In 1945, Australian potter June Dyson opened a studio in Black Rock, creating superbly crafted Australian-made stoneware that she sold wholesale to department stores around the country.
Dyson’s second son, Robert “Andy” Gordon showed a talent and interest in pottery. In 1978, Gordon opened his own studio, Pack Track Pottery, in a tin shed in Gembrook, a small town in the Dandenong Ranges.
Gordon and his wife Barbara took their bowls and plates to Sunday markets around Melbourne, and from there the business grew. By 1987, the pair had set up a studio and factory on a two-acre block in Pakenham, some 50 kilometres out of Melbourne.
Today the Pakenham headquarters is host to a busy retail space (selling ceramics and a selection of imported homewares), a small cafe, a “paint-your-own” studio and a small display of Dyson originals.
Andy and Barbara have since retired and the business is now in the hands of their four children, Hannah, Kate, Bobby and Sam.
“My sister Kate is in design. Bobby is in operations and production. Hannah and I are in sales and marketing,” says Sam, the youngest of the four.
The business employs more than 50 local people and they hand make 4000 pieces of stoneware on-site every week. These are then distributed to Myer, Domayne, Cedar Hospitality and 2000-plus retailers around Australia and the world.
“We’re one of the last remaining large-scale production potteries in Australia,” says Sam.
Robert Gordon pieces stand out for their timeless designs and accessible prices, but perhaps above all else, for their quality and durability. “We fire at above 1240 Celsius to ensure our pieces don’t absorb any moisture, so you won’t get those spider lines,” Sam explains.
“We also know the business of pottery. We are third-generation potters. And we have a ceramic engineer from Germany and a master mould maker who carves from scratch. We also make all of our glazes on site.”
It is the style and functionality of Robert Gordon products that has caught the eye of Melbourne’s best chefs and restaurateurs.
Shannon Bennett of Vue de Monde is a close friend of the family and the Gordons have been working with Bennett for nearly 10 years in designing and developing custom-made tableware.
“Melbourne is one of the best food capitals in the world,” says Sam.
“Restaurants want unique pieces for their food, whether it’s for a specific dish or a seasonal menu. They come to us with a brief and we work with them to design a concept. We can help with different shapes and colours.”
Most recently Robert Gordon provided the plates for The Broadsheet Restaurant. For the pop-up, Robert Gordon produced handmade ceramic plates and bowls in organic glaze in warm grey tones. This allows for slight variations so that each piece is unique.
Outside of Australia, Robert Gordon also supplies crockery to restaurants in New York (Bread & Circus in Brooklyn), Los Angeles (Australian DJ Grant Smillie’s EP & LP in West Hollywood) and Hong Kong (Concept Creations).
“We have a sales agent in the US. We find that there are no large-scale potteries like us who can produce five or six hundred custom-made plates on demand.”
While manufacturing in Australia has generally declined, Robert Gordon continues to grow. The business has doubled in the last four years.
Last year the family partnered with top chef Mauro Callegari (True South) to open their first restaurant, The Independent in Gembrook, not far from the Pack Track Pottery studio Gordon opened almost three decades ago. The crockery is of course, designed and made by Robert Gordon.
“We want to work with government to see what we can provide for the military, Parliament or hospitals, anywhere that requires durable tableware,” says Sam.
“We can make quality pieces in Australia at a reasonable price. We think Australia-made is making a come back.”