Sanitarium Health Food Company Factory
Victorians have a rare claim to fame in Adventist circles-on their land the idea for Sanitarium Health Food Company (SHF) was conceived. Under a canvas roof at the 1894 Brighton camp-meeting it is reported that Ellen G White, then 64, proposed that the church needed an institution that promoted healthful living. And so the seed was planted.
Construction of the Warburton SHF factory began in early 1925, with production starting by June of the same year. After it was recognised that the Cooranbong factory in NSW could no long satisfy the demand for Granose biscuits in the southern states of Australia, Sanitarium focused on buying land in the city of Melbourne. However, then editor of the Signs Publishing Company, Pastor A W Anderson, had other ideas. Having resided in Warburton since 1906, Anderson reminded the decision-makers of Ellen White's counsel to remove church institutions from large cities. He also proposed the use of a hydro-electric plant to supply the factory's power and the sharing of office space between the SHF and the Signs. In the end it was this that sealed the deal.
The demand for Granose continued to grow and the factory was quickly running at full capacity. Unfortunately, the region was soon to be struck by drought, and both manufacturing and agricultural sectors were struck hard. Granose, however, moved against the downward trend when advertising targeting the mothers of young children boosted its popularity.
In 1929 the depression struck and the unemployment rate in Victoria rose to 30 per cent. However, through it all the Warburton SHF was proud to say that due to the demand for Granose biscuits they were still running at full capacity with full staff numbers.
The original factory building (situated where Yarra View Retirement Village now stands) came to a watery end in November 1934, after the Yarra River burst its banks. After purchasing 16 house blocks with a combined road frontage of more than 300 metres, construction of the new factory on the opposite side of the Yarra began in 1936, costing £39,000, and was in full production by 1938. The design of the building attracted the attention of the National Trust, citing that it is of unique design and an excellent example of the architecture of its day. While this accolade is an honour, the restrictions of such distinction caused some difficulty when extensions were needed to accommodate more modern machinery in the early 1970s.
The 1970s saw the factory make necessary moves in upgrading equipment with new, specially designed ovens and the connection of the factory to the state electricity grid. This meant the discontinuation of the distinctive hydro-electric plant, a fact that saddens people to this day.
Through the 1980s and 1990s the factory earned itself the reputation as an efficient and effective workplace. Its closure in 1997 then came as a shock to many people-especially the employees who were working overtime on the day it shut down.
After standing unused for many years, the building will be given a new lease of life by the Crockett Group as the refurbishment of the building into a reception and conference centre is planned for the second half of 2006.