Founded in Sydney in 1855 as the Colonial Sugar Refining company, the company first began refining imported raw sugar, expanding into the Melbourne market in the 1870s. Over the next two decades, mills were established in Queensland and Fiji, which began to process domestically-grown sugar. In 1923, the Queensland state government signed an agreement with CSR to refine all of that state's sugar production, a monopoly that was to continue until 1989. Mills outside Queensland were sold in the 1970s. About 80% of production is exported.
Until 2010, the refined sugar products for the retail market were produced in a joint venture with Mackay Sugar Co-Operative (75% controlled by CSR), who operate refineries in Mackay (Queensland), and Melbourne. The CSR brand is used on most of the retail sugar products produced. The production makes up around 60% of the sugar on the Australian domestic market, and 80% of that in New Zealand. Using the molasses by-product from the sugar mills, the company also distills ethanol for use in fuel ethanol manufacture, and varying grades of domestic industrial ethanols for food production and other chemical processes.
The company began to diversify into building products as early as 1942, with the construction of a plaster mill in Sydney, and in 1947 the company began manufacturing plasterboard there, bringing the product to the Australian market. It acquired Bradford Insulation in 1959, which produced heat insulation materials for buildings, and currently has a substantial share of the insulation market in Australia. It has established insulation businesses in China, Thailand and Malaysia, originally in joint ventures with local partners, but now wholly owned. The company also produces fibre cement sheeting, aerated concrete products, bricks, and systems to support plasterboard construction through Rondo, a joint venture with Boral. It spun off its interests in heavy building products, then producing more than half the group's profits, to a separate listed company, Rinker Group, in 2003. In 2007, CSR acquired the Australasian glass businesses of Pilkington and the Melbourne based glass processing company DMS Glass, subsequently renaming both as Viridian.
The company's interest in aluminium is through an approximate 25% stake in the Tomago aluminium smelter near Newcastle, New South Wales.
The current managing director is Rob Sindel, a CSR employee since 2009, and the chairman of the board of directors is Jeremy Sutcliffe, the former managing director of Sims Metal. The group's corporate headquarters is in North Ryde [Triniti 3 Building], a suburb of Sydney.
In December 2010, CSR sold its sugar and ethanol business, Sucrogen, to the Singaporean company Wilmar