The conversations of life

Protecting our heritage: Australia’s three oldest family businesses


Consider the commitment to an ideal required to stick with a venture for 204 years, especially when today 80 per cent of new businesses fail.

Such a business is Tasmania’s Summerville Farm. Established in 1811, it is Australia’s longest running family company.

It hasn’t always been easy. Sixth generation owner Jim Thompson says the best move was when his great, great, great grandmother married a convict, William Lamprill, who really took the farm places and laid the foundations of a property that could survive the centuries.

Two premature deaths nearly caused the business to be sold but the family was determined to survive; they had to sell and buy back bits along the journey but today they remain successful, growing poppies, peas and cereals.

A legacy in lager

The second oldest family business is West Australian and was established in 1829, the same year as Perth. Lionel Samson arrived on the first ship and understood what new colonies wanted. He set up a liquor importing and exporting business.  (Lionel secured the first liquor license in the state in 1835, which remains current today). Relatively recently -in 1939 – they started expanding. They purchased a transport business, Sadliers, which is now one of the largest conglomerates in WA.

They still distribute beer and wine but also own Plantagenet Wines and some of the world’s largest industrial packaging businesses.

History on the vine

The third oldest family business is also connected to alcohol, Taranga Vineyards in McLaren Vale, South Australia. It was established in 1841 by Elizabeth and William Oliver who came from Scotland to raise sheep and cattle. But wine won the day, no doubt because of demand in an otherwise ‘dry’ country.

Sixth generation keeper of the family heritage, Corrina Wright, calls it a privilege with pressure to be the current custodian.

“You don’t want to be the one to stuff it up,” she says.

She says they don’t plan around the dollar outcomes but rather the sustainability of the business.

The Family Business Australia report that identified these businesses, pointed to family succession being the most difficult hurdle to jump: the challenge of convincing all that the long term legacy was worth the short term sacrifices. It’s great that they were convinced!

Chris Baynes is a columnist and publisher of Frank & Earnest. He is also the publisher of, the leading national directory of retirement villages and aged care services in Australia.

Leave A Reply