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New, Charles Richard (1914–1989)

by John McIlwraith

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

Charles Richard New (1914-1989), brick manufacturer, was born on 25 August 1914 in Perth, son of English-born parents Albert New, builder, and his wife Violet Beatrice, née Tremain.  Ric became a carpenter and builder; he was also a charcoal-burner.  On 19 December 1942 at St George’s Cathedral he married with Church of England rites Marie Elizabeth Brunsgard, a clerk.  After World War II, aware of the severe shortage of building supplies, especially bricks, he experimented in the oven at his home with balls of clay collected from the Darling Range.  With capital of only £200, borrowed from his mother in 1946, he and his brother Gerald set up a brickyard at Middle Swan.

The New brothers designed and built their first square updraft kiln, with second-hand bricks.  They made their own machinery, using mainly war-surplus materials and equipment, and Ric roamed the local area looking for suitable clay deposits.  Once, in the early years when they were short of money, they sold the office typewriter to pay wages.  In 1953 they established Midland Brick Co. Pty Ltd.  On a trip to the United States of America in 1963, Ric persuaded the kiln manufacturer Harrop Ceramic Service Co., Columbus, Ohio, to sell him the plans for a new and more efficient tunnel kiln, which Midland Brick then built.

Managing director of the company, New led a successful campaign to promote the Perth tradition of building double-brick homes, as distinct from brick veneer.  Mechanisation and a stream of innovations reduced production costs.  In 1980 the use of natural gas, delivered via a newly installed pipeline, brought great savings in fuel costs.  By 1989 Midland Brick employed 850 people and produced nearly a million bricks a day, supplying about 80 per cent of the Western Australian market and exporting a proportion.  With sales of $100 million annually, it was reputedly the world’s biggest brickyard.

Although New was opposed to his workers joining trade unions, he was generous, paying long-standing employees quarterly bonuses even when the company was short of cash.  To alleviate a labour shortage, he advocated recruitment of tradesmen from Europe and, in 1973, despite opposition from unions, he supported the introduction of a shorter, more intensive training program for bricklaying apprentices.  His extreme right-wing stance on most issues incurred the enmity of Australian Labor Party and union officials; his almost continuous rows with them were well publicised.  He enjoyed the intrigue and drama of politics and financially supported a number of conservative candidates.  Shy of public appearances, but direct in speech, he fiercely pursued his business and political goals.  He was pessimistic about the future; his home and those of his two daughters had nuclear bomb shelters.

Described by Caroline de Mori as a 'spare, wiry man with sharp, alert eyes and big tradesman’s hands', New was a champion glider pilot, flew his own powered aircraft, owned big-game fishing boats and collected large American cars.  From 1975 he was a member of the Western Australian Club.  Survived by his wife and their daughters, he died on 13 June 1989 at his home at Dalkeith, and was buried in Karrakatta cemetery.  Next year Midland Brick became a division of Boral Ltd.

Select Bibliography

  • A. McAdam and P. O’Brien, Burke’s Shambles (1987)
  • C. de Mori, A Club for All Seasons (1990)
  • M. May, Bricks and Mortar (1996)
  • Sunday Times (Perth), 3 August 1986, p 15
  • Daily News (Perth), 14 June 1989, p 14
  • West Australian, 15 June 1989, p 58
  • private information

Citation details

John McIlwraith, 'New, Charles Richard (1914–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/new-charles-richard-14984/text26173, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 29 February 2020.

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

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