The Long-gone Industries of Concord (Pt.10 – Final)

The Long-gone Industries of Concord (Pt.10 – Final)
Arnott's Biscuits factory c1945

ARC Engineering Pty Ltd

World War I prompted the British Reinforced Concrete Company to begin operations in Australia and in May 1920 the company opened works in Victoria under the name of Australian Reinforced Concrete Engineering Pty Ltd. Eight years later the company expanded into New South Wales with the purchase of 2.8 hectares of land in George Street, Homebush.

Until the 1930s the company was mainly concerned with supplying reinforced fabric and bar to the construction industry. During the lean years of the 1930s, however, the development of weldmesh and fencing products that could be manufactured on the same machines enabled the company to diversify into servicing the domestic and industrial markets. Throughout the war years ARC supplied quantities of fabric and barbed wire to the Australian Army.

The Homebush factory was extensively remodelled and enlarged in the 1950s to cope with the increased demand which accompanied the postwar building boom. A second New South Wales factory was opened at Lidcombe in the late 1960s as the demand for reinforced products outgrew the capacity of the Homebush plant. At this time the Homebush factory moved into supplying the rural market with stock fencing, porta-yards, cattle crushes and grain silos. Garden and pool safety fencing lines, chain-mesh fencing and fencing for tennis courts and security purposes were all added to the range of goods produced at Homebush. They employed about 120 people.

Telecom Australia

Telecom Australia maintained a training school in George Street, North Strathfield. About 200 technicians and 100 linesmen received both basic training and refresher instruction in the two large buildings on the site. Telecom’s Skill Development School had, since 1972, conducted courses in a former factory near the corner of Averill Street and Concord Road, Rhodes. There trainees receive practical experience following their theory training at North Strathfield. A third Telecom establishment was set up in 1977 in a factory at Concord West that once belonged to the Massey Ferguson company. For several years this centre was used as a training centre for apprentices in a range of trades. However, from 1981 training at the centre was phased out as the number of apprentices in the organisation had been reduced.

Arnott’s Biscuits Pty Ltd

One of the municipality’s oldest industrial establishments, Arnott’s Biscuits Pty Ltd, was located at the southern end of George Street close to Parramatta Road. William Arnott emigrated to Australia from Scotland in 1850 and, after a brief and unsuccessful search for gold on the Turon River goldfields, set up as a baker and pastrycook in West Maitland. After a series of floods and financial problems, Arnott moved to Newcastle where his business boomed to the extent that he was able to buy a second factory in Forest Lodge, Sydney.

In 1907 the flourishing company purchased 2.6 hectares of land at the junction of the northern and western railway lines at Homebush. North Strathfield station was opened in 1918 and the railway commissioners promised that the company would be provided with a private siding to facilitate deliveries and distribution. Although the more cautious company administrators doubted the wisdom of buying so much land in such a remote area, work on the factory went ahead and the first stage was completed within a year.

Almost from the beginning , William Arnott’s was unable to keep up with demand.  More land was purchased and the factory enlarged. In the 1920s gas-fired ovens were installed to improve efficiency and by the 1930s the company owned four hectares and employed 2500 hands. Between 1948 and 1958 production at Homebush almost doubled and the original biscuitmaking business was diversified by mergers and takeovers. By 1980 twenty companies were linked with the parent company. One, the Arnott’s Milling Division, which adjoined the main factory at Homebush, provided flour for the group in Australia and Papua New Guinea. The Homebush factory, the largest biscuit-making enterprise in Australia, employed 1600 workers of twenty-eight different nationalities.

A Changing Industrial Pattern

As technology and community needs changed, so did the types of industries in Concord and the goods they produce. The 1933 Jubilee History of Concord contained details of several of Concord’s industries and carried advertisements for many more. All emphasised their continuing links with the municipality and the contribution they were making to its progress..

In the 1980s Concord supported over ninety industries and commercial enterprises, excluding retail shops. In size they range from small, family-owned businesses to the huge complexes of multinational corporations like Union Carbide, or of large Australian-owned companies such as Arnott’s Biscuits and the Australian Gas Light Company. The industrial profile of the municipality changed considerably between its jubilee and its centenary. The process of change is still continuing.

Concern with pollution and environmental safety forced riverside industries to devise new methods of disposing of their waste products.  Some industries moved further afield in order to expand; others went out of business as the conditions in which they began had altered. The river, as a result, is slowly becoming cleaner and more attractive. Changing technology has affected land use patterns, too, and sites that were once firmly industrial have now been redeveloped, many of them into residential and recreational areas.

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