The Southern Cross Joinery business established by Albert Harold Walters at New Town in 1914 was a family firm intimately associated with the commercial life of Tasmanian and Mainland businesses through its manufacture of filing and card cabinets and other modern office equipment. Starting from a small New Town workshop owned by his brother James, Albert went on to build the well-known Southern Cross Factory at Risdon Road which became noted for top quality hand-made furniture produced from the finest timbers. Southern Cross products were manufactured and marketed in Tasmania and on the mainland. Their filing cabinets were made with care and attention to detail that ensured some have survived to the present day and items marked with this label can now command a high price at antique shops.
Early this century Albert Walters recognised that there was a ready market in Australia for modern filing systems then being introduced into American and United Kingdom offices. He began manufacturing this equipment using his own ideas and improvements selling his Southern Cross system to offices throughout Australia. Later his sons Alan, Colin and Keith were apprenticed as cabinetmakers and worked in the family business. His youngest son Donald also worked in the factory for a short period. Over a period of 60 years the family firm made an important contribution to the States economy through cabinet work and joinery shop fitting and construction of houses, commercial premises and even St Michael's Church at Orford.
The firm was also responsible for supplying a number of specialised products to Tasmanian schools including technical drawing equipment such as dividers, T-squares and compasses. Even after the Southern Cross factory closed in 1969 similar office equipment products were still being manufactured by Alan andKeith Walters and later by Keith's son, Craig, until the 1980s.
EARLY DAYS IN NEW TOWN AND NEW SOUTH WALES
The founder of Southern Cross joinery, Albert Harold Walters (25/8/1887 - 26/12/1975) one of a family of eleven children, was a man of talent and energy always looking for ways to improve his products and explore new markets. He was also confident enough to incorporate his own ideas in the products he made, such as self-locking cabinet drawers. Albert's father, James Douglas Walters (1846-1919) was a gardener and orchardist in Sunderland Street, Derwent Park. At one time there was not enough income derived from the orchard so James secured a job as a night watchman at the Bank of Van Dieman's Land. He was duly armed with a couple of old pistols reputedly taken from the notorious bushranger Martin Cash. The pistols were presented to him on retirement from the bank by the manager. After these antique pistols had been owned by the Walters family for many years they were eventually donated to the Tasmanian Museum.
Following his apprenticeship to Mr Valentine, a building and joinery contractor of Hobart, Albert continued working in the joinery and building industry but he did not stay long in Hobart. Opportunities may have been better on the mainland and on February 1, 1907 he sailed from Hobart to Melbourne on the steamer 'Wattimoo' and worked as a joiner. On August 10 he left Melbourne by train for Sydney and for the rest of the year did various contracting work on building sites. Fascinating details about the early life and business dealings of Albert can be gleaned from a diary he kept between February 1907 and August 1916.
WORK IN SYDNEY ASSEMBLING OFFICE FURNITURE
On 24 January 1908 Albert commenced work with Southern Sales Co. The work was assembling pre-fabricated American-made office furniture and finishing them. In April he made up a large exhibit of modern office equipment for display at the Sydney Royal Show. The Southern Sales exhibit was awarded special first prize and a gold medal. In September 1908 Albert left Southern Sales and engaged in general joinery and cabinet work until 23 December when he left Sydney for Hobart. This experience of working in a factory making cabinets and other office furniture must have left a lasting impression on Albert andlater was to influence the establishment of his own factory and line of office equipment. The Americans were pre-fabricating cabinets in the U.S.A. and packing them to Australia and this started him thinking 'Why can't I be making them here'. He would have perhaps taken a lot of measurements but he also had his own ideas.
THE LUTANA ORCHARD
Arriving back in Hobart on 28 December 1908 he began work the following year for his elder brother J.H. Walters and McKenzie (a builder and working on his own orchard of eight acres at Ashbolt Crescent called 'Risdon Rise'
His father, James Walters, had purchased a bushland lot and had it divided among his sons Edward, Arthur, Henric and Albert who cleared, fenced and converted the land to orchards and vegetable growing. Albert built houses for his brothers; one was brick and the others weatherboard. In later years the orchards and houses of Arthur, Henric and Edward were bought by the Zinc Works after sulphur fumes from the adjoining plant caused the fruit trees to die. Henric then bought the orchard alongside Albert's.
Albertís diary notes said he was ëkept busy growing and planting fruit trees and vegetables, also drew up plans and specifications for brick walls and wooden partition home for brother H. Walters at land adjoining the orchard property, before again leaving for Sydney in 1912. In March of 1914 he left Sydney for Hobart and a week was spent working in the orchard. Although the season was the driest on record and ornamental trees were suffering from the dry weather, the fruit trees looked splendid and were carrying an excessive crop. But there was bad news to follow after a severe frost in October 1914 destroyed most of the fruit crop. This was followed by severe heat and wind storms the following January.
