Mr Frederick J. Clarke’s early career was as a Customs Clerk with Fitzgerald Stokes and Co., where he supervised the clearance of steel for the Transcontinental Australian Railway to Perth.
He started his own Customs Agency in 1917, later taking in a Partner. The firm, Clarke Wilkinson Pty Ltd Customs & Shipping Agents, which was situated in the T.M.A. Buildings at 51-53 William Street, Melbourne, dissolved partnership in 1933.
Frederick Clarke carried on business as F.J. Clarke and remained at the same premises. The packing of parcels for shipment though, was transferred to Flinders Lane premises. Ships dispatched cargo to Australian ports where agents of the firm collected, unpacked and distributed the cargo to end destinations.
During the pre-war period, Mr Clarke’s sons, Geoff and George joined the firm, as did also his daughter Denise. At the time, loading was all done by hand. Office cars were used as well as small trucks to collect parcels for shipment.
With the commencement of World War II in 1939 and with minimal staff, there were still sufficient war contracts and work to enable the business to keep going. The business eventually outgrew the Williams Street offices and the Flinders Lane store, moving to a four storey building in King Street Melbourne, next to the Waterside Hotel.
It was not until after the war in 1946 that staff gradually became available and the firm became known as F.J. Clarke & Sons. Business picked up and overseas imports were increasing, so that in 1947 it was considered necessary to purchase trucks. Also in this period, the office moved to the first floor of a building on the opposite side of the King Street premises. The Transport and Storage office remained at the old address.
Cargo cages up to 5 cubic metres became available and forklifts were being used. Cargo was put on pallets on the wharves and the firm was engaged in bulk transport of building materials, furniture and many more items.
With the building of the King Street Bridge, the old Wharves and the Fish Market were becoming untenable and it became necessary to find other places to garage the trucks
The firm moved to Richmond in 1960 where offices were built in Egan Street with on-site garage and storage facilities. The firm also rented space in Leeds Street, Richmond, Victoria Street and also in Footscray.
The firm, now known as Frederick J. Clarke & Sons Pty Ltd, had a Customs Division, Export Division, Wharf Cartage, Parcels Delivery, General Cartage and Storage Division and had numerous trucks of different types on lease.
By the early 1970’s, the firm was well established and was known for the import of Melbourne’s Chinese dragon and the Chinese decorations in Little Bourke Street. With the arrival of Containerisation in 1970 and the increase in road transport and rail loadings, it seemed un-economical to own stores, transport and interstate shipping facilities, so in 1971, a decision was made to sell off all divisions except the Customs Division and to revert to Customs and Clearance Agents.
Later in 1973, the firm moved to smaller, modern premises in Mary Street, Richmond, settling in as Customs Agents with direct computer links to the Australian Customs Service.
After the death of Frederick J. Clarke in 1981 at the age of 91, a decision was made to continue business operations. As Geoff J. Clarke and George F. Clarke were nearing retirement age and their families were not available to continue the business, it was decided to merge with another well established agency to handle joint business interests. A merger with Coulson McWaters (part of the Coulson Group which was established in 1866 by Charles Coulson) went smoothly and the firm became known as Clarke Coulson Pty Ltd.
The Clarke Coulson merger in 1981 was one of a series around this period in the industry and involved assets of $500,000. The share capital of Clarke Coulson was to be held equally by the then present shareholders of Frederick J. Clarke & Sons Pty Ltd and the Coulson Group Pty Ltd. Mr George E. Lim was the Chairman of the new company and the senior executives comprised Mr Geoff J. Clarke as Managing Director and Mr Barry Telford as Secretary.
In 1983, it was decided to buy out the shareholding of the Coulson interests. This was achieved and the firm became Clarke Customs Pty Ltd, which has since continued.
With the retirement of Geoff and George Clarke, as well as the Company Secretary, Jack C. Harris in 1986, an offer to buy out their interests was made to Bruce Kline, Ian Scott, Tony Bux and Michael Breheny, which they accepted, forming a new partnership with Bruce Kline as managing Director.
In 1990, the Exports and Freight Forwarding Division was re-established by Philip Anderson, who had joined Clarke Customs to develop the business further. His earlier career was as Head of Exports at Coulson McWaters, Coulson Freight International and then C.F.I. Walford. He left C.F.I. Walford in 1985/86 and joined All Trans International for 4 years before rejoining Clarke Customs.
In 1992, the lease on the Mary Street premises had expired and Clarke Customs moved to an office/warehouse in Burnley Street until 1994 when the business purchased office premises at 591 Bridge Road, Richmond.
With the approaching retirement of Partners Bruce Kline and Ian Scott in 2003, shares were offered to the remaining Partners Philip Anderson and Tony Bux, as well as Bruce Kline’s son, Jason Kline. They accepted and became the new Partners of the firm, with Philip Anderson nominated as the Managing Director.
With the growth of the business, staff numbers and office requirements, it became necessary to seek larger premises, so in 2003, the firm purchased new offices at 37 Pine Street, Hawthorn.
In 2010, Jason Kline was nominated as Managing Director.
With the retirement of Philip Anderson in June 2011, his shares were offered to Martin Moyano who joined the business in 2010, bringing with him ten years customs broking experience in Argentina and five years freight forwarding experience in New Zealand. He subsequently accepted the interest in the business and has joined the Partnership of the firm.