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The Good Stuff
We Like Aeroplane Jelly
by John Godl
Length: 2,250 words

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We Like Aeroplane Jelly

Few foods have become as synonymous with Australian culture as Aeroplane Jelly, a simple yet delicious desert treat which has been perennially popular with generations of adults and children, an iconic product like Vegemite or Fosters Lager.

Meet The Inventor

Aeroplane Jelly was invented by Adolphus Appleroth (1886-1952), born Adolphus Herbert Frederick Norman Appleroth in Melbourne, third surviving child of William Appleroth, a Russian-born driver and wife Emma, daughter of a Melbourne wine merchant.

The family moved to Sydney where Bert (Adolphus) began work in 1902 as a messenger boy at the Lipton’s Tea agency. He then took a job as a tram conductor.

Bert began experimenting with mixtures of gelatine and sugar in the bath in his parents’ home at Paddington, and hawked the jelly crystals that he produced door-to-door, using trams as transport.

Leaving the tramways in 1917, Appleroth rented premises at 10 shillings a week in which to manufacture his jelly crystals.

He never manufactured his own gelatine - the process is long and complicated as we will see later in the article. Instead, he purchased gelatine in powdered form from local and overseas suppliers and reprocessed it to create his famous desert treat. He marketed some jellies under the name "De-Luxe".

In 1926 he formed a company, Traders Ltd, and was joined by a partner Albert Francis Lenertz (1891-1943) who became managing director. The business operated from Sussex Street in the city before moving to larger premises at Alice Street, Newtown, in 1927.

The Name

The advent of the business venture coincided with the birth of aviation, not long after the Wright Brothers historic flight at Kitty Hawk beach ushered in airmail making the world a smaller place. This golden age, occurring in the 1920’s and 1930’s, was a time of rapid advances in design ensuring commercial airlines began large scale operations. Between the wars, people the world over were entranced by flying machines and the feats of aviators like Charles Lindbergh, Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and Amelia Earhart, so it isn’t surprising that Appleroth capitalized on that mania by naming his new product "Aeroplane Jelly".

Aeroplane Jelly's "Berti Plane" - as seen on an early animated cinema advertisement

The Song/Jingle

In 1930 Albert Lenertz (1891-1943), Appleroth’s business partner, wrote the words and music of the Aeroplane Jelly song based on a less successful patriotic jingle he had written celebrating the Prime Ministership of William Hughes (1862-1952) who at the time was Australia’s longest serving Prime Minister; it would become the longest running advertising jingle in Australian history. They were the first Australian company to fully harness the new promotional mediums of radio and cinema, using the animated aeroplane "Berti" as the logo/mascot (named after Appleroth) in advertisements run during movie intermissions but it would be the jingle that would leave the indelible mark on Australian culture, the airwaves saturated with it for decades:

I’ve got a song that won’t take very long,
Quite a good sort of note if I strike it.
It is something we eat, and I think it’s quite sweet,
And I know you are going to like it.

I like Aeroplane Jelly … Aeroplane Jelly for me,
I like it for dinner, I like it for tea,
A little each day is a good recipe.
The quality’s high as the name will imply,
And it’s made from pure fruits, one more good reason why
I like Aeroplane Jelly … Aeroplane Jelly for me.


"It was first recorded and broadcast over the airways on Sydney radio station 2KY in 1930, sung by Amy Rochelle, an actress who did child imitations. The song was again recorded in 1938, sung by Joy King (1932-1996), a five year old girl chosen via a competition, she made the jingle her own.

Lenertz produced and announced radio programmes over Sydney stations 2KY and 2SM, and used the song as the signature tune. Eventually, the jingle was broadcast over commercial radio one hundred times each day."

The song is still in use today as a marketing jingle although modern versions have subtle differences in wording to suit a modern world. Few products in Australian history were as intensely marketed as Aeroplane Jelly, in the 1930’s deliveries of the jelly were made to country areas by brightly painted Tiger Moths emblazoned with company logos which thrilled children and resulted in masses of free publicity. While in cinemas across the nation people were fed a steady diet of "Bertie" promoting the product and its growing variety of flavours, which in the post war years quickly infiltrated television.

