Ballarat's Vegemite connection

He invented Australia’s iconic Vegemite, became best mates with former Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies and also went to school in Ballarat.

But do people in Ballarat know his name?

Now Cyril Callister’s grandson Jamie released a book which he hopes will change all of that.

This story began 15km north of Beaufort at the tiny community of Chute.

Now just an intersection with a few derelict farm houses and an official population of 25, Chute was once part of a bustling mining district in the 1850s and 1860s.

By the 1890s however, the gold had dried up and Chute’s prosperity went with it.

This was the environment into which Cyril Callister was born.

One of nine children, Cyril was born in 1893 during some “tough times” for the district according to grandson Jamie Callister.

He said it wasn’t until 1923 that his grandfather changed Australia history by inventing his black salty paste, but said there was plenty going on before that.

“I didn’t necessarily think there was a great story to be told, but once I got into it and did the research I found there was a remarkable story,” he said.

“Not just for me but for all Australians – particularly the locals.”

Jamie said after Chute, the family moved to Yendon in 1907, before Cyril went to study at Ballarat’s Grenville College and later onto Melbourne University to study science.

But it was his time in Ballarat where he forged close relationships with a number of “notables”.

“He was a year behind Robert Menzies but in the same class and they became lifelong friends,” Jamie explained.

“While everyone knows Menzies of course, Cyril is somebody that has done something so remarkable and is widely unknown.”

During World War One, Cyril enlisted alongside his brother, who was sent overseas to Gallipoli and to Europe.

But the science graduate was put to work making munitions at home instead of seeing action abroad.

After the war, Cyril went to work for Fred Walker at Kraft in 1923 and later that year, Vegemite was born.

During the 1930s, Cyril’s children got polio and in World War Two, his son the fighter pilot,  was shot down by enemy forces.

While it was a dark time for the family, Vegemite was part of the official Australian Army rations during the war, which launched the product to great success.

“This story is about more than a guy in a factory,” Jamie said.

“It’s about a guy that grew up in Chute in the Ballarat district that had an extraordinary and remarkable life.”

“When you’ve got the US president talking abut Vegemite – how much he hates it – it’s truly remarkable to think what Cyril achieved.”

Jamie Callister’ book, The Man Who Invented Vegemite, is out now.

jordan.oliver@thecourier.com.au

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop