Industries of Exile Bay
The industrial development of Exile Bay was largely a result of the boom in local industries that followed World War I. All the industries on the northern arm were first established during or immediately after the war.
The first large company to move to the area was Wunderlich Limited, which manufactured pressed metal ceilings. During the war, sheet metal was needed for war supplies rather than ceilings and asbestos sheet was developed as a substitute. The company purchased two hectares at the northern end of Phillip Street, then a dirt track, and a factory was constructed to produce Durasbestos. Materials for the building of the factory were brought to the site in horse-drawn wagons.
Production began in 1917 and by the early 1920s the factory employed some fifty people. Asbestos was brought along the river to the company’s jetty and cement came by wagon, and later lorry, from the Burwood Railway Station. The finished products were shipped out by barge. In the 1950s Wunderlich moved its factory to Rose Hill and the site was purchased by the Southern Can Company, which was later incorporated into Containers Limited. This packaging company used the site to produce cans for fruit and vegetable processors and beverage manufacturers until 1982 when the land was sold to the neighbouring Wellcome Australia Limited.
Wellcome Australia Limited
The land on which the Wellcome complex stood was bought by William Cooper & Nephews in 1919 as the site for a factory for the production of sheep dip. William Cooper, a veterinarian, had invented a superior form of sulphur and arsenic dip in 1843. Production began in 1852 in Berkhamsted near London and by the 1860s Cooper’s Sheep Dip was being sold to Australian pastoralists. Business boomed after the 1880s when local agents were appointed to stimulate sales and, by the outbreak of World War I, Cooper’s had a major share of the extensive Australian market. During and immediately after the war, however, conditions changed. Shipping space was in short supply and local manufacturers and trade unionists were calling for a ban on imported products in order to stimulate local industry. When an embargo on the import of sheep dips was announced in 1919, Cooper & Nephews moved quickly to buy land at Cabarita where they could commence production of their well-established product.
The 1.2 hectares of land were chosen because of the site’s accessibility by river and a company wharf was built to enable raw materials to be brought in and finished products to be dispatched. The first buildings – a kiln, machine room, three-storey factory and residence – were all built close to the water but, as the company’s production increased, land was reclaimed from the foreshores to extend the site. In its first six months of production, Cooper’s produced 8403 cases of Cooper’s Dipping Powder. This remained the company’s most popular and successful product for many years although it manufactured an increasing range of dips and other treatments, all of which were actively promoted through advertisements, a network of local agents and company travelers who visited graziers and other potential users.
World War II brought further changes and some problems as raw materials became increasingly difficult to obtain and scientific research was throwing doubt onto some of the more extreme claims made by dip producers. Powder dips gave way to the simpler and more effective spray dips. However, as the result of a merger, Cooper’s was able to further diversify its range of products. By 1947 the company was producing nineteen veterinary and thirty-six horticultural products, and the factory and plant were enlarged to cope with the extra work.
Post-war growth and amalgamation in the chemical industry, combined with diversification and increasing competition and the need for continuing scientific research, all contributed to a major development in 1959 when all the shares of Cooper, McDougall and Robertson Ltd (as the company was then called) were purchased by the Wellcome Foundation Limited. Formed in 1924, the Wellcome Foundation had grown from a partnership between two American pharmacists, Silas Burroughs and Henry Wellcome, in 1880. Today it has developed into a world-wide chemicals and pharmaceutical industry. The Cabarita site also served as the company’s administrative headquarters and as a production centre for its hygiene welfare services division. In 1982 some 250 employees worked with the company at Cabarita.