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Thomas Walter (Tom) Hardy (1924–1980)

South Australia, and Waikerie in particular, suffered a great loss last Thursday when Mr. Thomas Hardy, head of the famous wine-making family, died. He was fifty-six.

His death was the end of a six year illness. Although colleagues and friends knew that Mr. Hardy was sick, only his family knew that he was suffering from terminal cancer.

"He was a most unassuming, private man — the last to draw attention to himself," Mr. C. Smith, national marketing manager for Hardy's told The River News this week.

Mr. Hardy was chairman of the company which his great-grandfather, the original Thomas Hardy, started in 1853.

Educated at St. Peter's College, Adelaide, and then at Adelaide University, he entered the company in 1947 as a laboratory assistant at the McLaren Vale winery. In the following years, he worked at just about every job possible in the company.

He was managing Director from 1965-1977, and chairman of the board of directors from 1977 until his death.

In addition, he was an active member of the Wine and Brandy Producers' Association for 26 years and served on many boards and committees. He was chairman of the Australian Wine Board several times between 1973 and 1976.

In last year's Queen's Birthday Honors list, Mr. Hardy was made an OBE for his services to the wine industry.

The Hardy family, and Mr. Tom Hardy in particular, helped to shape the history of Waikerie.

Hardy's first bought land at Waikerie in 1915, under the direction of Robert Hardy, the deceased's grandfather, opened the Waikerie distillery in March 1915, just before he left to fight in the First World War.

For a while, things at Waikerie were very hard. The original workers had to live in tents for six months while they raced against time to get the plant in order before the grapes were ready.

After all the struggle, only eighty tons of grapes were produced in the first year. All the new wine had to be sent by river to Morgan. This took a further month.

Since there were no locks on the river at that time, levels varied and cargoes always had to be carefully timed. 

In 1917, the distillery and cellars were flooded and employees spent weeks clearing mud from the cellars. When Thomas Mayfield Hardy returned from the war in 1919, he visited the Waikerie cellars, and later that year they were sold to the Waikerie Co-op Distillery.

Plans were drawn up for a new cellar at the Cyrilton vineyards. Construction began in 1920.

Shortly after the first Cyrilton was established, Thomas Hardy was born (1924). At the age of fourteen, he lost his father in the famous Kyeema air disaster. This was a blow to the family and to the company.

Kenneth Hardy, son of Robert Hardy, who had bought the first land at Waikerie, took over the company being the only adult, male descendant.

The Cyrilton plant did not become a self-contained unit until the late 1940s and it was the young Tom Hardy who masterminded the expansion.

Jack Nielson, who was manager of the Waikerie winery from 1948, remembers those days.

"Tom Hardy was instrumental in putting the Waikerie winery on the map", he told The River News earlier this week.

"He designed the winery as it is now. He was an engineer, among other things, and he had a deep affection for the Waikerie district".

In the period 1947-49, the winery gained fourteen, ten thousand gallon tanks, a new crushing plant, increased cellar storage, a continuous still, a new boiler house and a cooling tower.

Cyrilton winery had become a self-contained part of the Hardy empire.

Although the company made full use of its own vineyards, Cyrilton winery became an important customer to local growers as well.

Mr. Thomas Hardy was a frequent visitor to Waikerie in those early days. He was greatly involved with the town and Mr. Jack Nielson remembers that he would put on exhibitions of badminton for the local community. (Mr. Hardy was a keen badminton player. He represented South Australia and was team captain in 1953).

When he became managing director of the company in 1965 and then chairman of the board of directors in 1977, pressure of work made him a less frequent visitor to the town.

However, he would frequently phone his old friend Jack Nielson, to keep abreast of events at the winery and in the town generally. He sent his son, William, to the Cyrilton winery to gain experience.

Mr. Nielson spoke to Mr. Hardy on the phone a few weeks ago before his death. "He was very keen to come up here." Mr. Neilson said.

"I knew he was ill and wanted to see Waikerie again." However, pressure of work kept him in town.

Mr Hardy continued to work until a week before his death.

Both Jack and son, Phillip Nielson, who has taken over from his father at Cyrilton, remember Thomas Hardy with affection.

"He was a thorough gentleman. We were all made to feel part and parcel of the family. Everybody here knew him as 'Tom' and he always made sure he knew all the employees.

"We all feel an enormous loss."

Mr. Hardy leaves a widow, four sons and four grandchildren.

Original publication

Citation details

'Hardy, Thomas Walter (Tom) (1924–1980)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 June 2024.

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