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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With the retirement of Geoff and George Clarke in 1986 – being the last of the Clarke family involved in the business – a new ownership was formed from the existing management team at the time. New key staff also brought further expertise and business development skills resulting in the re-establishment of Exports and a new International Freight Forwarding Division in 1992.