Bet You Didn't Know This!

Adolphus Appleroth didn’t invent jelly as is popularly assumed, powdered gelatine was invented in 1845 by American Peter Cooper, however it wasn’t until 1895 when it became a desert, when a cough syrup manufacturer developing a gelatine based dessert called "Jell-O" which is still in production.

Although the making of jelly is simple, a matter of adding warm water to a sachet of powder and leaving in a cool place to set, there’s nothing simple about the production of gelatine. Contrary to the jingle, it is not made from pure fruit, nothing remotely close to it.

It starts with the soaking of cow hides or pig skins in a dilute acid or lime solution. Pig or cow bones are degreased and soaked in acid or lime to remove the calcium, the resulting soft tissue is called ossein. The ossein is soaked in the same manner as the hide or bone. This process partially hydrolyses the collagen which is not water soluble prior to this step. The hide, skin or bone is washed and cooked in hot water to extract the gelatine. The extract is dried and ground to powder.

To make desserts, the gelatine is mixed with sugar and additives like adipic and fumaric acids, sodium citrate and artificial flavourings and colours. In a world where obesity is a growing problem Aeroplane Jelly is a guilt free treat, possessing no fat and a mere 64kj per 100gm serve.

The Girl on the Swing

A pivotal element in the success of the Aeroplane Jelly jingle was its transference to the big and small screen.  The jingle had a life of its own on radio but to succeed on screen it needed an enchanting human persona to hook people visually. They got it in the form of a seven year old girl called Barbara Llewellyn.

"The Girl on the Swing" - Barbara Llewellyn

As a child Barbara caught the eye of the nation on the Jack Davey Radio Show talent contest, one of the country’s most popular programs broadcast simultaneously on TV and radio compared by Jack Davey (1907-1959). The New Zealand born host was Australia’s original "Mr Radio", people started their day with his ‘Hi, Ho! Everybody!’ welcome to his popular breakfast show. He had a string of popular game and talent shows, his "Calling the Stars" was recorded at Sydney’s legendary Trocadero Ballroom in front of a large audience and he soon became one of the highest paid entertainers in Australia.

Just five at the time of her appearance on Davey’s show, Barbara was the youngest contestant to reach the final and, as the last contestant billeted to perform, she dozed off back stage only to be woken by a stage manager when it was her turn to take to the stage and sing. Undaunted, the little trooper marched out into the glare of klieg lights, rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and sang her way into the hearts of the studio and home audience, sleepily waving goodbye with a yawn when done. It came as no surprise she won, her prize a trip for two anywhere in Australia, a fully decorated Christmas tree and a dolly almost as big as she was.

Her heart warming performance caught the eye of casting agents which resulted in her mother's phone ringing hot for weeks, offers of film and TV work flooding in. Barbara’s childhood was filled with work in commercials, documentaries, film and theatre. Two years later Barbara became an Australian icon by starring in the now famous Aeroplane Jelly television commercial. She mimed the well-known Aeroplane Jelly jingle, and was ever-after identified as The Girl on the Swing.

Barbara Llewellyn - The Girl on the Swing

Soon after she won a role in the landmark UK/Australian movie "The Sundowners" (1960) staring Deborah Kerr, Robert Mitchum, Peter Ustinov and Chips Rafferty. Directed by Fred Zinnemann and based on a novel by Jon Cleary, it depicted the lives of itinerant sheep drovers in the depression era. One of the local actors in the movie was Leonard Teale (1922-1994) who played a shearer, it was the first time the two would work together but certainly not the last. Teale would play her father in the hit TV mini series "Seven Little Australians" thirteen years later and her school principal in "Class of 74" soon after that, they would remain the closest of friends.

Her next major role was on stage in the original Australian production of ‘The Sound of Music’ at Sydney’s Tivoli Theatre, playing Brigitta, one of the Von Trapp children. A musical based on the memoir "The Story of the Trapp Family Singers" (1949) by nun turned baroness Maria von Trapp, its fictionalised adaptation by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse with music by Rodgers & Hammerstein turning it into the mega hit ‘The Sound of Music’ which premiered on Broadway on the 16th of November 1959 and was made into an Oscar winning movie starring Julie Andrews in 1965.