SOUTHERN CROSS OFFICE SYSTEM BEGINS 1909
Albert began manufacturing filing and card index cabinets at the workshop of his brother Jim at the corner of Pirie Street and Risdon Road in 1909. He registered the name The Southern Crossand supplied cabinets to J. Walch & Sons Ltd of Hobart. He also built a cabinet for Lady Barron, wife of the Tasmanian Governor, Sir Harry Barron.
This later resulted in Vice-Regal patronage when cabinets were made for installation in Government House in 1913.
The cabinetmaking business was expanding with a large order for the Hobart General Post Office for two-drawer, 20-drawer and 30-drawer cabinets complete with Albert's patented automatic drawer locking device which is described below.
THE ILLUSTRATED PATTERN BOOK OF SOUTHERN CROSS SYSTEMS
To promote the new line of cabinets, in 1910 Albert made arrangements with J. Walch & Sons Ltd to have a descriptive catalogue printed describing Southern Cross cabinets and other office equipment he was manufacturing. Arrangements were also made to export his products to other States. This intersting little book of 17 pages tells us not only about the products of ëSouthern Crossí but about the thoroughness and perceptive mind of an astute businessman who knew his customersí needs. Albert was also an inventor who could boast of his ingenious locking mechanism and patented designs. With the title ëThe Southern Cross Vertical Syhstemsí it proudly acknowledged that the business was then 'under the patronage of the State Governor of Tasmania and the Australian Federal Government'.
The description of the filing cabinets includes the following details:Specially constructed and sectionised cabinets, containing a drawer or plurality of drawers are methodically constructed and fitted with an adjustable inclined follower block which is expanded in an horizontal plane as the contents of the drawer are added to. Plurality of drawers can be as securely locked as a safe, if so desired, with my internal locking invention. Any number of drawers can be locked simultaneously with one action.
PRODUCTS IN THE PATTERN BOOK
Products illustrated and described included roll-top desks, roll top tables, bureau cabinets, paper and envelope rack cabinets, and general office equipment and fittings. Special prominence was given to the filing cabinets in solid wood (Tasmanian Oak or Blackwood). The one drawer filing cabinet was available with an optional base 12 inches (300 mm) high to provide a convenient working height. The popular three drawer cabinet with a 4 inch (100 mm) base was 'economical in cost and floor space', and also available with 4, 5, 6, 8, 10 or 12 drawers, in single or double stacks. Another important line were the card cabinets to hold index cards of various sizes, a common card size being 3x5 inches. ìThe cabinet in itself is a beautiful piece of furniture to the office and requires but a small space to standî. Most impressive were illustrations of the ledger card and filing cabinets with 20 or 33 drawers, items which were available by a special order. The illustrated pieces were similar to those ordered by the Accounting Department of the Hobart General Post Office. These large cabinets were aptly described as 'having a massive looking appearance, in solid wood', with a depth 20 inches and a 12 inch high base.
THE PATENTED DRAWER LOCKING DEVICE
The booklet noted that 'All drawers are locked with Southern Cross Automatic Locking Attachment'. More details about this ingenious feature can be obtained from the testimonial of Mr H.L. DíEmden, Deputy Postmaster-General at Hobart. After noting that the Souther Cross Cabinets recently supplied and fitted with the Southern Cross Patent Locking Attachment had given every satisfaction, the practical working of this mechanism is described. 'The patent referred to, which requires only one lock in each top drawer, is perfectly simple and effective. The act of closing the top drawer has the effect of securing also all those immediately underneath, and the unlocking and opening of the same drawer similarly releases them, thus requiring one key only for each vertical set of drawers'.
MOTOR CYCLE CLUB OF NEW SOUTH WALES
Albert Walters alsohad alove of cycling and in the early 1900s he achieved the fastest time in the Launceston to Hobart cycle race, although on that occasion he did not win the event. Later he became equally enthusastic about motor cycles and a December 1910 diary entry noted that he had purchased a motor cycle, an 'Abbington King Dick'. Later while working in Sydney he joined the NSW Motor Cycle Club and on the Eight Hour Day holiday in June 1911 motored to the Blue Mountains for two days. While returning to Penrith with a broken valve he saw an aeroplane and assisted with adjusting the aeroplane before it took a flight. This must have been one of the earliest examples of aircraft built in Australia. In April 1912 Albert was elected vice-president of the NSW Motorcycle Club, and in October was elected Chairman of Committee of the Club. On 22 October at the first meeting of the NSW Motorcycle Council he was elected to the committee.
