Pie, Bruce Pie Industries

Bruce Pie the Man

The statement Bruce Pie wrote for the firm's Employee's Handbook. It is both a welcome to the new employee and a statement of his policy on teamwork.

This statement sums up much of the spirit and vision of Bruce Pie. He must have been a dynamic person who was able to set up successful new firms in spite of the Great Depression, usually dated 1929-1933, but which really lasted until the outbreak of World War II in late 1939.

Pie was successful when many firms were going bankrupt and creating jobs when unemployment was rising.

His emphasis on teamwork which was backed up by profit sharing with employees markes him as a strong motivator.

His political aims seem to be more characteristic of the political left wing rather than the right wing parties which he joined. Maybe he remained the Independent that he was when he started and ended in Parliament. He ended as an Independent.

His son David recalls that his father was a prominent athlete. He played Australian Rules and introduced it to the state schools, he was the Brisbane Metropolitan Light Welterweight Boxing Champion, played cricket "he had the fastest run up and slowest delivery of any fast bowler" in the Wanderer's Club and was patron of Stafford Cricket Club.

The Search for Bruce Pie Industries Ltd

This recent aerial photo shows the location of Bruce Pie Industries Ltd in the Kedron, Chermisde area. Webster Road is on the left, Rode Road and Beneke's Bush at the top while Kitchener Road is at the bottom. The long building in the lower middle left is the newer building facing Millway Street, the next building is the rebuilt BPI factory while on the right there are two building joined by a long wide strip of concrete. (Photo courtesy of Near Map)

As a newcomer to the Chermside Kedron area the only pie I ever knew was the one you ate. Then I found that many in the Chermside & Districts Historical Society seemed to know of Bruce Pie, some had even worked for him, but nobody knew much about him. And he was long gone having died in 1962.

Then, one day, riding my bicycle in Kedron I noticed a large sign painted in fading, metre high letters on the side of a brick building - BRUCE PIE INDUSTRIES LTD. I had found it, but what had I found on the corner of Yiada and Allan Streets? It looked very small compared to what I had heard and read about the Pie factory.

The Pie Factory Today

The Bruce Pie Industries Ltd main building on the left which has a pitched roof. The building on the right with the saw toothed roof was the engineering and showroom section.

Peddling onward and upward I came to two very long buildings and what looked like the beginning and end of another with a long stretch of concrete paving in between. So which, if any, was the Pie factory? Neither of the long buildings had a saw toothed roof and I knew that BPI had such a roof.

Much later I went back determined to find more information by asking somebody. It is amazing just how few people seem to be about when you want to ask questions; maybe little old fellas on bicycles frighten people.

I finally found a gentleman who turned out to be in charge of the building maintenance. And he knew a thing or two AND was prepared to talk, briefly; he was very busy. Yes this was Bruce Pie's factory and there had been a big fire there in about the mid-1980s. This was followed by a rebuilding from the lower brickwork up, which explained why there was no longer a saw tooth roof as shown in the 1960 photo.

The other long building beside Pie's and fronting on Millway Street was much newer and housed a variety of businesses. But, what was the function of the other nearby buildings, especially the isolated one bearing Pie's name?

The First Clue in the Search

The side of the Garneting Factory facing Yiada Street still shows the outline of the name Bruce Pie Industries Ltd.

Bruce Pie died in 1962 and this fading sign is all that remains to remind people in 2011 of his factory. The fact that it has survived for 48 years is something of a miracle. Maybe its remoteness from the main factory helped. The pine trees, reflected in the windows, have partly concealed it and that may have helped.

The paint used in the outline of the letters seems to have weathered the last half century quite well. Any colours that were used have disappeared and only the base coat of paint remains.

The letters are each 1.1m (3foot 7inches) high so they could be seen from a distance. Then some pine trees were planted in front of the sign and obscured it.

This industry sign was longer than the other words and had to be photographed from a greater distance, hence the smaller letter size.

This last word was easy to photo as there were no trees down that end and it is a short word,

The Factory Floor Plan

Shortly afterwards our archivist, Beverley Isdale, found the floor plan of the Pie complex at the Runcorn State Archives, which answered the above questions. The functions of all the sections of the long saw toothed building were named along with those of the other buildings shown in the 1960 photo.

