The decline and fall of the Australian pharmaceutical industry

Needless to say, the project’s currently on hold due to Covid-19 restrictions, so this is perhaps a time to take stock, given that I’m now about three quarters through documenting the contents of the pharmacy.

Back in August 2018 I wrote about the change in the nature of the stock over time based on what we hold.

Any analysis based on the current contents of the pharmacy is inevitably hand wavy – while we know what we have, and can say with some authority that it includes some early pre world war I items and definitely contains items from between the first and second world wars, we can’t say what else they might have stocked at these times.

This is because, while they didn’t, or seem not to have thrown anything out, we don’t know what they originally had and had  sold out of. You could argue that the older items are those that didn’t sell because they were either too expensive or not particularly popular.

So, the consequence of this is that most of the shelf stock dates from the very late 1940’s through to the mid sixties when they closed the pharmacy.

If one looks at the over the counter medicines, cough medicines for example, most of them are made in Australia, and by Australian owned companies that were gradually taken over and absorbed by multinational manufacturers, many of whom continued to manufacture in Australia.

Offshoring of manufacture happened later – in the sixties Australia was one of the few relatively developed economies in the region.

The other interesting thing is, when looking at those items from the 1940’s, import substitution had clearly taken place with locally made products, such as Happy Jack liver salts in place of the previous imported brand


And the case of Happy Jack is quite interesting – the product was made by a small company – Alpha laboratories of Woolhara who clearly saw a gap in the market

happy jack liver salts

I’ve not been able to trace Alpha laboratories – like many of these small pharmaceutical companies they appear and then disappear – but their existence shows that there must have been a number of small, now vanished, patent medicine manufacturers who had the capacity to step up …

About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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