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Mayne, Thomas Victor (Tom) (1901–1995)

by John Schauble

The one thing that really bugged Tom Mayne about Milo was its tendency to float to the top of the milk. Even though the product he invented would in time become a household name, the man behind it spent years trying to overcome this problem. 

Modern Australian children can still spoon off the "crunchy bits'' more than 60 years after the first batches of the distinctive drink came off the assembly line. 

Mr Mayne, who died in Sydney last week aged 93, would bring home large lumps of semi-processed product for his children to try. "They looked a bit like large lumps of honeycomb,'' his daughter, Mrs Margaret Butterworth, recalled. "Even after it went on to the market he was still doing a lot of testing on it.'' 

Mr Mayne's children were no different from generations of Australians: "My brother and I just liked it floating on the top of the milk and eating it with a spoon,'' Mrs Butterworth said. "I can remember my father being really frustrated about that.'' 

Milo now commands sales of $550 million across more than 30 countries but few Australians would realise it is a homegrown product, first made in 1934. Australia is the product's third largest market, behind Malaysia and the Philippines. Domestic sales amount to 8000 tonnes. 

Thomas Victor Mayne was born on Christmas Day 1901 at Fosterville, near Bendigo, where his father was a gold-mine manager. When he was aged 10, Tom Mayne's father died of mine fever, leaving him the eldest of four surviving children to help his mother fend for the family. 

As a child he was blessed with a beautiful soprano voice, which led to a scholarship at Holy Trinity College, Kew, in 1914. But it was chemistry rather than singing that eventually caught his interest. 

In 1920, he went to work as a laboratory assistant for a company in Bacchus Marsh. When the firm was taken over by the Swiss giant Nestle, Mr Mayne went with it and in 1921 began a 50-year association. 

The company transferred Mr Mayne to Sydney because he wanted to study chemical engineering. His studies at Sydney Technical College were undertaken at night while Mr Mayne continued to work at Nestle during the day. 

He was rewarded with a medal from the then governor of New South Wales, Sir Philip Game, as the student to attain the highest marks statewide in 1933. 

At the same time, the young chief industrial chemist at Nestle was working on the formula that was to form the basis one of Australia's favorite drinks. 

Milo was released after four years of research and development. 

Working 80 hours a week, with his wife typing up product reports at their kitchen table, Mr Mayne eventually succeeded in combining ingredients that Nestle specialised in manufacturing: cocoa, condensed milk and milk extract. 

In an interview last year to mark the 60th anniversary of the product's creation, Mr Mayne described the first trial batch of the drink as "the sweetest thing I've ever tasted''. 

It took some convincing for Nestle executives to accept that the new product had been developed on the other side of the world. "The Swiss could not imagine an Australian invented it,'' Mr Mayne recalled. "I have found this all my life: people are not prepared to believe that Australians can do things.'' 

Milo became immensely popular and Mr Mayne spent much time travelling the globe to other Nestle plants advising on its manufacture. He remained with the company full-time until 1966 and as an adviser for another five years. 

The manager of Nestle's beverages business group, Mr Herman van Hummel, said that Mr Mayne's death was mourned by all at the company. 

"Just as Milo today is an Australian icon, to us Tom has been a Nestle icon,'' he said. "His legacy is certain to be enjoyed by future generations of Australians.''

Original publication

  • Sunday Age (Melbourne), 22 January 1995, p 3

Citation details

John Schauble, 'Mayne, Thomas Victor (Tom) (1901–1995)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 29 March 2020.

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