Assisted by scraps of information, both written and verbal, the operation and complexity of the site was gradually becoming clearer.

Today the Pie mill building is occupied by United Bonded Fabrics, makers of cushioning, pillows, mattress protectors, fibres, underfelt and removalist blankets. Thus, while the products are different from those of the Pie era they are still in the fabrics group.

The other buildings are occupied by a printer, a cabinetmaker, a floor making firm and the large Edsco firm which is a supplier of educational materials.

The factory commands a prime position at the top of Araluen St overlooking Kedron and is contiguous with the industrial area fronting on Rode Road and straddling the gully of Somerset Creek.

When Bruce Pie established the factory in the early 1940s Australia was at war and the Kedron/Chermside area was still the rural urban fringe of north Brisbane. There was plenty of bush and farm land which explains why a factory could occupy such a prime building position; there was plenty of land available.

The area was one of small farms, the produce of which was processed by small manufacturing enterprises, such as canneries, slaughter yards, tanneries and a large smallgoods factory of Huttons at Zillmere. Now it is an urban area dominated by housing, shops and hectares of used car sale yards.

The Pie Industrial and Residential Site in 1960

This aerial photo was taken in 1960 shortly before Bruce Pie died. The saw tooth roof admitted light through the large roof windows as well as those on the sides. The whole site occupied 50 acres (20.23ha) and Pie intended to use all of it. What was left over from the factory was to be used for housing and recreation areas. He was very conscious of employee welfare and provided many amneties, including cheap housing.

This complex took some years to build. The site was bought in 1946 and the first part employing 300 people was opened in 1948.

When the plant was sold in 1964 there were 837 employees so there must have been considerable expansion to make places for the extra 500 workers.

The windows in the side of the main building are much more common in the right hand section which might indicate a change in building styles over time!

Bruce Pie Industries 1960 Key

The above sketch is taken from the 1960 photo; it is not to scale and is somewhat distorted but it highlights the salient parts of the Pie site.

The 1960 aerial photograph shows the entire factory and some of the houses being built around it.

The main mill is divided into five sections numbered on the sketch traced from the photograph. Each one occupies several bays of the roof.

1. Spinning Mill - Five bays
2. Knitting Mill - Six bays
3. Dye House - Four bays
4. Make Up or Finishing Dept. - Five bays
5. Mattress, Bedding and Eiderdown Dept. - Seven bays
The remaining buildings are numbered as follows:
6. Two sections in the building - the two bays on the left house the Boiler House and Engineering Workshop - the two sections on the right are Showrooms and Storage
7. The Canteen
8. The Spring Works
9. The Kapok and General Storage
10. The Garnetting Factory - machinery converts cotton and wool waste plus clippings into lining and basis of Innerspring Mattresses.

The houses are simply indicated by parallelograms and the dashed one is under construction.

The straight line roads are probably kerbed and guttered while the wobbly lined ones are simply tracks.

The sewer had not reached this area as indicated by the backyard 'sentry boxes'. The mill probably had septic tanks as the 'lavatroies' are shown inside the building on the floor plans.

Lighting Function of the Saw Tooth Roof

The Engineering and Showroom building of BPI which retains the original saw tooth roof

This photo of shows how the saw tooth roof was used as a means of using natural lighting inside a building. The roof was part window and the side windows provided more light. This was especially important in the days before flourescent tubes were used.

The Story of Bruce Pie and his Factory

This early aerial photo was possibly taken sometime in the 1950s. It is in the front of the Employees' Handbook and provides a stark contrast between the factory and surrounding vacant land.

The search for Bruce Pie's factory completed, the story of Bruce Pie Industries, Kedron begins.

Arthur Bruce Pie was born on the 18th May 1902 in Coburg, Melbourne and died at Tattersall's Club in Sydney of a heart condition. He was attending a conference in Sydney and intended to return home to Brisbane as soon as it was over.

His secondary education was at Caulfield Grammar and on leaving school at 15 he followed his father into a Melbourne importing firm. At the age of 20 he was sent to Brisbane in 1922 to act as their representative and he soon saw that Brisbane needed more manufacturing industries. He was to play a spectacular part in filling that need.