INTERSTATE EXPORTS AND AGENCY CONTRACTS
The following year business was progressing well with more cabinets ordered by the Federal government. On April 13, 1911 he received the Vice-Regal patronage of His Excellency Sir Harry Barron, ìBestowed on manufacturer of cabinetsî. In May of that year Launceston was visited and arrangements made with A.W.Birchall & Sons for an agency for Southern Cross office systems in northern Tasmania. (Later Selwyn Cox of Launceston had the northern Tasmanian agency); While visiting Melbourne Albert made a similar agreement with McCarron Bird and Co. of Collins Street for the Victorian agency.
After travelling on to Sydney he commenced business in a workshop at 438 Harris St, Ultimo. Extra wood working machines were purchased for the business and Albertís diary records that 'everything running smoothly, orders in hand for Tasmania, Victoria and NSW'. However, later that year demand for the office systems had slackened off and he was engaged in fitting up his joinery shop with additions and setting in the new machinery. The market for office equipment does not seem to have been consistent and Albert was often in the position of having to do other joinery work or be employed by builders at various times to make ends meet. He was later working a five day week for Williamson, a builder, and then a builder named Buchanan at Rushcutters Bay.
MORE CABINET ORDERS
Things looked brighter in December 1911 when Albert had an interview with Mr W. Brooks, stationer and printer of Castlereagh St, Sydney. The following February he arranged with Brooks for an agency for Southern Cross systems in NSW and Queensland and in March he delivered the cabinets Brooks had requested. Without more orders he was back to working for Buchanan. On April 16 Albert started work again on the cabinet business with orders from J. Walch & Sons in Hobart and in June was successful in winning an order to make up all David Jones and Co Ltd system cabinets . July 1912 was also a very busy month as Albert started working with Mr J. Brightman of Brightmanís Systems, agents for the Southern Cross office systems. At this time he perfected the horizontal locking attachment as supplied to David Jones and Co. Ltd. With the termination of the agency with Brightman at the end of the year, Albert left Sydney on holiday to Hobart to attend to business and the orchard and meet with his agents in Hobart and Launceston. The diary recorded that the orchard was in a satisfactory condition, the trees growing splendidly, and he turned the orchard over to his brother Henric to manage. In January 1913 Albert returned to Sydney but February was recorded as an 'unfortunate month' as he was laid up for three weeks with pneumonia.
After fulfilling another order for Mr Brooks to supply cabinets to the Brisbane market, April brought ìfinancial anxietyî, although the diary does not specify what the cause was. But by May conditions were considerably better when the first consignment of fruit from the orchard reached the Sydney market, flollowed by an order for cabinets from Selwyn Cox in Launceston in June. But the next month records once again becoming a victim of ìfinancial embarrassmentî, which may have had something to do with an epidemic of smallpox then raging in Sydney. Business continued to suffer from ups and downs that year. In August it was good and he employed a cabinet maker to complete the stock for the Brisbane order but by October the man was laid off and until February 1914 Albert was engaged again in the building trade. By April cabinet business was busy again with orders from Sydney, Launceston and Hobart and much other work on hand, including the commencement of an apple store at the Lutana orchard.
MOVE TO RISDON ROAD
May 1914 was a significant date for Albert as he purchased properties at 17 and 19 Risdon Rd from his brother James H. Walters. Costing 425 pounds, it comprised vacant
land at No. 17 and a four bedroom brick cottage at No. 19. He also took the opportunity to purchase a cheap lot of blackwood and commenced building a facatory at No. 17 and was also confident enough to purchase a sidecar for his motor cycle (costing 1 pount 10 shillings) and a typewriter (8 pounds). Before he commenced working at the factory at 17 Risdon Rd in 1914 he was using his brotherís (James Walters) workshop in Pirie St, New Town. Factory construction started in June with one man assisting with the work and at this time Albert arranged totake up an agency for the General Accident Fire and Life Assurance Corp. Ltd. On the first of July 1914 he commenced manufacturing in the new workshop at 17 Risdon Rd and employed a man and a boy to work in the factory. The man was discharged after less than two months, so perhaps his work was unsatisfactory, as in September Albert recorded that business was fair with much work in hand.
BUSINESS DURING FIRST WORLD WAR
With the outbreak of the First World Was in August 1914 Albert joined the Reserved Military Forces on the 10th. Despite war time conditions business for the factor remained satisfactory with orders in January 1915 from several government departments for system cabinets and in March negotiations were progressing with the government taxation department for large orders of system cabinets and sundry work. Another large order for cabinets was from the Registrar's department of the Supreme Court of Tasmania. With all work these orders completed satisfactorily he bought new woodworking machines and in January 1916 purchased a universal combination woodworking machine.
