History

1100 electric bulbs were used to illuminate the famous MacRobertson signature and established the building as a Melbourne landmark.
1100 electric bulbs were used to illuminate the famous MacRobertson signature and established the building as a Melbourne landmark.

Origins

416 Gore Street was originally part of the MacRobertson’s Chocolates factory complex that occupied the area bounded by Smith, Napier, Johnston and Rose Streets. Most are still standing.

416 Gore Street was constructed in the 1920s and dedicated to production of the famous Old Gold selection, considered the ultimate gift for chocolate lovers.

By far the tallest building in the area, the factory was devoted to all the processes Involved in making chocolate. There were rooms for storing, roasting, winnowing, drying, crushing and sorting cocoa beans.  All were full of machines for pressing, crushing and pulverising the cocoa butter into a fine powder.

Over 700 varieties of confectionary were produced at 416 Gore Street, from luxury chocolates for export to well-known products like Cherry Ripe and Freddo Frog.

In her book MacRobertson: The Chocolate King, Melbourne author Jill Robertson wrote that the factory was equipped with the latest in chocolate-making technology, all of it made in the MacRobertson engineering works. Robertson was immensely proud of this achievement, and whenever he took visitors around the factory, would point with pride at the letters stamped on the machines: ‘Pattern made and machine built by MacRobertson, Fitzroy 1916’.

The machinery included melangeurs (to mix chocolate and sugar), refiners (to smooth the chocolate mixture) and conches (to mix and store the chocolate for the desired seventy-two hours). There were storage reservoirs, moulding rooms, enrobing (coating) machines, and a packing department.

The building’s landmark status was established by a roof installation of 1100 electric lamps spread over 40 metres that operated in sequence to write the distinctive MacRobertson’s signature.
At six stories in height, the building was the highest in Fitzroy until the public housing towers built in the 1960s.

The first owner

Macpherson Robertson in 1934
Macpherson Robertson in 1934

Sir Macpherson Robertson was born in Ballarat in 1859. From making chocolates in the bathroom of his mother’s house in Fitzroy, he became the largest confectioner in the southern hemisphere.
Robertson was recognisable by the white suit he wore on the daily rounds of his factories.

Robertson pioneered pension schemes for his workers and donated funds for the building of the Girls High School, the bridge over the Yarra and the herbarium in the Botanical Gardens that all bear his name.

In 1934, he sponsored the MacRobertson Trophy Air Race as part of the Melbourne centenary celebrations, and land in Antarctica was named in his honour by Sir Douglas Mawson.

He died in 1945.

The building’s decline

After chocolate-manufacturing moved to Ringwood, the building was used for making clothing.
After chocolate-manufacturing moved to Ringwood, the building was used for making clothing.

In the 1960s, MacRobertson’s Chocolates moved operations to Ringwood and 416 Gore Street became a textiles factory.

In 1967, English confectioner Cadbury’s bought MacRobertson’s, later merging in 1969 with Schweppes Australia to become Cadbury Schweppes.

Many of MacRobertson’s original products like Cherry Ripe live on under the Cadbury banner. The Old Gold name has also been revived.

New Zealand builders Fletcher Construction oversaw the slow and occasionally troubled conversion to apartments in 1998. The first tenants moved into the building in 2003.