In 1924 he married Jean Margaret Wright and they raised a family of one girl and six boys. The family lived in various places finally settling in "Ravenscraig" which Pie designed and built in Maundrell Terrace at Aspley in 1941.

Adrian Turner interviewed Mr R.B. Pie, a son of the founder of Bruce Pie Industries Ltd and former production manager, who outlined the development of the firm from the early beginnings in the late 1920s.

In 1929 Bruce Pie launched the Queensland Textile Co. Pty. Ltd. in Melbourne Street, South Brisbane. In the following year a new company, The Australian Bedding Co (Q'ld) Ltd, opened for business in Gibson Street, Woolloongabba. Business prospered, and a move was made first to Margaret Street, City in 1930, then to 8 McLachlan Street, Fortitude Valley in 1934.

The real progress came with the move to Bohland Street, Kedron in 1948 where the parent company was later to be registered as Bruce Pie Industries Ltd incorporating the Australian Bedding Co (Q'ld) Ltd. With the final move to Araluen Street, Kedron, Bruce Pie Industries Ltd became a major textile manufacturer with five departments, scouring, spinning, knitting, mattress and make-up. The coil springs for inner spring mattresses were also made on site in a separate building.

According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, by 1948 the annual turnover exceeded one million pounds which in 2010 terms would have equalled about $50million.

David Pie, son of Bruce recalls that his father was a dynamic leader and part of his success was due to his policy of hiring the best talent available to run the various parts of the business. He let them run their section almost as if it was a separate business. Such men as Jim Cleg in the spinning section, Charlie Jarvis who came from England to run the bedding section. George Green (Sir) from Eagers, Eric Munro and Joe Power who were both accountants.

Bruce took advice from them and made the overall decisions; the system worked well and must have enabled him to play his part in state politics for over 10 years.

The Beginning of the Kedron Factory

The Australian Workers Union was, and still is, one of the largest and oldest unions in Australia. It began in the 1880s and through the famous Shearers' Strikes in the 1890s. (Photo Dorothy Jordan nee Beaumont)

Pie was probably attracted to Kedron because ot the availabilty of cheap, suitable land, good labour supply, infrastructure such as roads, trams on Gympie Road, electricity, water, gas, ambulance and medical services. A large market existed in Brisbane and his products were readily transportable to all other states and overseas.

On 20-6-1946 the Courier Mail announced "where 300 pigs roam to-day, Queensland's most extensive textile factory will be erected soon." The 50 acre site was owned by Mr. D. S. J. Barker who operated one of Brisbane's most up-to-date piggeries there for 30 years.

On 10-4-1948 the same paper announced that the 300,000 pound ($13.6million in 2010) clothing factory would start production the following week employing 300 local workers using Queensland materials.

All of Bruce Pies factories would be under one roof producing singlets, shirts, ties, socks, cardigans, underpants, women's underwear, umbrellas and mattresses. The latest spinning and weaving machinery had been installed and further building was planned as production increases.

Houses would be built on the land and employees would be given preference in buying them. Hot meals to be served in the new canteen but if preferred the workers could sit outside under large umbrellas. Colour, plenty of daylight and spacious ceiling heights have been built into the mills to make comfortable working conditions for employees.

Big washrooms with gleaming, circular, fountain-type basins, footbaths for the girls, showers and change rooms were provided.

A sick bay with latest equipment and a trained Sister were provided. A medical officer made regular visits.

The complex was officially opened by the then Premier Mr Hanlon on the 6-9-1948.

Bruce Pie Industries Ltd was a 'Union Shop' according to the following entry in the Employees' Handbook "As the Company employs Unionists only you will be required to join the Union of Employees subject to your Award." There followed a list of nine unions that covered the Pie workforce.

Extra Holidays
The Employees' Handbook stated:
(a) In addition to the ten (10) Statutory Holidays in each Calendar Year you are entitled to two weeks annual leave at your current rate of pay after you have completed twelve months' service with the Company. (If a full year had not been worked the employee would get a proportion according to the time worked.)

