The origins of the Brett family businesses can be traced to the arrival in Australia of William Brett in 1838 on the same ship as John Fairfax, thus commencing two enduring family business dynasties.
In 1868, the family moved to Maryborough in Queensland from which the launching pad for the later Bretts businesses was created. James Fairlie Brett (1884-1966) was to become a towering figure in the businesses for the next 60 years, first developing his business skills in the Fairlie family joinery business in Maryborough, then supplying timber from the South Burnett to the Sydney market before establishing a major timber merchant business in Blackbutt. This was to pave the way for entry into Brisbane, more particularly Newmarket, with which Bretts is synonymous. The Brisbane Sawmills Co, a customer of the Blackbutt business, commenced trading at Newmarket in 1913 but was soon taken over by the Brett family and became its major business hub. Bretts continues to conduct a timber and hardware business there today.
Over the ensuing decades, Bretts expanded from owning timber stands and milling and merchandising timber, to timber importation, plywood and joinery manufacture, hardware retailing, property development and establishing the famous Bretts Wharves which housed an active stevedoring business. Quite apart from these diverse trading activities, successive members of the Brett family have been acknowledged industry leaders: James Fairlie Brett (1884–1966); William James Brett (1923-2013); William Brett Junior; Ian Brett; William Gerald (Bill) Nutting and Bill Nutting Junior.
The Brett family businesses are remarkable in many ways, not least for the fact that family values and relationships were central to their business success, defying building industry volatility, for more than 100 years. This is also highlighted by their relationship with the National Australia Bank for over 100 years. Honesty in all dealings has been another deep-seated value of the Brett family. Throughout the twentieth century, Bretts was a major employer with an enviable reputation for long term retention of its staff and its diverse contributions to the community. Having reached the third generation successfully and harmoniously, ownership of the businesses was divided between the two sides of the family in 2005, with the Nutting family assuming control of the Bretts business. As Queensland’s most significant building materials supplier the Brett family has made an outstanding contribution to the Queensland economy and, especially, to the development of South East Queensland.