Sidney Myer (1878-1934)

Businessman and Philanthropist

Simcha Baevski (later known as Sidney Myer) was born in 1878 in Kritchev, Russia. He was the youngest of eleven children. He lived with his family in the Jewish sector of Kritchev located in the Russian countryside (now Belarus) at a time when Jews were persecuted for their religious beliefs and life for Jewish people was both difficult and dangerous.

When he was 20 years old, Simcha followed his older brother Elcon to Australia. He arrived in Melbourne in 1899 by boat as a Russian Jewish refugee with no visa, no English and almost no money. Soon after, Simcha changed his name to Sidney Myer.

Myer’s first job was working as a labourer for a clothing maker but he soon left this job to move to Bendigo with his brother. There the brothers borrowed money to start their own business – a hawking business in the Victorian goldfields. With no money to buy a horse, the brothers carried their goods, which included shoelaces and haberdashery, from house to house across the Victorian countryside. Not long after in 1900, the brothers had saved enough money to open a store in Bendigo and then another in 1908. At the same time, Myer studied English at night.

In 1911, Myer bought a drapery store in Bourke Street, Melbourne and then a number of adjoining properties which became the department store known as Myers. After becoming well established in Melbourne, Myer expanded his business to Adelaide and other parts of Australia. In 1920, Myer married Merlyn Baillieu, the daughter of a wealthy Melbourne stock broking and real estate family. This was Myer’s second marriage. He had four children.

In the 1930s, many people lost their jobs during the Depression. To help, Myer spent 22,000 pounds on relief work for unemployed men, paid for the extension of the Yarra Boulevarde and tried to cheer up the unemployed by holding a Christmas dinner for 10,000 people. In 1930, he took out a newspaper advertisement encouraging other rich people to also give to the community.

Myer was a great believer in giving to the community and over his life donated about $160 million to charities and community programs. The Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne is one of Myer’s best known gifts to Victoria. On his death in 1934, he left one tenth of his estate to benefit the community and over 100,000 people lined the streets of Melbourne to see the cortege.

After his death, Myer’s sons, Kenneth and Baillieu, established the Myer Foundation to represent the family’s ongoing commitment to philanthropy. The Foundation, supported over the years by generations of the Myer family still donates millions of dollars to worthy causes. Myer’s business also continued to grow, merging with the Coles group in 1985 and Grace Bros in 1989 to become the largest department store group in Australia. The Myer enterprise now trades as Coles Myer which continues to raise and donate money for community activities.


Theme: Migration and refugees