The Employees' Handbook outlined the available transport and parking for the workers.
A bus service operated from the mill to Lutwyche Tram Stop to suit workers on day work. Those who travelled by train would be picked up at Wooloowin Station.
A parking area was provided opposite the main building on the south side of Araluen Street, bicycles were left at the Staff Entrance.

There was no air conditioning in the factory but because it was on a ridge it got all the breezes and opening the louvres let them inside.

Employee Activities were Encouraged.

A group of girls probably on a picnic possibly organised as part of Recreational Club. The expressions are interesting. (Dorothy Jordan nee Beaumont)

The employees participated in a swimming club that competed at the Valley Baths.
On 8th September 1950 the first annual ball, attended by 300 staff members, was held in the Riverside Ballroom.
First Aid classes were held and workers graduated as St John's Ambulance Aids.

The Employees' Handbook noted:
The Management encourages the establishment of Recreational and Athletic Clubs and the Bruce Pie Industries Christmas Tree Club.

Employees' Handbook

The Employee's Handbook was a very practical guide to workers in the factory regarding the day to day running of the plant. It is mainly common sense and very necessary where you have hundreds of workers.

In addition to the items listed above the Handbook dealt with such matters as:

Leave of Absence
Hours of Work
Time Recording (Punch the Bundy)
Pay arrangements
Waste (to be avoided)
Workers' Compensation

Profit Sharing with Employees

Towards the end of September 1948 Bruce Pie announced that employees would be given a share in the profits of not less than 3% of their wages. He was encouraging them to work more efficiently and so help overcome the problem of inflation.

The following year he spelled out the rates of profit sharing, 5% of their annual earnings to all employees who had been with the company for 12 months and 2 per cent, if they had served six months.

This was also an attempt to retain the workers when there was a shortage of labour.

The employees and the Australian Workers' Union were delighted.

David Pie, son of Bruce, remembers the scheme starting but thinks it was short lived. Dorothy Jordan (nee Beaumont) who worked at the mill from 1955 till closure does not have any recollection of it.

Coal Strike and Electricity Rationing

In July 1949 a long coal strike was underway and electricity was in short supply which caused many factories to close while offices used kerosene lamps or even candles.

Bruce Pie Industries bought a 2,000 pound ($84,000 in 2010 values) diesel generator when the coal strike was imminent and used it to power one part of the plant by day and another part by night. This way they were able to keep two shifts working thus giving partial employment to all the workers.

Additionally they had a motor cycle powering the umbrella section, an ex-army 'blitz buggy' drove the machine which breaks up mattress fibre and a rotary hoe drove a blower to fill the mattresses.

House Building

In May 1950 Bruce Pie announced that he had contracted with Mr Stevens, a Chermside saw miller, to build 125 houses on the 50 acre site beside the factory. He intended to keep the cost as low as possible so that employees could buy their own homes and avoid having to pay rent all their lives.

He also bought another 30 acres to further extend the scheme if the Kedron project was a success.

However, neither David Pie, son of Bruce, or Dorothy Jordan (nee Beaumont) who started at the factory in 1955, have any recollection of this enterprise. It may not have eventuated?

Growth of the Plant

Some of the hundreds of women employed by BPI sitting at their sewing machines. Would this be in the Make Up Department? There is no room to spare, how would they get our in a hurry if a fire broke out? Was there such a thing as evacuation proceedures then?

The plant was continuously extended to house the new machinery being brought out from England.

Harold Waldren, a director of BPI, writes: After he was demobilized from the RAAF he installed a Worsted Spinning Mill for Bruce Pie Industries. He arrived in Brisbane on 4/2/1948 during one of the wettest Februarys on record. The factory at Araluen Street was only partly constructed and a wharf strike was holding up the delivery of machinery from Britain. He stayed at the residence of the then Mill Manager, Mr. Clegg at 33 Araluen St.

It took three years to install the machinery and train the staff for the new industry. During this time the following sectors were added:

The largest knitting plant in the southern hemisphere
A Wool Top and Hank Yarn Drying Plant
A huge sewing garment make-up room
A mattress plant
A spring making plant
Wool top Combing Plant established in the Spinning Plant

Later the following were added:
A Back washing Plant
A Scour
A Weaving Mill
He makes no mention of the Garnetting Factory which, I think, was the last part of the complex to be built. According to a newspaper report it was finished during 1951.

