Benjamin Johnson (1865-1939) was one of Northcote’s early pioneers. He was born in the town about 1865, to parents Robert and Emma Johnson (nee Beazley). Benjamin began his working career as an apprentice baker before joining his father’s business in the plastering and building trade.
In 1891 the opportunity arose to purchase the old Bastings general store, which had been operating at the time as the Brady Brothers bakery. With his savings and some money borrowed from his father Johnson was able to build the business to such a degree that he soon had the largest cake manufacturing businesses in the Commonwealth. He later opened a second cake business in Sydney.
In 1910 Johnson was elected onto the Northcote Council, a position he held until his retirement in 1939. He was twice Mayor of Northcote (1912/13 and 1928/29) and was an active participant in many Council activities including being representative of the Weights and Measures Union, chairman of the Financial and Legislative Committee and chairman of the magistrates of the Children’s Court.
In March 1916, he missed an important Council vote about conscription because
“…his flour mill was on fire.”
It was probably a fortuitous event as conscription was a bitter issue in the community (and Australia wide) and led to many feuds and fights within the Northcote Council.
Johnson was ever on the move with his business ventures and amongst his many investments he was able to include:
• Being an investor in the building of the Northcote Picture Theatre opposite his bakery in High Street Northcote. R. J. Whalley, the proprietor of the Northcote Leader was another investor;
• Establishing the Gray & Johnson Real Estate Agency with Councillor W. J. Gray;
• several bakeries in nearby suburbs;
• and even business interests in Brisbance managed by his son Harold.
Despite his varied and extensive business and Council operations Johnson still found time to be involved in numerous sporting and community activities including cricket, football and bowls and was a member of the Lord Northcote Masonic Lodge and a trustee of the Northcote Rechabites.
Johnson died in October 1939, the funeral service being conducted by his brother Reverend G. Johnson, with the internment at Northcote cemetery in Separation Street.
Lemon, Andrew (1983). The Northcote Side of the River. North Melbourne: Hargreen.
(1939, December). Northcote Leader (Northcote, Vic. : 1882 - ).