Hanimex’s chief designer during the 1960s and 1970s, Jerry Arnott, achieved a US design patent for his push-pull film transport system for 110 format cameras.
The first exports of Australian-made Hanimex slide projectors were to the United Kingdom – a real coals-to-Newcastle story...
Like a number of ‘first world’ countries, Australia developed a solid manufacturing base during photography’s early decades, but this served mostly the local market, and exports were limited. Italy did much the same, so Italian-made cameras are now interesting rarities, compared to the more prolific outputs – in western Europe – of the British, French and, of course, the Germans.
After the second world war, the rebuilding of Germany and Japan, especially in terms of manufacturing, saw both emerge as the powerhouses in the building of photographic equipment. Aside from the Russians – who were now working under different socio-political imperatives – most other countries realised that trying to compete was fruitless, and most local manufacturing quietly died out.
In Australia, one entrepreneurial young businessman saw the potential of importing photographic equipment from the companies that had already done the hard yards in terms of product design, and tooling up for manufacturing.
Jack Hannes was German-born, but was educated in Britain. The family fled Nazi Germany in 1939 when Jack was 16 and, after arriving in Australia, he enrolled at Sydney University where he studied both mechanical and electrical engineering, earning degrees in both. A couple of years later he returned to study economics, giving him the ideal skills set to make the most of photography’s post-WW2 blooming. Ironically, the first camera he imported came from Italy – the vertically-styled Durst Duca which used Agfa’s Karat 35mm film cassette system – and it was a big success due to the pent-up demand following the war years.
Encouraged by this experience, in 1947 Jack established a company in Sydney which he called Hanimex, the name being a contraction of Hannes Import Export. Initially Hanimex worked out of a couple of rooms above a newsagency and had a staff of three, but Jack’s understanding of engineering and economics saw the company quickly expand as he toured through first Germany and then Japan, securing the Australian distribution rights for photography products which would deliver both quality and profitability. These included Praktica from East Germany, Futura from West Germany and quite a number of Japanese brands, including Minolta, Mamiya, Nikon and Ricoh. Jack personally chose to handle Nikon, after both it and Canon refused to be represented by the same agent.
Commencing in 1954, Hanimex’s relationship with Fujifilm became a long and enduring one and, exactly 50 years later in 2004, the company was acquired as a wholly-owned subsidiary called Fujifilm Australia. Fujifilm still owns the rights to the Hanimex brand.
Jack’s interest in Fujifilm was two-fold as, back in the early 1950s, photographic retailing in Australia was extensively controlled by Kodak, which either owned stores outright or had outlets tied up with contracts prohibiting the purchase of photographic products from other sources. Able to offer an attractively-priced alternative in the lucrative area of ‘D&P’ – film developing and printing – Jack was able to attract new retailers into the market which, of course, also benefitted Hanimex’s business. Subsequently for the next four decades, Hanimex competed head-to-head with Kodak in the Australian film processing business using Fujifilm chemistry and papers.
By 1955 Hanimex had offices in all Australian capital cities (and in New Zealand), and Jack Hannes was looking for new opportunities further afield. This not only involved selling Hanimex-badged products overseas, but the commencement of manufacturing operations in Australia. A factory was built in Brookvale on Sydney’s northern beaches (Fujifilm Australia still occupies the site today). Admittedly, the local manufacture was largely forced on Hanimex by the imposition – in 1957 – of stringent import duties on certain consumer goods to help prop up the local industries. This threatened to curtail one of Hanimex’s most lucrative areas of business – slide projectors – so Jack decided he’d not only circumvent the import restrictions by manufacturing in Australia, but he’d actually build in sufficient numbers to compete on the global market. The first exports of Australian-made Hanimex projectors were to the United Kingdom – a real coals-to-Newcastle story – and the company subsequently set up offices in France, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, Canada, the USA, Hong Kong and China. By the early 1970s Hanimex was the world’s second largest manufacturer of slide projectors (Kodak being the biggest), but the high cost of making consumer products in Australia eventually resulted in this production being moved overseas, firstly to Ireland, to supply the European markets, and then to Michigan, to supply the United States and Canada.
Hanimex became big enough and influential enough to move beyond merely importing cameras made by others to having varying degrees of design input and commissioning manufacturers to build runs of Hanimex-branded cameras. There were some simple rebranding exercises, the earliest being the Eaglet in 1952, which was a 6x6cm box camera made by Fototecnica in Turin, Italy. But by the mid-1960s Hanimex had its own design department which created some unique designs and was always involved in the styling of Hanimex’s cameras.
Along the way, the Hanimex brand appeared on 35mm SLRs made by Praktica and Topcon (jointly with each manufacturer’s name), exposure meters made by Sekonic, 35mm rangefinder cameras made by Regula (Germany) and Royal Camera (Japan) and 35mm viewfinder cameras made by a variety of manufacturers including Finetta (Germany) and Dacora (Germany). Eventually, Hanimex achieved a total of 24 design patents, mostly related to slide projectors, including the focusing mechanisms and the magazines. Probably the most interesting Hanimex patent was for a 110 format camera which used a trombone-type, push-pull mechanism to advance the film – similar to a Minox miniature – and was created by the company’s chief designer, Jerry Arnott. The Hanimex Mini was launched in 1972 and was the first in a long line of Hanimex cameras in the format. It accepted a flash cube as a carry-over from the Instamatic system (which Hanimex had also supported), but it didn’t take long before Arnott designed a model with a built-in flash and, later, models with, variously, a switchable tele/wide lens, motorised film transport and waterproofed bodyshell.