An image Judith Anderson’s grandfather Martin Brown standing on his delivery cart with horse in 1938.

Judith Anderson’s grandfather Martin Brown on his delivery cart in 1938. Image supplied

Judith Anderson’s grandfather Martin Brown on his delivery cart in 1938. Image supplied

UQ graduate pirouettes back to her roots to honour family’s baking history

By Suzanne Parker


From the bakery to the ballet and back – such is the life of UQ graduate Judith Anderson OAM.

But it’s not that much of a stretch for the former teacher/administrator/marketer/manager/writer really – both ballet and baking nourish life, either physically or emotionally; both require enormous commitment and practice to be a success; and both have been pivotal influences in her life.

“I began life in the small country town of Warwick in Queensland’s Southern Downs, living next door to our family bakery, and I finished my [full-time] working life as General Manager of Queensland Ballet,” Anderson (Bachelor of Arts ’66, Diploma of Journalism ’73) said.

“I’ve now turned – or is that pirouetted? – full circle and have just written a book about my hometown, Earning a crust. It’s been a ‘delicious’ experience!”

An image of UQ graduate Judith Anderson and her new book, Earning a crust.

UQ graduate Judith Anderson and her book, Earning a crust.

UQ graduate Judith Anderson and her book, Earning a crust.

But what spurred her to write about such a topic?

“It all started when I was contacted by the current owner of the old FX Holden ute our family used for everything from delivering bread to going on picnics between 1952 and 1957. He wanted to know about its history,” she said.

“In my search for information for him, I uncovered so many inspiring stories of the resilient, hard-working and unsung bakers of that generation, that I felt I should share their experiences with a wider audience.”

An image of Judith Anderson (far right) with her father Ralph Brown and mother Amy on holiday at Southport in the mid-1950s, standing in front of the FX Holden ute that spurred her to write Earning a crust.

Judith Anderson (far right) with her father Ralph Brown and mother Amy on holiday at Southport in the mid-1950s, standing in front of the FX Holden ute that spurred her to write Earning a crust. Image supplied

Judith Anderson (far right) with her father Ralph Brown and mother Amy on holiday at Southport in the mid-1950s, standing in front of the FX Holden ute that spurred her to write Earning a crust. Image supplied

The book explores the early history of Warwick and the Downs, traditional bread-making processes, the impact of technology and societal change, and the tools of the trade. And it would seem that the ‘staff of life’ has had a great influence on the ‘stuff of life’.

“In my own case, my US-born Swedish grandfather moved to Warwick from New Zealand at the height of the Great Depression after his sawmill had been forced to close. I think he reasoned that bread would be the last thing people would give up, and therefore a bakery would be a profitable enterprise,” Anderson said.

“He was right in a way: most bakers made a reasonable living, although very few became wealthy; however, they were an integral part of the community and helped engender a town’s connectedness.”

“My father, who was 14 at the time of this decision, had to leave school and join the family business, and that set the pattern for his days thereafter.

“Dad used to start work around midnight six days a week to bake bread – Saturday was the only night off, when he would meet Mum for a ‘date’ at the local cinema. Before we got our shop in 1954, he would then deliver bread to homes and businesses within a 40-kilometre radius. This, of course, meant that he would be asleep in the afternoons and so I could rarely have friends over after school in case our noise woke him up.

Judith Anderson as young child. Image supplied

“Mum ran the shop and I helped out from the age of 10, wearing the smart little uniform my grandmother had made, asking customers what they wanted, wrapping their order and ringing up the money on the till. I learned a lot about customer service from a young age.”

All of which stood her in great stead for the future.

Anderson said that because her father had to leave school early to work in the family bakery, he was absolutely determined that this wouldn’t happen to her. Even when Anderson's mother died at the age of 41, he insisted that she go to university, rather than stay at home to care for her two younger brothers.

Otherwise, she may never have left Warwick, such is the hold the town has over its residents – a fact confirmed by her recent research into its history.

