Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

History Revisited - Regan embodied entrepreneurial tradition

THE FAMILY BUSINESS: Tamworth born Basil Regan traveled to England to learn the art of flour milling before returning to his home town.
The rivalry between Armidale and Tamworth is almost as old as that between Sydney and Melbourne and just as intense. Those in Armidale have sometimes seen Tamworth as hot, crass and commercial. Those in Tamworth have seen Armidale as cold, conservative and elitist, almost effete.

Of course, these views are caricatures. However, like all stereotypes, there is more than a grain of truth in them. In particular, Tamworth is simply more entrepreneurial and business focused than Armidale. To illustrate this, I want to return to the story of Basil Regan, someone I mentioned in my last column on the history of food.

John Basil Regan was born on 15 June 1903 at Tamworth, the fifth of seven children of Charles and Sarah Regan. By the time Basil was born, the Regan business interests were well established. These included Charles Regan Ltd’s store (the 'Palace of Trade'), as well as the George Fielder Phoenix Mill (photo) that had been  acquired by Charles in 1912.

After initial education by the Dominican nuns in Tamworth, Basil enrolled in 1915 at St Ignatius College in Sydney. he seems to have enjoyed his time there, but left in 1920 before completing the leaving certificate to work in the family business and especially the flour milling side.

In 1922, the nineteen year old Basil went to England where he was employed by Thomas Burton Ltd, flour-millers. He completed the London City & Guilds course in flour-milling before training at Aynsome Laboratories, St Helens, and the Woodlands Ltd laboratories, Dover.

This training would prove to be very important, for Basil would establish himself as a technological entrepreneur. 
In 1924 Basil rejoined the family businesses, managing with his cousin the new flour mill erected in West Tamworth. This became the main profit earner for the family company. Now established, Basil married Kathleen Mary Cavanagh, a striking redhead and accomplished pianist, on 30 September 1931.

In 1935 Regan began experimenting with the manufacture of gluten and starch. He employed an Irish milling engineer and by 1938 a process had been perfected, using wheat rather than corn or potatoes, and a starch factory had been erected. 'Fielders Cornflour' had been born. Not, mind you, that it actually contained cornflour!

By 1945, the Regan family enterprises were one of Tamworth’s largest employers. The main company that Basil grew is now known as Goodman Fielders.

One of the features of Tamworth business over very many decades is the way in which entrepreneurial business activities created business leaders and a pool of capital that could be deployed to other business activities. This facilitated start-ups and spread risk.

In Basil’s case, he was a board member and sometime chairman of the Tamworth Newspaper Co. Ltd, a director of East-West Airlines Ltd and later of Television New England Ltd. He was also actively involved in community activities.

A devout Catholic and a devoted family man, Basil died on 14 July 1987 at Normanhurst in Sydney , and was buried in the Tamworth cemetery. He was survived by his wife, son and three daughters,.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 18 November 2015. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015.

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