The following recollections are written by Mr Steven Colman, a former Managing Director of Pace Mowers from 1956 - 1965. Pace was connected at the time to Victa.

This article was originally written for and appears on the Vintage website.

Mr Colman has very graciously given ODK full permission to reproduce it and post it here in our History Forum and we sincerely thank him for doing so.

Victa and Nock and Kirby

I applied for three jobs when on a visit as we had decided to stay in Australia and on a bright May afternoon in 1957 I was offered three jobs within about 10 minutes. I picked the job as Buyer in the Lawn Mower Department of Nock and Kirby, a long established hardware store. That I picked to work in a retail store should have been surprising as I knew absolutely nothing about retail stores, having never been in one, not even as a customer. However, my immediate boss, Graham Nock was wise in sending me on a familiarity course throughout the store.

My first job in my own department was to decide if the company should buy some Pathfinder mowers from a company which has never ever produced a mower or its engine before and I took one home and having had immense luck was successful in making the engine work and cutting the grass in what was really a jungle in my rented house. It was an interesting experience as it was the very first time that I ever used a lawnmower, powered or not.

We started to purchase this and I was induced to buy 10 of them painted blue with 20 green. The former was to sell for promotional purposes at �29.19.6d while the greens were to be sold at �10 more.
Having sold the blue ones by 10:30 on the Saturday morning we started to sell green ones and did so well that we had to order some more from Melbourne.

Of course we were selling a range of hand and power mowers, even electric ones from Pye named Tecnico and we had one specially made by a manufacturer in Sydney to resemble a mower called Victa, which was only sold direct or through suburban dealers. Our mower called Rotomo could only be distinguished from a Victa by the absence of a name.

Our garden department was located on the first floor and when people came and asked for a Victa, we only had to say: �We don�t actually have the Victa, but we have�.� and most of our prospective customers were on the way down the steps, an experience which disappointed me and members of my staff.

I spoke to Graham Nock the reason why we do not sell Victa mowers and was interested to hear that Victa was suing us for having copied their machine and selling them under false pretences as original Victa mowers. Even �though we never did this, Mervyn Richardson who owned the Victa company was furious and ready to have a court battle with Nock & Kirby, who were then a very powerful company led by Sir Norman Nock, the former Lord Mayor of Sydney.

And it was not just through the courts that Richardson tried to have a go at us, but Victa formed a company, Barclay Trading Company P/Ltd and rented a retail shop in George Street just two buildings away from Nock and Kirby�s to sell nothing but their Victa mowers.

Although we had the sales with our Pathfinders, green or Mytimo if painted blue, the absence of Victas made me unhappy, until one day I put the hard word on Graham Nock and asked what he thought of my going to arrange a Victa agency. Graham laughed, but after discussing it with his father wished me good luck, knowing full well that I will not change Merv Richardson, who by then had not only a wish to revenge himself but had an investment in the George Street shop selling Victas and apparently very well indeed.

What finally made me move on my idea was the news that Victa had arranged a very impressive introduction of their new fully automatic model and so I rung their office on Parramatta Road and asked for Mr. Merwyn Richardson introducing myself as the Buyer at Nock & Kirby�s. The girl enquired why I wish to speak to Mr Richardson and I told her. She suggested that I should speak to the Sales Manager.

I fear that I might have been less polite than usual, for I told her in no uncertain terms that if I would wish to talk to the Sales Manager I would have asked for him and I insist that she puts me on to Mr. Richardson Senior and pronto. Within a few minutes I was talking to him and suggested that I come out to talk to him.

He sounded surprised and suggested that he will ring me back after he spoke to his Sales Manager. I told him that I will wait on the line and within a few minutes he asked me what I suggest. I told him that I can be in his office in 30 minutes. There was a bit of chatter in the background and he agreed and my next problem was that I had to milk the cash register to have enough money to pay the taxi I was hoping to hail on the street.

On arrival in his office housed in what was than a futuristic looking building, I was ushered into his office, filled to the brim with him, Garry Richardson, Merv�s son, John Mason, Sales Manager and Harry Horton, General Manager. They all awaited what I have to say and having had the confidence of a cocky 31 year old I told them that to sue each other, they must be crazy when together they could do so much better. I was surprised when they agreed, but as I found out later, their solicitor didn�t think much of Victa�s chances to win a court case and while I was on my way in the taxi, they already decided that they will agree to a reasonable offer.

It seems that either my suggestion or I made the right impression for there was an agreement that we will become agents for Victa. They also told me that if they appoint us as Victa agents, they will offer the agency to David Jones, Anthony Hordern, Grace Bros and Mark Foys, all of whom with Nocks were City stores, who were all beneficiaries of Victa�s change of mind, probably due to my approach, - not that I want to claim this.

This all happened on a Thursday afternoon and I wanted to be ready when all the suburban dealers had their new Victa Automatics to sell on Saturday, so I ordered 20 mowers for delivery on Friday. They duly arrived in our bulk store and I asked for 11 of them, where one was taken home with me and the other 10 displayed in our department. As soon as the mower was loaded into my car I left to go home and started up the mower, which ran sweetly until I pushed it and attempted to cut grass with it, when it immediately stopped. I restarted it and had no problem until reversing it when the engine stopped.

Investigation showed that there were front and rear flaps connected to the throttle of the engine and as soon as the flap was pushed back by grass the knob of the throttle cable broke off and the engine ceased to work.

I got to my retail floor before the first of the many prospective Victa customers got to the department where a number of the �fabulous� Victas were displayed and I promised immediate dismissal to any of my staff who sells a Victa. With some difficulty I got through to the eternally engaged phone of Victa, where a calm John Mason was surprised to hear of my experience. Later when we became good friends, he admitted that all their many phone lines were besieged not by retailers, but by end users, who considered themselves lucky to have had the good luck to have this wonderful mower � until just minutes later it stopped working.

I must say that there was swift action on the part of Victa. They removed the stupid flaps from front and rear and gave away the idea of the engine being automatic and reverted to common or garden throttle lever which served them well until the advent of the four stroke engines, which were made to adjust their speed according to the load and only stop when the job became too much.

It is interesting to note that after this fiasco Victa became ever stronger until they started to become so confident that they had to falter. They established a large research and design operation behind their factory, imported and marketed the Victa phone, later sold to Telstra as the Red Phone and on the basis of Garry Richardson being a good amateur pilot, Victa became manufacturer of the Victa plane causing huge operational losses until this portion of their business was sold to New Zealand who in turn built ip up and sold most of their planes in Australia.

Sad to say Mervyn Richardson, who gave his son Garry one third of his shares, while his wife held another third, was given the boot when his wife and son voted him out of his job as Managing Director. His marriage broke down and he moved out from the Killara house.

Once he left Victa, he never ever returned, not even when he was invited to celebrate one of the jubilees of the founding by him of his company. He went to live with a lady (whom he called �the lady�) and he died amidst her family. The day after he died, his son sent a driver to pick up his Mercedes, saying that it belongs to the company and is required by them.

Some years later his son concentrated on his various health and religious beliefs and sold Victa to an Australian pump manufacturer, who eventually sold it to Briggs and Stratton who are the largest small engine manufacturers of the World.

His son became a hypochondriac and moved to the mountains worried that the city air will be harmful He went so far that he imported most of the ingredients he required for healthy food from overseas and when he died left all he had to an obscure religion. The beneficiary, a lady danced in his honour at his funeral which was the very end of the Richardson saga as he never married.

A sad but interesting story indeed.
And I am sure that I do not know half of it.

Mr. Steven Colman ( Former Managing Director of Pace Mowers from 1959-1965 )