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Ernest William (Bill) Schroder (1933–1992)

by H. M. P. Stock

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Ernest Melville ‘Bob’ Schroder (1901–1993), chemist and company manager, and Ernest William (Bill) Schroder (1933–1992), engineer and company manager, were father and son. Ernest Melville was born on 23 August 1901 at Wallaroo, South Australia, eldest child of Harold Schröder (1875–1964), analytical chemist, and his wife Florence Lilian Aylmore, née Stimson. Bob, as he was known, grew up in a family that valued enterprise and determination. His father, Harold, was the ninth and last child of Ernest Augustus Schröder, railway manager and an immigrant from Hanover, and his Scottish-born wife Margaret Melville, née Mottley. The family lived in straightened circumstances after Ernest Augustus’s death in 1879.

Harold was educated locally and then at the Moonta School of Mines and the South Australian School of Mines and Industries in Adelaide. Finding employment in the assay office of the Wallaroo smelters, he became a ‘skilled assayer’ with a ‘first-class knowledge’ of metallurgical operations (Schroder 1989, 12). He married Florence Stimson at St Mary’s Church, Wallaroo, on 11 October 1900, according to Church of England rites. The couple moved to New South Wales, where he worked at the Great Cobar Copper-Mining Co. Ltd smelting works at Lithgow (from 1901), and the Electrolytic Refining and Smelting Co. of Australia Ltd, at Port Kembla (from 1908). During the 1910s he found employment as a journalist and in short-term positions at small mines and smelters, including at C.S.A. Mines Ltd, Kandos. In 1922 he was appointed chief chemist at the local Kandos Cement Co. Ltd plant. From 1923 until his retirement in 1945, he was its works superintendent. Having returned to South Australia, he died on 28 August 1964 at his Largs North home and was buried at Centennial Park cemetery, Adelaide.

As a youth Bob Schroder was ‘tall and skinny, poor at sports’ and ‘prone to the onset of severe attacks of asthma’ (Schroder 1989, 59). His education at local public schools, Newcastle High School, and Newcastle Technical College was often interrupted by illness and family relocations. One of his earliest jobs was working with his father at the C.S.A. Mines as an office boy and assayer. In 1920, following a collapse in the price of copper, he seized the opportunity to transfer to Kandos Cement, where profitability issues had forced a shake-up of the management. Two years later the company sponsored him to undertake a lengthy educational tour of cement works in the United States of America and Britain. This led to his rapid promotion to controller of production, then chief engineer. At twenty-four, he was said to be ‘the youngest engineer in the State’ (Sun 1926, 5). After further training at the Holderbank works of the Aargauische Portlandzement Fabrik AG, Switzerland, during 1927, he became chief chemist and deputy works superintendent, in which role he introduced successful changes in production based on his overseas experience.

In December 1929 Kandos Cement merged with the Geelong company, Australian Cement Ltd, to form Australian Portland Cement Pty Ltd. In 1931 Bob Schroder was sent to Geelong, initially on a ‘temporary’ basis to improve production, before being appointed chief chemist at the site. From 1942 to 1944 he served part time in the 6th Victorian Battalion, Volunteer Defence Corps, rising to lieutenant (November 1942). In 1943 he was delegated to provide technical assistance to the Adelaide Cement Co. Ltd after it developed serious quality difficulties. His success in resolving the issues so impressed the directors of Adelaide Cement—including (Sir) Edward Wheewall Holden and Sir Wallace Bruce—that he was offered the position of general manager. He took up the post in August 1944.

Three years later Bob Schroder was appointed to the board and became managing director of the company. His complete revitalisation of its Birkenhead works (including expenditure on new plant) had, by the end of 1948, turned around the company’s fortunes. Further investment in the 1950s (supported by the South Australian government) overcame the domestic cement shortage. He initiated improvements in plant, processes, and reliability at Birkenhead and at the Klein Point (Yorke Peninsula) limestone quarry. These changes reduced production costs to a level that Adelaide Cement’s major competitor, South Australian Portland Cement Co. Ltd (later Brighton Cement Holdings Ltd), could not match.

