Chris Hemsworth, Hugh Jackman, and Margot Robbie are three famous Australians, well known for their work in Hollywood superhero blockbusters, such as Thor, Wolverine, and Birds of Prey respectively. You may not recognize their names, but you’d likely notice them when pointed out in a movie. Australia’s well known for punching above its weight in representation. From film and television to the sporting field and beyond, Australian representation has an enterprising spirit rarely captured by other countries.
There are a large number of Australian firms that have made it to the global stage, with true success stories of how a small enterprise can grow a business internationally. Curiously enough, these brands, while iconically Australian, aren’t always recognized by Aussies. Spanning industries as far and wide as medical to logistics, mining, and air travel, Australian corporate representation can sometimes get lost in the mix.
Let’s rediscover some of these iconic companies – they just don’t have recognizable names – from global conglomerates to well-renowned air carriers, let’s explore some of the iconic Australian businesses that have successfully from local entities to grown their influence on the global stage.
Wesfarmers is one of Australia’s best-known exports. Its roots begin in Western Australia, as a farmer’s collective who wanted to improve conditions for themselves and their workers – to drive better outcomes and generally improve their lives. As a result, they formed what was known as The Westralian Farmers Limited, to assist farmers and shape the produce market in Western Australia.
In the years since, the farmer’s co-operative became simply known as Wesfarmers, after the telegraph address for the offices. In the century since its inception, Wesfarmers has evolved growing into one of Australia’s largest publicly listed firms, spilling over into a wide range of listed businesses and entities.
Over the years it has operated a wide number of businesses, including for some time, Coles Supermarkets. Currently, it operates many products across retail, chemical, industrial, and safety.
This includes the operation of well-known brands such as Bunnings Warehouse, Kmart, Kleenheat Gas, and Blackwoods Safety Equipment. In recent years, there have been moves to expand into other industries such as health, with the recent acquisition of Australian Pharmaceutical Industries in 2021, well known as the owners behind Priceline Pharmacy.
BHP Group Limited
BHP Group Limited is Australia’s largest publicly listed company, and interestingly enough, the largest mining company in the world. Overall, the legacy of BHP stretches back nearly a century and a half, with the current BHP Group a relatively recent creation formed by a merger in 2001 between Dutch mining and smelting company Billiton the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited.
BHP currently operates in a range of mining and refining industries. These include operations that specialize in the exploration, extraction, and production of materials and commodities. BHP operates in a wide range of markets globally and often works with different commodities in different environments.
This includes coal and iron ore mining in Australia, as well as other commodity mining further abroad, such as oil and gas refining in the United States.
Qantas Airways may be iconic not only just for the advertisements that they have on the silver screen but also for the impact that they have had on air travel worldwide. In 1920, Hudson Fysh, Paul McGinness, and Fergus McMaster decided to start an aircraft services company called the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services. At the time, the invention of the plane was relatively new, and as such, the idea of travelling overseas for a holiday was rather novel. As such, Qantas originally started offering taxi and postal flights across the northeast of Australia, and by 1935, evolved into one of only two globally international carriers at the time. Over time, the small business founded in Winton evolved into a global powerhouse – with operations spanning the globe.
These days Qantas operates a fleet of Boeing and Airbus planes, providing domestic and international flights to more than a dozen locations worldwide. Qantas dedicated themselves to safety, being world-renowned for being one of the safest international carriers from anywhere on Earth. Amazingly, almost every year, Qantas is recognized for its high safety standards and is considered one of the world’s safest airlines, even in a highly competitive global market.
In 1914, George Coles opened a variety store on Smith Street, Collingwood. At the end of the first three months of trading, the accounts had shown that George had not made money – in fact, he’d lost 120 pounds from his 4000-pound investment (about $530,000 in today’s currency). Nevertheless, he persisted – little did he know that in the century following, his humble little shop would grow into an industry-leading public company and supermarket chain that conducts more than 20 million transactions per week, Australia-wide.
Over the years, Coles was initially run by George and four of his brothers, eventually becoming known as the Coles Knights. This was because the five brothers (George, Arthur, Kenneth (Frank), Edgar, and Norman), were all knighted at some point in their lifetimes, something seldom seen in today’s business leaders.
In the 1980s, Coles acquired the retail chain Myer, and for two decades, became known as Coles Myer. After divesting from their holding of Myer, in 2007, Coles was acquired by Wesfarmers. This period saw the beginning of the deep discount era, with Coles becoming well known as a leader in heavy discounting of customer staples such as milk and chicken, which sometimes caused controversy.
In recent years, Wesfarmers has spun off Coles again. These days, Coles operates several businesses under the autonomous brand, known as Coles Supermarkets. Additionally, they operate a variety of liquor businesses including Liquorland, Vintage Cellars, and First Choice.
Other Famous Australian Brands
There’s a rather large number of Australian brands that have made successful transitions to overseas markets – from the work of former national telecommunications giant Telstra in countries such as Singapore and India, to the partnerships that Australia Post has formed with nearly 200 mail systems worldwide, you’d find that there’s an Aussie business behind most industries across the globe.
Next time you’re watching a movie on the TV or theatre production, and see a famous face from Australia, just remember – many more businesses are flying under the radar internationally, that are putting Australia on the global stage.