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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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White, Clarence Arthur (1886–1956)

by George Parsons

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

Clarence Arthur White (1886-1956), baker, flour-miller and company director, was born on 10 December 1886 at Redfern, Sydney, fourth of five children of English-born parents William White, a prominent Sydney baker, and his wife Anna Maria, née King. Like his brothers William and Alfred, Clarrie was educated at Stanmore Superior Public School and Newington College. He was only 17 when his father died in 1903, leaving a large enterprise, the Great Southern Bakeries, Redfern and Newtown. A fast bowler, he played first-grade cricket for Redfern, in the same team as Arthur Mailey. On 2 February 1910 he married with Baptist forms Marian Grace Holmes at the School of Arts, Glen Oak.

The firm came under the control of William junior and Clarence. They relied on technical expertise provided by their managers at Redfern and Newtown. Like other bakers in Australia, they suffered from the inability of millers to blend different grades of wheat to provide for long and uniform runs of flour. Bread quality was, at best, mediocre, because flour varied from day to day. Clarence tried to remedy this situation by using large silo complexes to allow blending.

In 1917 the Whites, Francis Gartrell and Abel & Co. Ltd amalgamated. Next year the firm was re-registered as Gartrell White Ltd, bread and cake manufacturers; William was chairman and Clarence a director and general manager. In the 1930s Clarence advocated a scientific approach to bread making. Technological innovations included the application of column chromatography and of the chlorination process for cake flours. He was also interested in the new managerial techniques pioneered in Australia by Sir Herbert Gepp, who in 1934-36 chaired the royal commission on the wheat, flour and bread industries; its third report criticized the inefficiency of the bread industry.

White spent much time trying to discourage new entrants to the market and agitating for government policies favourable to the industry—stable markets through government bread zoning and protection of manufacturers. The links between bakers and flour-millers ensured that there was little open price competition; he was particularly close to Gillespie Bros Ltd. He used his father's connexions in business, in the Baptist Church and in local politics to build up a powerful interest.

In 1940 White became managing director of Gartrell White and chairman of the Namoi Milling Co., Gunnedah. An executive-member, he was a dominating force in the Master Bakers' Association of New South Wales. The concentration of the baking industry accelerated in 1946 when the association became the Bread Manufacturers of New South Wales. White supported these moves and he also campaigned tirelessly against government regulation of prices, which the industry blamed for low profits. Gartrell White was acquired by the Canadian company George Weston Ltd in 1948: White was a director (1948-56) and chairman (1948-50) of George Weston (Australia) Pty Ltd and a director (1949) of Green's Products Ltd.

A committed Baptist, White was president of the Sydney Missionary and Bible College (1939-56), and of the Sydney battalion of the Boys' Brigade (1941-47). Although he devoted most of his time to business, he also presided over Bankstown Golf Club (1937-39) and later enjoyed playing bowls. Retiring in 1953, he died of a coronary occlusion on 31 August 1956 at his residence at Enfield and was cremated. His wife and their two daughters and three sons survived him. None of the children was involved in manufacturing.

Select Bibliography

  • Official Journal of Bread Manufacturers of New South Wales, Dec 1953, Sept 1956
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 8 Sept 1903
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8 Sept 1903, 13 Mar 1911, 29 Dec 1934, 9, 14 Oct 1943, 10 Oct 1946, 3 Nov 1947, 4 Sept 1956.

Citation details

George Parsons, 'White, Clarence Arthur (1886–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 15 August 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 16

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