Onlookers who spot Chris Jorgensen at this year’s Royal Melbourne show might assume he’s just a person who sells colourful novelties.
But there’s much more to the man behind Wacky Whistles.
Born in the small town of Longreach in central west Queensland, Chris says he was always fascinated by science, particularly energy.
“I’ve always had an interest in thermodynamics since I was a child, I don’t know why. I just clicked with that science. Since I was probably six-years-old I was trying to figure things out with energy,” he says.
Chris has since designed processes and machines for several companies.
His most notable achievement is what he calls a Method & Device for high temperature combustion, which he explains is a way to make any fuel burn at any temperature.
Before his invention, he says normal thermal coal could not burn hot enough to make steel. However with Chris’ technology, low grade coal can now be used to process steel.
He says the technique also allows people to “smelt steel with LPG gas because I can get the temperatures required.”
Looking for an alternative to his science work and as a way to travel, he began making whistles in 2000. He started his own company in 2004 called The Wacky Toy Company.
Chris registered the company with his brother Patrick, and together they travelled through Europe selling whistles.
But he was also being strategic. He knew that if he made small things to sell he would have an advantage.
“The size of the whistles means it’s like carrying five dollar notes really. I was already selling toys in Europe and Britain and I was always getting killed on freight.”
Chris found himself working at music festivals and events all around Europe. He says his favourite is the Quart festival in Kristiansand, Norway.
In 2010 he decided to sell the primary product and trademarks to an Australian businessman, who then started a company called Wacky Whistles.
“I kept the right to sell the whistles”, says Chris, who buys enough stock from the company to sell at shows.
“Selling this company paid for the patent I designed and paid for all the prototypes that I’ve worked on over the years so that’s why I sold it,” he says.
Jorgensen also had three other companies, one in Hong Kong and two other science-based companies in Australia. All three have now closed.
He says Denmark is his favourite destination. “My grandfather was born in Denmark. I like their culture, I like their society, I like the way their country is run. I feel like I fit there and I have a really good time every time I go there,” he says
He emphasises that he loves what he does. “I love both jobs. It’s not just the fact I like selling it, it’s the fact that it gives me freedom. I’m not the type of person that does a nine-to-five job; I design things in my own time and sell designs. I do this at festivals and then have time off and then do science work. I couldn’t do a job that I didn’t like doing long-term,” he says.
Chris believes people who own their own stalls at events and festivals are natural risk takers. “We don’t know how much money we’re going to make at the end of the show, we can even make a loss. On the other side of things, if you’re busy you can make a lot of money. But that’s half the fun of it, the uncertainty of it all. Not knowing what’s going to happen and backing yourself,” he says.
He says the flexibility and freedom makes selling whistles appealing. “I could go to Sydney and go to meetings for science projects and then sell the whistles on weekends at markets. There’s just so much flexibility with it and that is one of the main reasons. I can go to any country and take it with me. That’s what’s so attractive about it.”
He speaks to thousands of people selling whistles at various events. After engaging in conversation, he’s often asked why he does it. “My answer to them is always simple. It makes just as much money as any other job and it suits exactly who I am. “
In the future he believes science will become his main focus. “I will head more towards science as time goes on I’m sure. If I’m not doing any contracts in science, I will be selling whistles at markets, music festivals or other events. But if I do get a big contract, it takes a lot of dedication and focus and I think I’ll ditch the whistles.”