (1918-1988), modified the loader with parts from an old T-model Ford motorcar. This became the first commercial whole-stalk cane-loader in Australia; it took three people to operate but was a huge improvement on manual loading. In 1941 the two brothers built a harvester that attracted a lot of interest when it was used to cut cane in 1942-43.

In 1944 the mechanical cane harvesting sub-committee of the Queensland Cane Growers' Council, with government support, commissioned the Tofts to develop their harvester further. Harold and Colin Toft formed a partnership in 1946, when they took over their father’s cane-farming business. Interest in mechanisation in the sugar-cane industry waned after World War II, when more manpower became available, but revived in the mid-1950s. In 1956 the Toft brothers developed a hydraulically operated jib-type cane-loader with rotatable grab, operated by one person, and continued to experiment with designs for harvesters and loaders. By 1959 they had developed a simple single-row harvester, the forerunner of numerous models. They established a factory at Bundaberg that they soon outgrew. By 1979 the Australian sugar-cane crop was totally harvested by machine, with Tofts gaining a large share of the market. Colin lacked his half-brother’s engineering talent but was a natural salesman. An astute marketer, he built up the export business, selling harvesters in more than thirty countries. In 1965 the Tofts floated a public company, Toft Bros Industries Ltd, to raise working capital.

During the late 1960s Colin travelled widely, seeking international markets for chopped-cane harvesting machinery. In 1968 Toft Bros negotiated a manufacturing-distribution arrangement with International Harvester Co. of Australia Pty Ltd, which lapsed in 1970. By the early 1970s Toft Bros held a large share of the world market in mechanised cane machinery and employed a workforce of seven hundred. In 1972 the Hawaii-based Theo H. Davies & Co. Ltd bought a controlling interest and, in 1973, Jardine Matheson & Co. Ltd of Hong Kong bought Davies. Colin retired as a director in 1977, when Jardine Matheson acquired the remaining shares.

Colin Toft was a charter member (1969), president and life member of the Bundaberg West Rotary Club. He was inaugural president (1978-79) and then patron of the Bundaberg Field Day Society (Agro-Trend) and held many other positions in the community. In 1989 he was appointed OBE. Long associated with the Salvation Army, he was a bandsman for more than thirty years. Business success enabled him to drive a new Rolls Royce but he remained a humble, generous and caring family man. He had married Joyce Evelyn Cook, a sewing machinist, on 31 May 1947 at the Salvation Army Citadel, Bundaberg. Survived by his wife and their two daughters, he died on 20 October 1990 at Bundaberg and was buried in the local cemetery. In 1990 his family companies owned 665 hectares of sugar cane on three properties.

Select Bibliography

  • Toft Bros Industries Ltd, Annual Report, 1966-77
  • Australian Sugar Year Book, 1944-45, p 269
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 9 Sept 1965, p 14, 6 June 2006, p 65
  • News Mail Bundaberg, 30 Sept 1989, p 5, 24 Oct 1990, p 3
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Citation details

Bill Kerr, 'Toft, Colin Bramwell (1921–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/toft-colin-bramwell-15645/text26842, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 22 July 2019.

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

View the front pages for Volume 18

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