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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Meller, Theodor Peter (Ted) (1909–1994)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published online in 2020

Ted Meller, 1930

Ted Meller, 1930

Theodor Peter Meller (1909–1994), shoemaker and businessman, was born on 19 September 1909 at Czernowitz, on the eastern border of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (now Chernivtsi in western Ukraine) and registered as Isidor, one of twin sons of Jewish parents Fischel Schajer, shoemaker, and his second wife Rosa, née Wender. Fischel’s father was Jankel Mehler; Schajer was Fischel’s mother’s family name. Isidor’s twin brother, Siegfried, died of diphtheria in 1910. By 1919 Fischel, a son and daughter from his first marriage, his wife, and their sons Isidor and Jakob (Jack) (1911–2004), had moved to Vienna, where Fischel worked as a shoemaker. The business prospered, Fischel changed his name to Philipp Mehler, and by 1936 Mehler-Schuhe had two stores, including an atelier in the fashionable Kärntnerstrasse.

Young Isidor Schajer attended Bundesrealgymnasium 4 in Vienna and in 1927 began a course in mechanical engineering at the Technical University, changing his name to Mehler in 1930. He studied until 1932 but did not sit for his final examinations, working instead in his father’s business and pursuing sporting activities, particularly water polo and skiing, and travelling widely in Europe. After Hitler’s annexation of Austria on 12 March 1938 the family resolved to seek refuge. In August Isidor arrived in England. He soon embarked for Australia, reaching Sydney aboard the MV Merkur on 25 November. Arrival documents give his occupation as shoe manufacturer. His brother Jakob, an orthopaedic bootmaker, arrived in Sydney in January 1939 and their father and mother, via Canada and Japan, in June.

Resolved to start a new life, Isidor changed his name by deed poll to Theodor Peter Meller in August 1939. In October ‘Ted Meller’ applied for the admission to Australia of his half-sister Rika and her husband and daughter, then living in Lyon, France; war delayed their arrival until 1947. Ted’s stepbrother Leopold, a salesman, had been interned in Dachau in November 1938, was released on 1 March 1939, and made his way to Shanghai. He survived the notorious ghetto there and migrated to Canada in May 1949.

Meanwhile, Meller had wasted no time setting up shop. Living at Rose Bay he, his parents, and his brother repaired shoes at the back of premises in Edgecliff Road, Woollahra. By October 1939 they sold shoes and manufactured and repaired surgical boots at 107a King Street; letterheads advertised that their products had won a ‘Golden Medal at the Paris World Exhibition 1937’ (NAA A12217).

Meller volunteered for military service in October 1942 but, being in a reserved occupation, was exempted. He was naturalised in May 1945. His brother and their parents, also naturalised, retained the name Mehler. On 10 April 1949 at the Great Synagogue in Sydney he married Trudl (Gertrud) Dames, a saleswoman, born in Nuremberg, Germany, who had reached Australia with her family in May 1939. They had met at the Trocadero dance hall.

Though the business continued to make and sell boots—including army, ski, and orthopaedic footwear—and men’s shoes ‘with continental character’ (Sun 1951, 6), it was as a manufacturer and importer of elegant, classic ladies’ fashion shoes and handbags that Meller made his mark in Sydney. Taciturn and a tough businessman, but with natural charm, he ran the shops and the company, while Jack ran the factory, which in 1947 was set up in Wattle Street, Ultimo; in 1950 manufacturing was moved to a factory at 265 Sussex Street. The architect Arthur Baldwinson modified both premises. In 1950 Ted and Trudl commissioned Harry Seidler to design a house for them at Castlecrag, with a cantilevered upper floor. Willoughby Council initially rejected the modernist design, claiming it lacked aesthetic value, but the Mellers overcame these objections and it was built by 1953. Later sympathetically modified by Seidler, it won the same council’s heritage award in 2006.

In addition to manufacturing shoes locally under the ‘Edward Meller’ brand, Meller imported European brands of shoes and handbags. His main retail outlet was in King Street, later at number 89, but in addition he sold through department stores such as Farmer’s and set up boutiques elsewhere–in Castlereagh Street, Double Bay, Bondi Junction, and Chatswood–many designed by Seidler. Always on the lookout for a market, he did business in Melbourne and in the early 1950s, seizing the opportunity provided by the Snowy Mountains scheme, opened a shop selling work and ski boots in Sharp Street, Cooma.

Six feet one inch (185 cm) tall with brown hair, balding early, and blue eyes, Meller enjoyed the opportunities Australia provided him. He was an active member of the Lake Albina Ski Lodge, near Mount Kosciuszko, and continued skiing in Europe into his early eighties; owned a Cavalier 28 sailing boat; swam strongly; enjoyed tennis, theatre, and classical music; and played the violin. As well, he smoked large cigars, and loved Studebaker cars and photography. The family had a large house and garden at Katoomba, which they visited often. With a good command of languages—including German, Italian, French, Yiddish, and Russian (his mother had spent time there)—he travelled overseas frequently for his importing business. In retirement, he combined his love of classical music and travel, enjoying specialised music cruises on the Mediterranean.

Meller’s first marriage ended in divorce and at the Registrar General’s Office, Sydney, on 17 April 1969 he married Susanna Tauber, née Pesti, who had been born in Budapest. With none of the next generation interested in taking on the business, Meller Shoes was sold in 1986—in 2020, under new management, it was still operating. He died on 17 February 1994 at his home at Woolwich, Sydney, and was buried in the Jewish section of Rookwood cemetery. His wife and the three sons of his first marriage survived him. On the death of his widow in 2008 the Ted and Susan Meller memorial scholarship was established for the study of violin at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Ebner, Paulus. Personal communication
  • Gerstl, Stephen. ‘Craftsman with a Flair for Shoes.’ Australian, 25 February 1994, 15
  • KZ-Gedenkstätte Dachau. Personal communication
  • Lebensaft, Elisabeth. Personal communication
  • Meller, Troy and Lesley. Personal communication
  • Mentschl, Christoph. Personal communication
  • National Archives of Australia. A435, 1944/4/3657
  • National Archives of Australia. A12217, L5855
  • Sun (Sydney). [Advertisement], 30 May 1951, 6
  • Technical University of Vienna. Personal communication

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Meller, Theodor Peter (Ted) (1909–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/meller-theodor-peter-ted-29610/text36489, published online 2020, accessed online 21 September 2020.

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