Australia's Original Badge Manufacturers - The Patrick Australia Story

November 21, 2018

This is the story of 5 brothers and a national business that began with the eldest brother’s interest in photographic display.

Arthur William (b.1864), Alfred Ernest (b.1867), Herbert Kearley (b.1869), Walter Francis (b.1872) and Victor Albert (b.1874) Patrick we’re all born in Ballarat, five sons in a family of 9 children of Joseph and Julia Patrick.

By 1903, Arthur William Patrick was living in Brisbane and working as a photo enameller. By 1913 he was established as a button badge manufacturer and photo enameller in Sydney, probably assisted by one, or all of his brothers who lived nearby. The Sydney business was later taken over by Arthur’s brother, Alfred Ernest, and was then known as A.E. Patrick.

Once WWI began, patriotic fervour meant a ready market for the buttons and badges now being manufactured by the Patrick brothers.

Arthur established a business in Melbourne in about 1916 and in Adelaide by 1918. In each case he persuaded a brother to be the manager – Herbert and then Victor in Melbourne, and Walter in Adelaide.

Adelaide:

Walter’s profession was hairdresser and wig maker but the war years brought changes to hairstyles and his services were not necessary. He gave up his shop opposite the Stanmore railway station and took up his brother’s offer to relocate to Adelaide. In 1918, Walter Francis Patrick and his wife (nee Margaret Ellen Emerson) arrived in Adelaide from Sydney with their four children – Edgar, Vera, Mavis and Cecil.

A property at 3 Unley Rd had been purchased, which later expanded to number 5 then to number 7. Of the 2 cottages on site, Walter and his family lived in one and the other became the printing shop. At this time, Walter and his wife, Margaret, were aged 46, eldest son Edgar aged 20, daughters Vera and Mavis 18 and 14, and youngest son Cecil, aged 10. Edgar was soon in charge of the machinery, probably having had some training in his uncles business in Sydney.

A brick frontage was built on to the cottage, and this housed the presses that cut out badges. The presses were driven from an overhead drive shaft by flat leather belts. The rest of the cottage was used for offices, a printing press, and for making photo medallions. The two backrooms comprised the kitchen and a small dressing room for the female staff. A brick building was built across the back of the block, and there were a couple of sheds for cars.

The brick building at the rear was used to set up a silk screening shop. The secret for silk screening was unknown in Adelaide and so the business was able to widen it operations to screening radio dials for Philips and other large companies. Walter had a young bloke named Eric Johnson working for him, whom he nicknamed Joe. Joe stayed there until the late 1950s. Joe taught Cecil’s eldest son, Ron, the silk screen techniques.

Walter was such a workaholic that he preferred to walk along Unley Road to work before the trams started for the day. Edgar and Cecil took over the family business when Walter died in 1930. Cecil was then 22, and Edgar 10 years older. Their eldest sister, Vera, married in 1925 and moved to the country. Mavis worked in the office for her brothers until her retirement in 1972.

Edgar and Cecil ran business throughout WWII and many patriotic buttons and badges were sold in the street to aid the war effort. The development of celluloid brought many manufacturing possibilities and the decision was made in 1949 that Edgar and his family would move to Melbourne to establish a business there, closer to the suppliers of the factory’s raw materials.

Before each badge day in the city, the trays and collection tins had to have the old advertising labels ripped off and a new one glued on by hand. Two of Cecil’s children, Ian and Margaret, would deliver the huge parcels of badges, tins and trays – often up rickety old stairways – to the charitable institution.

Margaret remembers Doris Taylor, the founder of Meals on Wheels, organising her badge day each year. Margaret spent many hours weighing badges on scales into lots of 100, which were then packed into tiny cardboard boxes. Brown paper parcels of about 5000 boxes were wrapped ready for delivery.

As the next generations of Patrick’s came into the business, it was eventually decided to close down the Adelaide business (which was completely separate to Melbourne) in 2005.

Melbourne:

Patrick Bros (Vic), now Patrick Australia, was managed by Edgar and eventually his son, Doug, who was brought up in the business. Doug was an engineer by trade and created and designed all the badge making machines, many of which are still used today.

When Edgar first arrived in Melbourne he set up shop in an industrial property that was situated on Drewery Lane, Melbourne. It begun life as a photography studio, but with a bit of a twist, they would mount the photos onto badges.

In 1977, with business booming they moved into a massive industrial warehouse in Leveson Street, North Melbourne and only recently moved to new premises in Provost Street, North Melbourne in October 2018.

After Edgar’s passing in 1972 the business was managed by Doug. Doug’s son John started, at what the family fondly called “the factory,” when he was 16-years old. Over the years John’s siblings and nephew have all worked in “the factory.”

John, a printer by trade today runs Patrick Australia and over the years has made some of the world’s most iconic and highly sought after collectible and rare badges.

From the earliest days, badges and buttons were the mainstay of the business. The design was printed on to paper then laminated with celluloid and each badge was cut out on presses. From there, badges had to be manually pinned on the back, and many local people earned pin money by doing these at home. Some folk would stay up nearly all night when an urgent order was needed, and they had sore fingers at the end!

Today the badge manufacturing process has changed considerably, yet many of the age old practices also remain. With digital printing, faster production and pins now welded on there’s greater options with the one-piece badge, which can be turned into magnets, clips, belt buckles, zipper pulls and more.

Today, Patrick Australia can manufacture up to 100,000 + badges per week.