Instead, Anderson enrolled at UQ to study English, French and history; met and married her husband; raised a family; and enjoyed a multifaceted career in teaching, human resource management, education marketing, administration and writing – in Mackay, Africa, Rockhampton and Brisbane – all based on her generalist degree but supplemented later with qualifications in journalism and business administration, and other learning “just for fun”.

“I always made sure to learn as much as I could about whatever field I was working in, and this is how I ended up at the Queensland Ballet: it certainly wasn’t because of any early promise as a dancer!” she said.

“When working as a freelance journalist in Rockhampton, I became a theatre, music and ballet reviewer, and I made many contacts in the industry. I became friends with dance teachers who talked to me about their art-form, and I loved watching dancers rehearse in the studio.

“Ballet became a great passion of mine, which I brought with me when I moved to Brisbane, and so when the opportunity arose to become General Manager of the state’s only professional ballet company, it was a perfect fit.”

And a perfect fit for Queensland Ballet too, which at the time (1998) was at risk of trading insolvent.

Working closely with Artistic Director François Klaus, Anderson managed to turn its fortunes around, leaving the company in a sound financial position by the time she retired in 2010. She was later awarded an OAM for her ‘service to the Queensland Ballet through administrative roles, and to women’, the latter citation recognising her decades of work with service organisation Zonta International in many campaigns to reduce violence against women and girls, and to improve the status of women.

An image of Judith Anderson as young child.

Judith Anderson as young child. Image supplied

Judith Anderson as young child. Image supplied

An image of Judith Anderson’s grandfather, Martin Brown, and father, Ralph Brown, working in the bakery they owned for over 30 years, September 1949.

Judith Anderson’s grandfather Martin Brown, and father Ralph Brown, working in their bakery in September 1949. They owned the bakery for over 30 years. Image supplied

Judith Anderson’s grandfather Martin Brown, and father Ralph Brown, working in their bakery in September 1949. They owned the bakery for over 30 years. Image supplied

But back to the bakery and to Warwick.

“I’ve been cheered by the extent of affection for the town among people who’ve lived there; the Lost Faces of Warwick and District FaceBook group alone has more than 8000 members, of whom only a small percentage are locals,” she said.

“Everyone has fond memories of Warwick, whether of the famous ice-cream buns and cream buns or just the friendships. There is a real community spirit for the first settlement in Queensland west of the Divide, which has been very helpful to me in my research.”

What astonished her was the diverse places Warwick’s early bakers came from – China, Germany, Norway and Scotland, just to name a few – to establish themselves in what was a very resource-intensive and sometimes challenging business.

“Bread may only have four ingredients – flour, water, yeast and salt – but Warwick did not get its first flour mill until 1861 (20 years after settlement) and yeast was not made in Queensland until the 1950s, so these items had to be sourced elsewhere,” she said.

“And then there was the bakery itself. No electric ovens existed until the early 1960s and the original bakers had to construct massive brick ovens, reinforced with wood and insulated with sand. Then they needed a yard for the delivery carts and horses; space for wood, flour, saddlery and hay; and easy access to living quarters because of the early starts.

“It was hard, but those baking pioneers were tough.”

Her own family’s claim to fame was being the first bakery in Warwick to get a bread-slicing machine. Perhaps they helped coin the phrase, ‘The best thing since sliced bread’?

And what of the old FX Holden ute that inspired Anderson’s book?

An image of details of the FX Holden ute’s restoration in 2020.

Details of the FX Holden ute’s restoration in 2020. Images supplied

Details of the FX Holden ute’s restoration in 2020. Images supplied

“Well, what we discovered was that once Brown’s Bakery sold the ute for a newer model in about 1957, it moved to several other owners in Warwick before being rescued from a wrecker's yard by a Victorian car-lover in 1991. It’s had three engines in its lifetime and is now almost fully functional, thanks to the immaculate restoration by its current South Australian owner, who has even re-installed the sun-visor and the venetian blind on the rear window, and returned it to its original patented Burnley Cream colour.

“It’s a real beauty but is still a work-in-progress.”

Much like Anderson’s historical quest.

“The strong community of people with a real passion for Warwick has sparked ideas for my next book about the region – but that’s for another time.”


Earning a crust was launched at Warwick Art Gallery on 19 June.

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