A photo of Fletcher Jones, circa 1950s, alongside Glenn Morgan’s sculptural portrait of him later in life. (ABC South West Victoria: Emily Bissland)
In today’s throw-away society, the concept of owning garments that would survive a lifetime is remarkable — but Max Hammond still owns a wardrobe of impeccable woollen clothing that was manufactured by his first employer and Warrnambool’s most loved historic figure: Sir David Fletcher Jones.
“This is a Harris Tweed, and it’d have to be 70 years old,” Mr Hammond said.
Mr Hammond is a 99-year-old WWII veteran from Warrnambool.
“I think I bought it in the late 40s at Fletcher Jones, after I came home from the war,” he said.
“I wear this for special occasions — church, things like that, with a tie to match.”
The Fletcher Jones life-long guarantee was something many people recall as a thing of the past, an impossible achievement by today’s standards.
Max Hammond models the tweed jacket he bought in 1948 — and still wears, 70 years later. (ABC South West Victoria: Emily Bissland)
“They never wore out, and you got life-long adjustments with them,” said Warrnambool artist Glenn Morgan.
His mother worked in the men’s slacks department of the Fletcher Jones factory and loved her job.
“They’d keep on taking your pants up or letting them out — that was part of the deal — that was the whole thing about his quality,” Mr Morgan said.
“If you put on weight they got let out or if you went on a diet they’d come back in.”
Glenn Morgan and his work depicting the Warrnambool locals who successfully petitioned to save the iconic ‘Silver Ball’ that sits atop the historic local factory. (ABC South West Victoria: Emily Bissland)
Exhibition depicts the life of a visionary
Stories relating to Sir David Fletcher Jones’ life and clothing factory in Warrnambool have been depicted in 44 wooden relief artworks by Mr Morgan that are on display in a new exhibition.
“I made 44 pieces for the exhibition over two years and I think that’s testament to the man, the fact that I haven’t got bored,” Mr Morgan said.
Mr Morgan’s body of work was funded by a $10,000 grant from the Fletcher Jones Foundation.
Collectively, the exhibition tells the story of Jones: a miner’s son born in Bendigo, who fought in WWI, was buried alive in the trenches in France for four hours and who began as a hawker selling his wares with a horse and cart.
As a clothing entrepreneur, Jones eventually created one of the most innovative work structures in Australian manufacturing of its day.
Australia Galleries artist Glenn Morgan has spent two years creating a body of work about Sir David Fletcher Jones. (ABC South West Victoria: Emily Bissland)
Jones’ life could have been much less industrious, as he in fact demobbed and returned to Australia with the option of a lifelong veteran’s pension.
The story of Jones refusing that pension is one of Mr Morgan’s favourites to retell and is depicted in his work Clifton Hill Post Office.
“He collected the pension twice, and the third time he was in the Clifton Hill Post Office and he said, ‘Nah’,” Mr Morgan said.
“He turned around [and] did a runner out of the post office.”
Mr Morgan was impressed by Jones choosing a life of hard work rather than a life of welfare payments.
“He had more to offer the world than just collecting the pension, and he thought if he collected the pension the third time he’d be hooked — which I think was amazing,” he said.
A story from Fletcher Jones’ life when he refused his veteran’s pension for fear of getting ‘hooked’. (ABC South West Victoria: Emily Bissland)
Warrnambool’s love for Jones stems from his generosity and kindness — the egalitarian practices he put in place and his success at building a successful commercial business that looked after its workers.
From most accounts, the people who worked there simply loved going to work.
“Mum thought he was the bee’s knees,” Mr Morgan said.
“She’d come home with prizes for efficiency — I remember her coming home with a brand new set of suitcases once.”
Overwhelmingly Jones is remembered and even revered in his town of Warrnambool as a visionary, an egalitarian, a hard worker and community-minded.
The town still celebrates his legacy, with young and old participating in Fletcher Jones parades and Christmas garden parties as recently as 2016.
Young people in Warrnambool parade garments re-fashioned from old Fletcher Jones fabrics and clothes, alongside a sculpture of the man. (ABC Open: Rosana Sialong)
He was by all accounts a man almost without fault, it seems.
Even so, when researching for his exhibition, Mr Morgan was able to find at least one occasion when Jones broke from his usual civility.
It occurred at a dance in his youth before he had met and married his wife, Rena Jones.
Mr Morgan himself loves to spin a yarn, and told with great mirth the story of the punch-on as rendered in his sculpture The Fight.
Sir David Fletcher Jones was afflicted with a stutter that he worked hard to control, and one day in his youth, it was unkindly used against him, as Mr Morgan explained.
