A Tribute to Baillieu (Bails) Myer

By Gail Ritchie

Australia and all of those who knew Baillieu Myer in the equine and livestock industries have suffered an immeasurable loss from his passing on Saturday, 22nd February, 2022 aged 96. He passed away at Elgee Park peacefully with his wife for 66 years Sarah by his side.

I have read many tributes written about Bails which focus on his many business achievements, his philanthropy or what Bails preferred to be called a social or community investment, as well as being an agriculturalist and viticulturist. All of which he was, but he was so much more.

I have known Bails since 1968 when I first met him and Sarah at the Sydney Royal Easter Show. Bails and his family came to the Block A Horse Pavilion to visit the King Ranch horses and to see the recently imported Clover Leaf horses that were at the show to perform cutting and cowhorse demonstrations. Both Bails and Sarah were foundation Councillors of the newly formed Australian Quarter Horse Association. Sarah’s father was instrumental in the importation and development of Santa Gertrudis cattle breed and Quarter Horses in Australia. Bails became deeply involved in his father- in- law and wife’s passions. He served as a Councillor and President of the AQHA and was instrumental in the success of the breed’s introduction to Australia.

The Yulgilbar Quarter Horse Stud is celebrating it’s 60th anniversary this year and Bails was very involved in organising the celebration activities. Throughout those 60 years Bails has supported Sarah in every aspect of their Quarter Horse Stud. Through those years as head of the Myer dynasty leading a demanding life in business, he never lost his love for the land and his wife and family. Sidney, Rupert and Samantha would religiously spend holidays with Sarah mustering at Yulgilbar when Bails would fly from Melbourne to land on the Clarence River only to spend a few days at a time.

Weekends were spent at Elgee Park, where again horses were the main activity until Bails decided to established the Morning Peninsula’s first vineyard. This was his passion on “The Farm” and he spent days nurturing his vines as Sarah, Sid and Samantha and less so Rupert, rode horses. Over the past 60 years Yulgilbar Quarter Horse Stud have bred nearly 800 horses all of which Sarah and Bails have supervised in some way. They were delighted to receive Hall of Fame Awards from the AQHA along with many horses they have bred. Winning the NCHA Futurity twice has also been a highlight of their 60 year breeding program.

Despite many interests and proficiency in other sports, riding horses was not one that Bails had time to  master. However, he never did faulter to support Yulgilbar Quarter Horses and his family. Not only did he support Yulgilbar Quarter Horses he also was generous in supporting the local, State and national AQHA and NCHA events through sponsorship.

In Bails latter years he spent more and more time on the land at Yulgilbar and Elgee Park. His quick wit, sense of humour and sage wisdom was nearly surpassed by his generous and inviting demeanour that he shared with all he met. I never saw him pass a person he knew at a horse show or cutting without having a chat. He loved singing the Yulgilbar song with Greg Anderson at his famous parties and telling jokes around the dinner table with friends. Most of all he loved Sarah and he loved his life.  We who were lucky enough to spend time with Baillieu Myer can count ourselves as fortunate.

SIDNEY Baillieu “Bails” Myer, businessman, social investor, agriculturalist and viticulturist, has died aged 96. He was born in San Francisco on January 11, 1926 to Sidney Myer, retail entrepreneur and founder of the Myer Emporium, and his wife Merlyn Baillieu.

Returning to Australia permanently in 1932, the Myer family settled at Cranlana in Toorak, where Bails and his three siblings grew up.

During WWII, Bails enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy and rose to the rank of sub-lieutenant. He was aboard HMAS Pirie in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945, when Japanese officials signed the official surrender document on board the US battleship Missouri, marking the end of the war.

After the war, Bails spent one year studying commerce at The University of Melbourne before completing his studies at the University of Cambridge, where he attended Pembroke College, stroking the college’s first eight, and graduated with a Masters of Arts, majoring in economics.

While he had worked as a boy in “the store”, as the family called the Myer Emporium, he began his retailing career in earnest after graduating.

He joined the Myer Emporium in 1949 and as part of his apprenticeship he spent time overseas studying retailing methods at Harrods in London and Macy’s in New York. In 1950 he returned to Myer and was made an executive director in 1955.

That year he married Sarah Hordern, a member of the Hordern retailing family from Sydney. The couple had three children, Sidney, Rupert and Samantha, and enjoyed a happy marriage of 66 years.

An avid sportsman, still skiing into his late 80s, Bails was a keen tennis player, swimmer and lifelong supporter of the Richmond Football Club.

Bails was influential in the Myer business from his earliest days in the organisation. He and his elder brother Ken believed the future for the retailer lay in the opening of suburban shopping centres to serve Melbourne’s sprawling new suburbs.

Despite some reluctance from incumbent management, they commissioned research and pushed the idea, which was eventually accepted. The first suburban centre, Chadstone, was opened in 1960.

Through the 1960s, with Ken serving as managing director, the brothers successfully pushed their decentralisation agenda developing more suburban centres and expanding the Myer business nationally. In 1972, following the successful launch of Target, Bails stepped down from his executive position at Myer but remained on the board in a nonexecutive role. He was appointed non-executive chairman in 1978 following the retirement of his brother, Ken.

When the company was hit by a slump during a major recession in 1983, Bails was called back into executive management. He served as executive chairman and was instrumental in negotiating a successful merger with Coles.

He then served as deputy chairman of Coles Myer from 1986 to 1994.

Bails also played a significant role in business outside the family retailer. He served as a director and chairman of National Mutual (1978- 1992) and had board positions with Cadbury Schweppes, Henry Jones, Elders IXL, The Commonwealth Bank, Ten Network Holdings and NM Rothschild and Sons.

Inspired by his Russianborn father’s desire to serve the community that had allowed him to prosper, Bails, in conjunction with his family, continued this work.

Using their philanthropic vehicle, the Sidney Myer Fund, they brought the Sidney Myer Music Bowl into existence in 1959. A landmark architectural work and music venue, it was a gift to the people of Victoria.

Bails preferred to be called a social or community investor rather than a philanthropist and it was an area in which he was very active. From 1958 to 2001, he served as a trustee of the Sidney Myer Fund.

With his brother, Ken, Bails also established The Myer Foundation in 1959.

Bails served as vice chair and chair of The Myer Foundation between 1959 and 1995. He also served on the advisory board of the Salvation Army from 1987 until 1991.

With Sarah he shared a passion for rural pursuits, breeding Santa Gertrudis cattle and quarter horses on their properties at Grafton, NSW and Merricks North, Victoria. They established the first vineyard on the Mornington Peninsula at Elgee Park in 1972, the awardwinning Elgee Park Wines.

Bails is survived by wife Sarah, children Sidney, Rupert and Samantha, 12 grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

Rod Myer is the author of In Full Stride: The Life and Times of Baillieu (Bails) Myer