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HomeBook extractsA Life in Journalism and PR: 9

A Life in Journalism and PR: 9


In his book A Life in Journalism and PR, PRIA Life Fellow Geoff Holden recounts his career from copy boy to owner of his own PR firm, at the same time charting the evolution of the print media, lobbying and PR industries in South Australia. Part 9 below follows the departure of John Jennings, when the PR company becomes G. W. Holden & Associates Pty Ltd. Geoff goes on to provide advice on major SA projects …

Port Stanvac Oil Refinery
In 1958, the then Premier, Sir Thomas Playford, persuaded the Mobil Oil company to build an SA oil refinery at what is today still called Port Stanvac, although the refinery is now gone.

He organised the transfer of a huge parcel of land for the project, and persuaded the then tiny Noarlunga District Council to accept an annual payment instead of levying rates.

This was a huge sum at the time but Noarlunga expanded rapidly over the next few years with housing abutting the refinery grounds. The Council needed more money to fund the expansion of the area and $20,000 was now a ridiculously small amount of compensation for such a huge asset (although the Council provided few services to the refinery except for access roads).

At this stage Mobil announced it would establish a lubricating oil processing plant on the site, doubling its operations. The District Clerk, Chris Catt, and Mayor Hunt came to our office to ask for advice.

After Chris phoned to make the appointment, I found out that the Government (Labor) would require a new Indenture Act (of Parliament) before the new plant could be established.

I spoke to Ren de Garis, who had been Millicent District Council chairman when Sir Thomas Playford’s government had backed the establishment of a paper pulp mill in that district under similar arrangements.

He told me that the new refinery bill would provide a clear opportunity for an annual payment for the new lubricating plant, and that we should seek inflation increases for the original plant. (The original agreement had to be re-opened to enable the new Indenture Act to proceed.)

The only publicity we released about the program was that
our firm had been engaged to assist the Council with a special project

I explained this to our client representatives but told them that only the three of us must be involved in our campaign and that no Council member could be allowed to say anything publicly about the matter. They said there was one alderman already making noises about the issue who could be difficult to stop.

I suggested that we should invite him to join our special committee and that the Council should be asked to agree that the committee should act in secret to prevent our strategy from becoming known.

The Mayor arranged a meeting at which I explained the need for total secrecy. The alderman became an enthusiastic supporter (and later referred other clients to our firm).

The only publicity we released about the program was that our firm had been engaged to assist the Council with a special project. No other statements were made. Everything else was done with the Minister responsible and the Opposition in the Legislative Council when the Bill reached that Chamber. The politicians negotiated with Mobil, based on our input, especially about an acceptable annual payment. I should point out that the local MP was a State Minister, whom I had known since primary school days. The sole purpose of our one publicity item was to alert him to our involvement!

The outcome was an annual fee of some $230,000 a year (plus inflation) for the lube plant. The original plant’s annual amount was also increased by inflation rises each year.

The Council was delighted with the result, particularly as we had underquoted, and we were later engaged to undertake some tourism work. (Noarlunga City Council has subsequently amalgamated with other local government bodies in the area to form the City of Onkaparinga.)

SA Meat Corporation (SAMCOR)
In the mid-1970s, Ian Gray, a chartered accountant, asked me to meet him and some “colleagues” at a meeting in his boardroom in the Savings Bank of SA building in King William street. It transpired that I had been invited to meet the board of an organisation the Labor Government was planning to establish to take over the loss-making Metropolitan and Export Abattoirs Board.

This government instrumentality had a monopoly on slaughtering meat for sale in the Adelaide metropolitan area. The new organisation would face competition from private meat works.

I was invited to handle the public relations for the new organisation – which the Government continued to declare had not been formed (or a board appointed ) – for the next six months. The Board consisted of well-known Adelaide businessmen as well as the President of the Meat Workers’ Union (AMIEU).

So I was involved in the planning and had the responsibility, with my staff, of organising the official launch, the design for the new logo that would go on delivery vehicles on the day of the launch, and all material for the media and for the butchers who would be the customers of the SA Meat Corporation (SAMCOR).

A few board members looked a bit
green about the gills and one had to leave the area

None of the board members (except for Jack Atkinson, the union representative) had ever been near an abattoirs – and neither had I. So Jack arranged for us to tour the Noarlunga Meatworks (no longer in existence) where we saw slaughtering at first hand. All went well until we entered the section of the plant where offcuts and trimmings were being processed into sausages, the skins being the thoroughly cleaned intestinal tubes from the animals just slaughtered.

A few board members looked a bit green about the gills and one had to leave the area to find a toilet where he could bring up his breakfast. I was fine. Incidentally, the meat workers all invited us to “try a sausage” which I suspect was arranged by Jack who had a delightful sense of humour.

The sheep were always led through the races to the slaughter by sheep which carried identification to show that they were not to be killed. These “judas sheep” led the “lambs to the slaughter” up the race to the gate and then they hastily jumped on the backs of the other animals and retreated to the entry where they were segregated until needed again.

Eventually SAMCOR itself was closed and the market was left to private operators. The Gepps Cross land was too valuable for other purposes and the Government sold it. Parts of the extensive paddocks now form Mawson Lakes and the cycling velodrome.


In the next extract: Working with with Mars to establish its Australian presence after Cadbury’s, its international rival, purchased McRobertson’s, in Tasmania …