In November 1915 Albert left for Melbourne to promote the Southern Cross system cabinets. A large customer was the Federal government as at that time Melbourne was the Australian capital, Federal Parliament sat in that city and all ministerial offices were established there. While in Melbourne Albert saw various Federal ministers and exhibited Southern Cross cabinets in Parliament House where they were very much admited, resulting in his agents McCarron Bird & Co giving additional orders for cabinets. As mentioned earlier he had also sold cabinets to the Postmaster-General's Department for the Hobart GPO and various Tasmanian government departments. While in Melbourne enquiries were made about the demand for supplying cricket stumps. From there he travelled to Sydney and made an agreement with Mick Simmonds to supply the whole of their requirements and their agency for NSW and Queensland.
PACIFIC FILING SYSTEMS
In addition to the well-known Southern Cross brand cabinets, Albert Walters also constructed identical products under the name Pacific. The reason was that Walch & Sons were the sole agents for Southern Cross and when Cox Kay later wanted an agency Mr Walters said: ìI canít sell you Southern Cross, weíll call it Pacificî.
On 27 November 1915 Albert married Jessie (Georgina) Janet Rose McPherson (1886-1969) of Sydney. He had first met the McPherson family in Sydney in August 1912. On their honeymoon they stayed at the cottage of his brother-in-law and sister-in-law at Pittwater north of Sydney.
On their return to Hobart in December they lived in the house at 19 Risdon Road.
He employed another cabinetmaker for one month but was finding it hard to make enough money to settle overdue accounts. Albert wrote that he was 'finding financial anxieties often terrible to bear', and in June had to borrow 100 pounds to carry on the business. Another calamity in March 1916 was when he had an accident while experimenting with a big circular saw and tore off the top main portion of his middle finger. In July a contract was secured to organise the systematic and complete fitting out of the new State Taxation Department and two tradesmen were employed, described as ìreally good menî. In August 1916 a three horsepower electric motor was installed in the workshop,'the result of which proves a wonderful difference in the whole of my factory'. Also that month the last diary entry noted that he had completed an agency agreement with J. Walch & Sons for a period of five years, a successful business association that was to continue for many years.
THE WEMBLEY EMPIRE EXHIBITIONS OF 1924 AND 1925
The British Empire Exhibitions were an annual event held between the two world wars at the Wembley Exhibition centre or ìPalace of Industryî, covering 216 acres adjacent to the football stadium in London. At the 1924 exhibition, opened on 23 April, the Australian pavilion covered five and a half acres and visitors included King George V and Queen Mary, the Prince of Wales and the Australian High Commissioner, Sir Joseph Cook. The exhibition ran for a number of months and over one million people visited it in the first month alone. The main entrance to the Australian pavilion was a huge arched timber troophy and extensive timber exhibits were displayed, with a working model of a bush sawmill and tramway and displays of various timbers used in parquetry, panelling and furniture. A Southern Cross Systems filing cabinet of Tasmanian fiddleback blackwood was entered by Walch & Sons who sent it to the Wembley exhibition on behalf of the Southern Cross joinery. The cabinet was very attractive and was specially made for the exhibition, mainly for display purposes. For his participation in the British Empire Exhibition, a medal and certificate of honour were presented to Albert Walters. After Wembley there was an exhibition at Hobart City Hall and Walchís put that same cabinet on display. This firm later retained the cabinet and used it in the office of Sir Geoffrey Walch, the Managing Director. The same cabinet was entered in the 1925 British Empire Exhibition and again a medal and certificate of honour were presented to Albert in recognition of his participation.
CLOSURE AND SALE OF RISDON RD FACTORY
In 1969 the family decided to sell the Risdon Rd factory site at New Town and the adjacent residence to Coles for a supermarket and Tasmaniaís first K Mart.
Colin Walters left the business and started farming at Boomer Creek at Little Swanport in 1970. Alan and Keith bought the joinery business of Phil Mathers at 14 Main Rd, Moonah. They were still manufacturing filing cabinets and school equipment similar to designs of earlier years through the Supply & Tender Dept, Hobart.
They carried on the business until Alan retired in 1976. The 14 Main Rd factory was then sold and Keith carried on alone until he apprenticed his younger son, Craig, carrying on business at the new location at 28 Chesterman St, Derwent Park with the main production catalogue card cabinets until Craig left for Perth, W.A. in 1986 to continue cabinetmaking and joinery in that state.
Diary extracts of Albert Harold Walters, 1907 - 1916.
Interview with Alan Richard, Colin Harold, Keith Leslie and Donald Robert Walters,
sons of A.H. Walters, 5 March 1998.
Advertising booklet, The Southern Cross Vertical Systems, 1910.
Family tree of the Walters and McPherson families prepared by Keith Walters.
The Mercury newspaper, April - May 1924 (details of British Empire Exhibition).