“He was at a dance and this one bloke came up to him and introduced him to some ladies — but the bloke, he had a really severe stutter, and Fletcher just said, ‘Oh the poor bugger he’s got an affliction like I’ve got,’ and he just continued on with the evening,” Mr Morgan said.
“Later on that evening he heard that bloke talking to his mates, and the bloke didn’t have a stutter at all — he was just ‘extracting the urine’, so Fletcher asked him outside and gave him a good old-fashioned whopping.
“Apparently he was really handy with his dukes, so I made a little sculpture about that.”
Fletcher Jones in The Fight by Glenn Morgan depicts a time when, as a young man, Fletcher Jones was mocked about his stutter at a dance. (ABC South West Victoria: Emily Bissland)
‘What you say whispers, what you do thunders’
Some of Jones’ favourite aphorisms, like the one above, are listed on the FJ Stories website.
Many of them relate to hard work and getting things done — reflecting Jones’ values and the way he put his values into practice at his factory.
Things like: “develop your imagination — it is the difference between the man and the machine” and “it is the strain that reveals the strength”.
The website is a community collaboration that brings together oral histories, photographs and memorabilia relating to Jones and his factory.
The old Fletcher Jones factory, with its distinctive rooftop steel ball-shaped tank and surrounding gardens, has been a key landmark of Warrnambool for many years. Shown here in 2015, it was falling into a state of disrepair. (ABC South West Victoria: Jeremy Lee)
Ms Eagles told of some of the innovations Sir Jones employed, such as holding stand-up meetings on the factory floor to encourage speed and a thing he called ‘quality circles,’ where staff were encouraged to problem solve inefficiencies in the factory.
The FJ Stories website gave Mr Morgan the inspiration to create his body of work honouring the life of the visionary and inspiring leader.
“I think his absolute generosity was his main thing,” Mr Morgan said.
“He was well ahead of his time.
“He gave women equal pay and the right to buy shares in the factory.
“When he passed away, I think the workers had 70 per cent of the shares and he had 30.”
Fast-fashion changes to an iconic brand
The Australian Dictionary of Biography states that when Jones died in 1977, that “his enterprise was one of the largest clothing manufacturers in the world, with almost 3,000 employed in four factories and in 33 stores through every Australian capital city”.
The Fletcher Jones brand you may see in shopping centres today has little in common with these vintage garments.
Rather, it reflects the quick and cheap production values of our current consumer culture and is the product of the end of tariff-controlled protectionism during the 1980s and 1990s.
People in Warrnambool who watched the demise of the business, the closure of the factory in 2005, and the introduction of offshore manufacturing, describe it as a devastating time.
“It was sad to watch, a terrible time,” remembers Max Hammond.
The Fletcher Jones factory repainted and restored to its former glory. People often remark on the symbolism of the name Fletcher Jones and Staff — the entrepreneur was known to be inclusive in this way. (ABC South West Victoria: Emily Bissland)
“I watched the factory start to crumble, and it was awful,” Mr Morgan said.
“And now I’ve watched it be reborn, and it’s terrific.”
The recent revitalisation of the landmark building was financed by local developer Dean Montgomery, who purchased the heritage site, leased it to artists such as Glenn Morgan, and plans to soon open an automobile museum in the factory.
The distinctive Fletcher Jones ball and factory were recently repainted following the successful community campaign ‘save the silver ball’. Here staff pose at the Fletcher Jones Christmas party. (ABC South West Victoria: Emily Bissland)
Garments that last a long life
This year, 99-year-old Max Hammond led the Anzac Day parade wearing the same Fletcher Jones suit he wore when he married his second wife, Berta, in 1988.
“Everything that I had was Fletcher Jones — everything,” he said.
He rifles through his cupboard, showing me numerous other ‘special occasion’ Fletcher Jones suits purchased decades ago.
Max Hammond wore this Fletcher Jones suit to his wedding and to this year’s Anzac Day Parade in Warrnambool. (ABC South West Victoria: Emily Bissland)
Mr Hammond is now unable to lift his arms above his shoulders, so for these portraits, I helped him finish dressing.
He struggled into the tweed jacket himself. We picked out a tie together and I placed it around his neck for him to knot, then helped him with his top button.
It was an unusually intimate moment between a journalist and their interviewee.
The quiet of this moment allowed me to reflect that, while Mr Hammond’s body may be frustratingly failing him, none of his Fletcher Jones garments ever have.
Glenn Morgan’s exhibition opens Saturday August 11 at Warrnambool’s Fletcher Jones Factory and will tour to Australia Galleries in Collingwood in October.