Schroder retired on 31 December 1967. He continued to serve on the board and was elected chairman in October 1970. From this position he steered through the merger of Adelaide Cement and Brighton Cement to form Adelaide Brighton Cement Ltd. The merger was strongly contested by Australian and Kandos Cement Holdings Ltd which, after a failed on-market raid, was left with a stranded shareholding in a company soon to be delisted. Schroder strategically delayed buying out the shares until the merger was fully bedded down in 1973. Three years later he stood down from the board. He had also served as a director of several other South Australian companies; as a member of State government committees, including inquiries into railway derailments and into the transport link with Kangaroo Island; and as president of the Cement and Concrete Association of Australia (CCAA; 1953–54, 1960–61), and the South Australian Chamber of Manufactures (1963–65). In 1970 he was appointed CMG.

On 19 May 1928 Schroder had married Winsome ‘Winkie’ Dawson, at the Methodist Church, Kandos, New South Wales. Their second child and elder son, Ernest William, was born on 30 May 1933 at Geelong, Victoria. Bill was educated at Geelong Grammar School, the Collegiate School of St Peter, Adelaide, and the University of Adelaide (BE, 1955), and later obtained a diploma in accountancy at the South Australian Institute of Technology. On 1 November 1958, at St Peter’s College Chapel, he married Mary Patricia Genders, a kindergarten teacher. After university he had been appointed as assistant chemist at the Birkenhead works of Adelaide Cement. Within a few months he was promoted to chief chemist following the unexpected retirement of the incumbent. He became works manager in 1966 and general manager in 1968.

In 1971 Bill Schroder was appointed managing director of the merged Adelaide and Brighton Cement. Described as ‘forward thinking’ (SA Mines and Energy Journal 2009, 20), he developed an interest in improving sustainability in manufacturing. At Birkenhead he revolutionised the testing and quality control practices at the site. He implemented the modernisation program devised by his father and supervised the construction and commissioning of MV Accolade I, a self-unloading bulk carrier. Under his direction Adelaide Brighton expanded into interstate markets—establishing production and distribution facilities in Newcastle, Brisbane, Darwin, and Perth—as well as into international markets. He was appointed AO in 1977.

Illness forced Schroder's retirement in January 1992. He contributed generously to a range of organisations: he was a director of the National Mutual Life Association of Australasia Ltd, SAGASCO Holdings Ltd, and a number of public companies; he served on the State committee of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, the Environmental Protection Council of South Australia, and the council of the National Association of Testing Authorities; and he was president of the CCAA (1987–88) and the South Australian Chamber of Mines (1979–81). Survived by his wife, and their daughter and two sons, he died of bowel cancer on 20 September 1992 in North Adelaide and was cremated. His father died on 15 February the following year, survived by a son and a daughter. Adelaide Brighton commemorated Bill’s contribution by funding the E. W. Schroder Research scholarship at the University of Adelaide and creating Schroder Park, a native forest, at the Birkenhead site.

Research edited by Nicole McLennan

Select Bibliography

  • Advertiser (Adelaide). ‘Cancer Claims Industry Captain.’ 21 September 1992, 11
  • Fleming, Bruce A. Kandos Cement: A History of the Cement Manufacturing Industry at Kandos. [Kandos, NSW]: The author, 2013
  • Johnny Green’s Journal. ‘Bill Schroder.’ 1, no. 3 (January 1981): 6
  • Laidlaw, D. ‘Eulogy for “Bill” Schroder.’ Unpublished manuscript, 1992
  • Middleton, S. ‘Made His Mark in Cement.’ Advertiser (Adelaide), undated newspaper cutting
  • National Archives of Australia. B884, V352210
  • SA Mines and Energy Journal. ‘Business in the Blood.’ October-November 2009, 20–21
  • Schroder, E. M. I Remember, I Remember: With a Biography of His Father Harold Schroder. [Largs Bay, SA]: Calx, 1989
  • Schroder, M. P. Bill. Adelaide: Open Book, n.d
  • Schroder family. Personal communication
  • Sun (Sydney). ‘Youngest Engineer.’ 11 April 1926, 5

Additional Resources

Citation details

H. M. P. Stock, 'Schroder, Ernest William (Bill) (1933–1992)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2018, accessed online 15 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

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