With an impressive body of work behind her already she was accepted as a student at The National Institute of Dramatic Art [NIDA], Australia’s premier drama school, at the tender age of 17 and graduated in 1971 with a Bachelor of Dramatic Art majoring in Acting. While a student she performed in numerous stage productions, 30 years on she is still remembered in the production of "Pier Gynt". Her graduation coincided with the golden age of Australian television and she soon found her way into what are regarded today as iconic examples of the craft, including ABC TV’s international hit "Seven Little Australians" (1973) - "Matlock Police" (1974) - "Class of ‘74" (1974) - "Homicide" (1976) - "The Box" (1977) and "Young Ramsay" (1977-78) to name a few.

The Whistling Boy

Aeroplane Jelly's The Whistling BoyJelly promotions enabled several children to have a brush with immortality, another familiar Aeroplane Jelly face is the ruddy faced “Whistling Boy”. The face of Thomas "Tommy" Dawes, born in 1931 and presently living near Gosford, NSW.

With his singing teacher and mother's prompting, the seven year old Tommy took part in the 1938 nationwide singing competition that Joy King won. Tommy may not have won but he was a finalist and he so impressed Mr Appleroth that an artists image of him whistling the famous jingle was commissioned to illustrate jelly packets.

“I always liked performing and I was mother’s pet so she put me forward,” he said, “It was absolutely fantastic, I loved seeing my picture and singing the song, my friends were all very impressed.”

Thomas Dawes's face graced jelly packets and promotional literature for over 40 years and to attract more boys to the product they even had him record a male version of the famous jingle.

“I got 10 guineas and a very nice onyx inkstand,” Thomas Dawes told a Sun-Herald journalist in 2007, “other than that I haven’t received a cent. I have never wanted any money from it, I’m not that sort of person. I just like telling everyone that I’m the Aeroplane Jelly boy.”

It must be said that 10 guineas was quite a substantial sum of money in 1938 . It was the height of the Great Depression, with 26% unemployment and downward pressure on wages. The Commonwealth Arbitration Court had cut all wages by 10% at the onset of the Depression to lighten the burden on struggling industry. What Tommy earned was the equivalent of five weeks salary for a lucky, wage earning, adult male. Adolphus Appleroth was generous with all his employees in those dark years.

After leaving school, Tommy worked in a factory before flying helicopters in the Vietnam War. “That was hard, a few mates were killed, it was scary stuff,” he said.

Tommy DawesAfterwards, he performed on cruise ships before retiring, but still visits
nursing homes and
entertains residents with the song. He has four daughters from two marriages and six grandchildren, all of whom know about his early brush with fame. [2]

A Sad Goodbye and a New Beginning

By 1949, Appleroth’s factory had an annual turnover of £170,000, a substantial sum at the time, his showmanship saw his jelly become a national icon in his life time. A religious man he donated large sums of money to charitable causes, a Freemason he donated large sums to the Grand Lodge of NSW who have a display dedicated to him at the Sydney Masonic Center. He was a man with boundless energy and enthusiasm for his product and it wore him out, he died of a heart attack at his Croydon home on July 17 1952 aged 66.

Adolphus Appleroth's company continued on without him, his children and grand children running it with great success until selling it 43 years later to McCormick Foods, a billion dollar American multinational corporation founded in 1889 by 25 year old Willoughby McCormick. The success of Aeroplane Jelly continues to the present day, the global reach of McCormick Foods giving the product a distribution network Appleroth could only have dreamt of, his jelly now generating sales in excess of 10 million packets a year worldwide.

Aeroplane Jelly and "Berti"

1. “Appleroth, Adolphus Herbert Frederick Norman (1886-1952)”, by Paul Brunton, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, Melbourne University Press, 1993, pp 63-6.
2. ‘Whistling boy who took flight’, by Maxine Frith. The Sun-Herald. 14.10.07
* Special thanks to McCormick Foods Australia.


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