Gelignite and the 'Big Bang' at Tanunda

barossa history

Gelignite and the 'Big Bang' at Tanunda

words by
luke rothe
>> Daniel’s General Store, Murray Street, Nuriootpa c.1897

The Eudunda Farmers’ Co-operative Society was established in SA in 1894.

The Society opened ‘Branch Stores’ across the state, including Branch No. 21 at Angaston in 1918 and Branch No. 26 at Tanunda in 1921. The Tanunda store was first managed by Mr EC (Charlie) Lowke until 1944.

Charlie started in retail at the young age of 13 years in 1897. The main photo shows Charlie as a boy, wearing a bow tie and white apron, at Daniel’s General Store in Nuriootpa. He later became chief van driver of Daniel’s delivery wagon.

Charlie’s time as manager at the Eudunda Farmers’ Store at Tanunda was marked by an incident that made news across the state. The front page of the Adelaide News on April 15th 1939 read, “Safe blown, but £285 had been hidden…” (£285 was more than one year’s basic wage in 1939).

Charlie had locked cash and cheques in the office safe after he closed the store at 9 p.m. on the Friday night. However, after leaving the store he sensed he was being watched and so returned to remove the money from the safe.

That same night safe-breakers forced the store’s rear door and blew open the strong safe with gelignite. The accompanying photo of the blown safe appeared in the Adelaide Chronicle. It clearly shows an eiderdown that had been removed from the shop‘s shelves and used to muffle the sound of the explosion.

Imagine the thieves’ dismay when, after all this chaos, the safe only contained some silver and copper coins.

One of these bags of copper coins was blown apart by the explosion, scattering coins around the room. To make the job more viable perhaps, the thieves stole some clothing, tobacco and about two dozen silk stockings! But Charlie’s forethought had paid off, saving the company a considerable amount of money.

The thieves’ get-away car was a green 1935 coupe stolen from Dr. Frank Juttner of Tanunda, which was later found abandoned in North Adelaide.

Safe blowers were titled ‘cracksmen’ and it appears their job was quite an ‘art’. One newspaper wrote of the Tanunda incident, “Police described the safe blowing as one of the neatest jobs they had seen”. 

It appears that the Tanunda thieves were never caught, and it is thought they were responsible for other local jobs. Eudunda Farmers in Kapunda had their safe blown in March 1939 and in August, Tanunda Railway Station’s safe only netted the thieves a bit over £3.

The Tanunda store stood opposite the Tanunda Hotel and continued trading as Eudunda Farmers until 1983.

In 1984 it opened as Tanunda Discount Supermarket, before being developed into specialty shops and a mall. The Angaston Eudunda Farmers’ store continues to trade as Angaston Foodland.

>> Tanunda store in the 1930s
>> Angaston store in the 1930s
>> Blown office safe after the Tanunda robbery

Luke Rothe

Local Barossa historian and enthusiast
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