Industries of the west
A glance at an old map of the municipality of Concord will show just how closely the industries in the western part of the district follow the northern railway line. Most of these industrial complexes were on the western side of the railway, although a few lay between Concord Road and the railway line.
At the beginning of the twentieth century only a little of the land of Rhodes had been cleared for farming; most remained in its original heavily timbered state. Industrial development in the area began soon after the original estates were subdivided and sold. In 1911 Mary Bray sold some of her land to G. and C. Hoskins Co. Ltd and the following year the land around Uhrs Point was auctioned.
By 1913 R. Tulloch had acquired the Bray property and the way was open for intensive development of heavy industry on the site. Other firms snatched up land in Rhodes when it became available and the industrial development moved south along the railway line, to meet up with similar development which was moving north from the commercial centre of Parramatta Road.
At the northernmost boundary of the municipality, the land between Concord Road and the railway line was occupied by a number of relatively small industrial and commercial premises.
The oldest of these was probably Rider & Bell Pty Ltd, founded in 1920 by Edwin Rider. Mr George Rider, son of the founder and a former mayor of Concord (1963 – 1964), carried on the business. This manufacturing engineering firm was unique in being the only producer in Australia of firemen’s brass helmets. It also produced automotive components and a range of fishing and gardening equipment.
Allied Feed Mills Pty Ltd
West of the railway line the point was dominated by the silos of Allied Feed Mills Pty Ltd, a company which employed about 120 workers. The site, originally a grant to Frederick Meredith, was first developed in 1919 by John Darling & Son who established a flour mill on Rhodes Point. In 1960 the company was taken over by Allied Mills and in 1963 a subsidiary of this firm, Allied Feeds, became established on the site. Grain and other raw materials were taken by road and rail to the factory where they were converted to pellets, mash and cubes of stock food. Most of the finished products were taken from the site in bulk trucks.
Union Carbide Australia Limited
Further down Walker Street was the extensive complex of Union Carbide Australia Limited, a major producer of chemicals and extruded polyethylene film. The Rhodes factory was the sole Australian producer of xanthates, a mining flotation emulsion valuable in the separation of copper, tin, lead, zinc and gold in the sulphide form. Since 1966 another division of the company produced plastic cling wrap for domestic use as well as industrial plastic film. A range of coal tar products for industrial use was also produced at Rhodes and the company maintained an extensive warehousing area on the site.
The link between Union Carbide and Concord began in 1928 when a small company, Timbrol Limited, bought land and established a factory on the site occupied by Union Carbide. The company had been established in 1925 by John Griffith Peake and two researchers from Sydney University with the purpose of manufacturing timber preservatives. It was the accessibility of rail and water transport that attracted the company to Rhodes when its original premises in the heart of the city proved too small. A long jetty was built across the shallow foreshores of Homebush Bay so that coal tar oils, a byproduct of the operations of the Australian Gas Light Company at Mortlake, could be transported by barge to Rhodes and pumped into a storage tank on the shore. From this tank the oil was transferred to three coal-fired stills where it was broken down and the elements extracted.
The original products of the company were used as moth repellents, germicides, wood preservers and for denaturing alcohol. In 1933 a significant breakthrough occurred when Timbrol produced the first Australian – made xanthates. Some time later the company was producing all Australia’s xanthate requirements as well as a considerable quantity for export.
Despite financial problems and the constant need for technological updating from overseas, the company thrived and by the 1940s was manufacturing chemicals for agriculture as well as for Australia’s war needs. As the plant’s production increased and diversified, the site was expanded with the reclamation of foreshores from Homebush Bay. In 1957 Timbrol Limited merged with the giant Union Carbide organisation of the United States.
CSR Chemicals Limited
A later arrival, but one which occupied Rhodes’ oldest industrial site, was CSR Chemicals Limited adjacent to Rhodes Railway Station. The site was first bought in 1911 by G. & C. Hoskins, an engineering business formed by Charles and George Hoskins, which in 1908 had taken over the ailing ironworks at Lithgow. The brothers established a foundry on the Rhodes site for the purpose of making cast iron pipes for gas and water reticulation. The plant was designed around a patent taken out by George Hoskins and for many years it was a successful and important production centre, manufacturing pipes which ranged in diameter from 10 to 180 centimetres. A special railway siding was built to allow coke, limestone and pigiron to be brought to the foundry.
When the Hoskins family bought land at Port Kembla in 1922 and founded the Australian Iron and Steel Company there in 1928, many of its other concerns, including the Rhodes pipeworks, were closed down. The works were dismantled, to be later reconstructed on the Port Kembla site. The Rhodes land, vacant since 1930, was bought by CSR for 50,000 pounds in August 1943 as the proposed site for a new venture into the production of acetic anhydride and cellulose acetate. Research into the manufacture of these chemicals had begun the previous year in response to war needs.
The site of 7.3 hectares was selected because of its proximity to rail and road transport, because it was well served by public utilities and because ethanol, an important raw material, could be transported along the river from the company’s distillery at Pyrmont. Preparation of the site began in 1947 but was hampered by the discovery of buried foundations and pipes, a legacy from the Hoskins pipeworks. When recommendations from the United States suggested that the buildings should be more widely spaced, 4.8 hectares from Homebush Bay were reclaimed. The total cost of preparing the site, including the building of a seawall, amounted to more than 100 000 pounds.
The first cellulose acetate manufactured in Australia left the Rhodes factory in September 1953. Two months earlier the complex had been formally opened by the Governor-General, Sir William Slim, who spoke of the plant as a major step towards Australian self-sufficiency in the field. However, its birth had not been easy, hampered as it was by postwar shortages of goods and materials, bureaucratic opposition on several levels, the difficulty of obtaining import licences and a `technology gap’ between the expertise of Australian scientists and the research of their fellows overseas. The site in Mary Street, Rhodes, was the head office of CSR Chemicals Limited and a wide range of chemicals and associated products were manufactured there.