Coca-Cola's exit from SA after more than 75 years a 'massive blow' for the Thebarton community

Coca-Cola's exit from SA after more than 75 years a 'massive blow' for the Thebarton community

Coca-Cola's exit from SA after more than 75 years a 'massive blow' for the Thebarton community

Updated 22 February 2017, 17:30 AEDT

For the people of Thebarton, the closure of Coca-Cola's bottling plant in Adelaide will be like having "your heart ripped out", a local historian says, who remembers touring the newly opened factory in 1951 as a child.

For the people of Thebarton, the closure of Coca-Cola's bottling plant in Adelaide will be like having "your heart ripped out", a local historian has said.

Coca-Cola Amatil today announced plans to close the plant and shed about 180 staff and contractors.

Thebarton Historical Society president Kevin Kaeding said locals had been employed at the Port Road plant since it opened in 1951, during which time Coke had grown as an "iconic brand".

"I went there on a school tour, probably aged about eight, which was a highlight, getting a free coke and all that sort of thing," he said.

"You really thought it was space age … it's an iconic place, and this [closure] will be a massive blow."

According to Coca-Cola's historical pages, the first Australian bottle of Coke rolled off the production line in Sydney in 1937 — one of the company's first ventures outside the United States.

By 1939 plants had been set up across Australia, including in Adelaide, but it was a slow start for the soft drink, with salespeople working hard to convince indifferent shopkeepers to sell it.

During World War II, Adelaide businessman Sir Edward Hayward, who served at Tobruk in Libya, noticed that American soldiers were willing to swap a bottle of whisky for three bottles of Coke.

He recognised it as a profitable concept and, after the war, acquired the franchise and founded Coca-Cola Bottlers (Adelaide) Pty Ltd with the help of others, where he remained chairman until 1983.

"It really does have a special status now," Mr Kaeding said.

"It's been there for so long ... it's just about like having your heart taken out of you with Coca-Cola gone from that area."

Coke memorabilia a 'part of youth'

Adelaide real estate agent Richard Hayward is a descendent of Sir Edward and said he remembered the memorabilia and Coke's affiliated products in his youth.

"Such as the drink Tresca, its small little glass bottles in the yellow trays being delivered," he said.

"But we were never allowed to touch them as they were regarded as a treat and for special occasions, so it was almost a tease looking at it.

"As a little kid all you remember is Coke is the best drink in the world. All you want to do is drink it all day long, but you're never allowed to."

Mr Hayward said it was sad to hear about Coca-Cola's plans to close the Thebarton factory in 2019, but "it seemed to be a common thread in SA at the moment".

He was referring to Holden, which is closing its factory at Elizabeth later this year; Hills, which sold its rights to make and sell its Hills Hoists clotheslines; and bathroom and kitchen fitting factory Caroma Industries, which in 2014 announced the imminent closure of its Adelaide factory.

"Those household names, which were located in SA, are no longer," Mr Hayward said.

"Unfortunately, it must be the way of the world, and the costs of doing business in this state and country, is always a hurdle, particularly when you look at electricity prices at the moment.

"Then you've got the cost of production, compliance issues, governance issues, which are required for safety, it really does put a burden on business.

"Manufacturing, I think, is dying a slow death unfortunately in SA."