By March 1953 the employment reached 510, about two-thirds of which were female. The wages bill was about 300,000 pounds ($8million in 2010 values) a year and it was a big boost to the Northside of Brisbane.

The employment probably peaked in 1964 when there was a total of 837 employees. I have no figures on the payroll but it would have been several times that of 1953, at least one million pounds which would have been about $22million in 2011 values.

Products of Bruce Pie Industries Ltd

Advertisement in the Australian Women's Weekly magazine showing some of the Pie products.

Bruce Pie's Political Career

Bruce Pie was elected to the Queensland Parliament in 1941 as an Independent for the seat of Hamilton. He resigned in 1943 to contest the federal seat of Brisbane but failed to be elected. Later he was elected for the State seat of Windsor as a member of the Queensland People's party which was the forerunner of the Liberal Party; he became the leader of the QPP in 1946.

He was a dynamic politician advocating policies such as raising the status of women, trade training for ex-servicemen; he supported arbitration and the 40 hour week.

Pie resigned the leadership of the QPP and, in 1950 was later elected as member for Kedron.
He strongly objected to politicians voting themselves salary rises in 1948 and 1950 and resigned from the Liberal Party (and became an Independent again?). Finally in 1951 he resigned from parliament.

Death of Bruce Pie and Declining Profits

At the age of 60, Arthur Bruce Pie died of a heart attack on 31/7/1962 while in Sydney. It was a big shock as he was a very fit man who exercised regularly with weights. Just before his death his son, David, noticed that his father seemed to be breathing heavily when he exercised and urged him to slow down.

Bruce died in bed reading a book and the first the family knew of it was when the body was discovered next morning.

The firm continued production and by 1964 was employing 837 employees but profits were declining. .

Adrian Turner, in his report of an interview with R. B. Pie son of the founder, commented:
Why did a finely-tuned organisation with sound business accountability and management and a loyal workforce with secure employment eventually accept the takeover offer of another company? Adrian speculated that the Federal Government reduced tariffs on imported textiles.

David Pie, on the other hand, thinks that there were no tariffs on imported textiles during the time of BPI and that competition from overseas and bigger mills in the south reduced the firm's profits. Although BPI employed 837 workers it was a small textile producer compared to the overseas and interstate firms so its costs of production were higher. The small firm is the first to go when competition becomes fierce.

David said that as competition from imports became more intense BPI was thinking about setting up their own sales outlets in country areas to bypass the wholesalers (middleman) who took 15% of the sale price as their fee. David thinks that this was worrying Bruce partly because it meant the possible loss of old friends, the wholesalers, and it may have contributed to his sudden death after which the scheme was dropped.

Sale of the BPI and Succeeding Firms

In 1964 Felt and Textiles of Australia Limited, manufactures of Feltex floor carpet, offered one ordinary five shilling share in Felt & Textiles plus three shillings for each share in Bruce Pie Industries Limited. It was an offer the directors of BPI were relieved to get and advised the shareholders to accept it. They did and the ownership of Bruce Pie's creation changed hands; the machinery was dismantled with most of it going to New Zealand or Melbourne.

In 1975 Felt and Textiles of Australia Limited was dissolved and the Queensland manager of Felt and Textiles, Ron Barrett, his son Garth and three other partners took over the bedding manufacturing arm of the business to form Wonderest Bedding, Kedron which grew to employ 50 workers and sold products all over Australia.

In 1996 it was sold to Sleepyhead of New Zealand which continues to produce the Wonderest Bedding in Brisbane.

The current occupants of the old Bruce Pie mill are United Bonded Fabrics Pty Ltd Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. UBF is Australia's largest supplier of processed textile fibre products, including Building Products for the Residential and Commercial markets through Tontine Insulation, bedding and pillows for the Consumer Retail market through Crestell, and a variety of performance based products for Industrial and OEM markets through Tontine Fibres.

These seem to be bulky items which are costly to transport from overseas, so it leaves a niche market for Australian producers!!