One of the best known pioneering figures of the Australian cold storage industry and the Victorian dairy factory industry, Frank Vale, sadly passed away 21 May, 2006 at the age of 97 years.
Frank played a key role over many years in the growth of the cold storage industry and worked tirelessly to help establish the successful industry we have today in Australia. His contribution to the industry also extended to having a pivotal role in the establishment of the Cold Storage Association of Australia, a forerunner of the RWTA. His distinguished career in the industry is widely recognized and acknowledged through the "Frank Vale Award" which is presented annually at the RWTA Conference and Exhibition to an outstanding young achiever in our industry.
Frank grew up in the rich dairying country of Tarwin Meadows in South Gippsland. It was a formative period in his life with the dairying industry proving a constant thread throughout his life. Frank's whole career was spent in the dairy factory and cold storage industries, starting at an early age at the Tarwin Lower Butter Factory where he first learnt the smell of ammonia while attending to the factory's old refrigeration compressors. In those days the method of harvesting ice in such places was to use a bag hook to lift the mould out of the tank, and then play a hose on the upturned can until the ice slipped out. It was a far cry from this to the procedures used later at Woodmasons, where Frank was Managing Director, in the peak years of the 50's and early 60's tremendous quantities of ice were mechanically harvested by Woodmasons.
Coming to Melbourne from Tarwin Meadows, Frank completed an engineering course and later an accountancy course at the Working Man's College (now the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology), before returning to dairy factory work to gain experience in all its aspects.
In 1936 Frank took an appointment in Hamilton, Victoria as manager of the local dairy company, Western Meadow Gold. The company manufactured butter, ice cream and ice and during his 16 years of management the company's activities expanded dramatically. Frank began a program of acquisition of other dairy factories in the district and modernized the equipment. Frank's way with people helped build the number of contracts for the supply of milk and cream to his company. An automatic ice-making plant was installed, and this enabled a substantial market for ice to be developed right through the Western District. Frank later recalled that in those days export butter from his factories was stored at the old Metro Ice plant in Melbourne run by Stan Dunkerley, whose advice on cold storage problems was always freely given.
In 1952, Frank joined Woodmason's as general manager, later becoming Managing Director. Woodmason's operated four ice-works at Malvern, Glenferrie, Brighton and Oakleigh, and was one of the largest ice manufacturers in Australia. To combat the advent of the household refrigerator and declining block ice sales, Frank developed the sale of crushed ice in plastic bags, but this could not halt the decrease in demand for ice. He then introduced a programme to extend the cold storage side of the business, with emphasis on low temperature storage. This necessitated re-insulating some cold rooms and the building of others, and the conversion of bare pipe evaporators to forced draft systems with liquid recirculation. Woodmason's were amongst the first to make these changes, which not only gave higher efficiency but also enabled the plants to be run unattended.
In the late 1950's the company embarked on large-scale quick freezing of vegetables, basing procedures on research work of Dr Jim Vickery of CSIRO. Woodmasons were also among the first to use plate freezers for the quick freezing of export meat in cartons, appreciating the handling advantage offered by the resulting flat carton.
Another pioneering effort of Frank's was in the field of prefabricated cool room construction. In 1962 after some experimenting, Frank constructed a complex of large, pre-fabricated cold stores at Dandenong. The layout and design of the plant provided for the full use of fork-lift trucks and thus enabled large quantities of produce to be handled with a minimum of labour. Each cold room had its own individual refrigeration system and this allowed power costs to be kept to reasonable levels. The Dandenong complex revolutionized the construction of cold stores in Australia and was widely acclaimed. The dairy industry again proved important to Frank as the Gippsland butter factories proved loyal and were major customers of the Dandenong complex.
From this background emerges the picture of Frank Vale as a progressive innovator, always prepared to explore new developments in Australia and overseas, willing to adopt and trial new ideas. He visited international operations in cities such as Moscow before travel there became commonplace so as to view and talk first hand about refrigeration. Woodmason's expanded into Sydney and at the time became one of the largest cold storage operators in the southern hemisphere.
After his retirement from Woodmason's in 1974, Frank continued to work by consulting to a large UK based company, Transport Development Group which was interested in entering the refrigerated warehousing and transport business. Vales Cold Storage was set up in Blacktown, Sydney and was managed by his son Donald and this together with the purchase of Pinnell's Cold Storage (owned by a friend and colleague, John Pinnell) in Brisbane formed the basis of a sound refrigeration business. Frank finally retired in his mid 80's.
Frank was indeed an authority on refrigeration and he had a distinguished career being President of the Victorian Cold Storage and Ice Association and of the Commonwealth Ice Industries, he was a member of the Frozen Goods Wages Board, Vice President of the Australian Cold Storage Association and the Australian representative to the International Institute of Refrigeration. He was also a life member of the Refrigerated Warehouse and Transport Association. In 1977, Frank organized and convened a successful International Institute of Refrigeration conference in Melbourne with over 400 overseas delegates at the Royal Exhibition Building.
As an indication of the respect held for Frank and the contribution he made to the refrigeration industry, the "Frank Vale Award" is presented annually to an outstanding young achiever in our industry. The relevance of this award is borne out by the number of young people working in the industry to whom Frank over the years freely gave his wisdom, advice and counsel. Many of these young managers, mentored and supported by Frank, are the leaders of our industry today.
Frank was a strong family man, married to Florence who predeceased him. Together they attended our Annual Conferences as well as some international refrigeration conferences. They had five children, one of whom, Donald, also worked in the refrigeration industry. Frank always kept in touch with his life long friends in the industry and was an active Rotarian for over 50 years with the Hamilton, Prahran and Malvern Clubs. His record is one of which any man could be proud.
Many thanks to Dianne Vale, a very proud daughter, for this fine article.