The Cohn Brothers' Story
This video tells the story of the Cohn family business.
Started in Bendigo during the Goldrush by three brothers from Denmark, their small cordial company grew to encompass fruit preserves, beer and hotels. It was the Cohns who, in 1882, introduced lager (served cold) to the Australian public.
The brothers went on to hold prominent positions on the local Council, and were part of the group that founded the Bendigo Land and Building Society, which became the Bendigo Bank.
The Cohn Bros business lasted a century, with Cohn products sold across Australia and exported to the United Kingdom and Asia. In 1970 it was absorbed by Carlton and United Breweries.
The legacy of their business and civic activities are told through interviews with their descendent, Helen Bruinier, Bendigo Art Gallery Curator, Sandra Bruce, and Frank Barr, the sign painter of the Cohn's Cordial sign in Bridge Street, Bendigo.
Helen Bruinier: I thought I should really start when they left Denmark, because there'd been wars in Denmark and in neighbouring countries.
When they came back from the war there wasn't enough employment for everyone, not enough opportunities, so these men decided - three of them - that they would migrate to Australia 'cause they had heard about the gold rushes and there was wealth to be made.
And then they decided that they would build a hotel and they built the Criterion Hotel. By the end of 1854, they had three hotels.
Sandra Bruce: People are really going to be quite surprised because they really may not know terribly much about the Cohns given that their business, I guess, sort of disappeared from the public back in the 1970s.
It's going to come to a point where there's going to be generations that weren't aware of how prominent they were and exactly how important they were not only to the locals but also to Australia, Australia as a growing nation.
Helen Bruinier: They had a sense of adventure and a sense of purpose and they actually walked from Melbourne. In 1857, they established a proper company with a partnership and they built a brewery.
When he finished his schooling, my grandfather was only 16 but he was sent to Europe to be educated in brewing and he went to the Worms Brewing School which is part of the Worms University on the Neckar River in Germany.
What he learned was lager, that it must be served cold but when he got back, they built the iceworks which is, the building is still there in Water Street in Bendigo.
Sandra Bruce: They grew into a business that owned hotels all over the place, they were the primary beer brewers for town, they were the first ones to bring lager to Australia so if it wasn't for them, we probably wouldn't have chilled beer which is very important. (laughs)
Helen Bruinier: Jacob had the policy that you would buy hotels or finance people to buy hotels or in other ways tie them up financially so that preferably to own the hotel because they became a tied house where you could only buy their beer, their tomato sauce, their lemonade.
My father, during the war, he used to try and enlist and they'd send him home again and they asked him to extend his use of the cannery and to do food that could be for army use and he did tomatoes, he'd go and round them all up, out to the jail in the morning on Monday morning and take them out and pick tomatoes to eat. And then my father would have a lot of workers there, putting them in cans.
The bottles for nearly all the big firms were made by a cooperative glass factory in Melbourne. They had a good eye for design. At a certain stage, they used to always have white delivery horses, white trucks, everyone in the factory wore white overalls.
Jacob lived into his 80s so he had a big influence. He was the mayor, a councillor, and he was the mayor of Bendigo. Moritz was a councillor and the mayor of Elmhurst. Moritz and Jacob were founders of the Bendigo, what is now the Bendigo Bank.
Jim Evans: Well, this was done I think in 19... Well, fairly late in terms of Cohn Brothers history, but in the 1960s, and a sign-writer did this terrific sign and because of demolition occurring on that site, the whole thing was uncovered in all its glory, so it was really great.
Frank Barr: I did that job that's on the wall there. I was given a label of the lemonade bottle which of course was only very small and it was my job then to reproduce it in the, well, very large size that it is on the wall.
We've found since the sign was uncovered, there's been a lot of interest in it. I've received lots of photos of different ones I've taken.
I didn't realise that when I naturally painted the thing that it'd be coming back, like, over 50 years later.
Jim Evans: It's the collection of stories that is important. Without them, you have no soul. I mean, without the history, as far as I'm concerned you've got nothing.
Sandra Bruce: It sort of draws the focus away from the metropolitan areas a little bit and I think that's a great thing.
It really shows that Bendigo isn't just known for gold which is obviously a really important part of our history but that we're a lot deeper than that and we contributed so much more to Australia.
Copyright Wayne Tindall, Not for download, please contact Wayne Tindall