More Industries of the West.
Tulloch’s Phoenix Ironworks
Opposite CSR Chemicals, between the railway and Concord Road, Tulloch’s Phoenix Ironworks was a local landmark from its foundation in 1915 until its closure in 1974.
The founder of the company, Robert Tulloch (1851 – 1928) was born in the Orkney Islands north of Scotland. After working with a local blacksmith he was apprenticed to the engineering trade and worked in Glasgow and London before migrating to Sydney in 1877. For the following six years Tulloch worked for the Atlas Engineering Company. Then he branched out on his own, doing small blacksmithing jobs, at first from his home and, later, from leased property in Pyrmont. In 1888 Tulloch’s firm received its first large contract – the manufacture of the overhead ironwork which supported the roof of the Eveleigh Railway Workshops. The company flourished and won several important contracts, particularly for the construction of railway bridges, viaducts and rolling stock.
Early in 1914, at the age of sixty-two, Robert Tulloch purchased 6.5 hectares of land, part of the original Bray property, at Rhodes as a new location for his engineering business. Braygrove, the family home, was incorporated into the company’s administration block. A boilermaking workshop and engineering workshop were built on the northern part of the land and a blacksmith’s shop at the southern end. Rail tracks were laid to the main shops and to the coal bunkers of two huge steam-producing boilers. The manufacture of rolling stock continued to be an important part of the company’s activities and by the 1930s Tulloch’s was also producing steam engines, wrought iron tubes, garden tools and iron for bridges. By the 1960’s the firm’s products included foundry goods, rolling stock and locomotives, together with a range of portable aluminium and steel buildings. The company increased its workforce in the 1960’s from 390 in 1962 to 840 in 1968, largely as a result of several important contracts for building rolling stock for the New South Wales government. The foundry, however, was failing and was permanently closed in 1968. As government contracts fell away while industrial unrest and costs increased, the company suffered a series of heavy trading losses and in November 1974 was forced to close down permanently.
The future of the Tulloch’s site was, for some time, a matter of controversy which involved disputes between Concord Council, local residents and the owners of the site. Finally the land was purchased by the New South Wales Housing Commission as the location for a medium density housing project. When the foundry and other workshops on the land were razed, Braygrove too was demolished. Only the gates remain on Concord Road as a memorial to one of Concord’s most significant pioneer families. The ironworks will be remembered by three street names nearby: Tulloch Avenue, Phoenix Avenue and Loch Maree Parade (named after Tulloch’s home in Thornleigh) and by a memorial lampstand erected in memory of Robert Tulloch in 1945 by members of his family. The lampstand stands in the Churchill Tucker Reserve opposite Rhodes Railway Station.
Across the road from the Tulloch’s site, on the eastern side of Concord Road, was Philips Industries. Before World War II the site, which was owned by Tulloch’s, consisted of a narrow strip of river foreshore lined with mangroves. The only construction on the land was a small pier. During the war, reclamation of the site began as an emergency measure and temporary buildings were constructed to enable the building of landing barges and light sea craft. By the time it was completed, this reclamation had increased the site to four times its original area. In the years after the war it was used for a variety of industrial purposes until it was sold to Electronic Industries in 1963. The temporary buildings from the war years remained in use for light engineering works.
In 1974 Philips Industries acquired the capital of Electronic Industries, and for several years the Rhodes plant was used for the manufacture of Malvern Star and Speedwell bicycles. Approval was given in November 1982 for a major redevelopment of the site.
Berger Paints (Australia) Pty Ltd
A major industry on the western side of the municipality was that of Berger Paints (Australia) Pty Ltd. When the company named Lewis Berger & Sons (Australia) Pty Ltd was registered in June 1916, the name of Berger had already been associated with paint for more than 150 years – in England in 1760 a young colour chemist named Louis Steigenberger began manufacturing Prussian Blue using his own secret process. Changing his name to Lewis Berger, he founded a family firm which at first produced dry colours and later paints and varnishes. The firm is still operating today.
Before Lewis Berger & Sons began to produce paint in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the company was exporting dry colours to Australia. Many years ago divers bought up cans of Berger’s white lead from the wreck of the Catherine Shearer which had foundered off the Tasmanian coast in 1855.
With the growth of the Australian market, two company representatives, Harry Sevier and John Young, took over the Sydney depot. Sevier and Young began planning for the establishment of a paint factory in Australia. As with many of Concord’s other industries, World War I proved to be a powerful stimulus to local production as the traditional sources of supply became increasingly less dependable.
The new Australian company was a joint venture between the English firm of Lewis Berger & Sons and the Sherwin – Williams Companies of Canada and the United States. Land was purchased at Rhodes and the factory started production in 1917.
One of the principal products of these early years was white lead, manufactured by allowing lead to corrode in stacks with acetic acid and tanbark. The materials required were plentiful in Australia, the lead coming by ship from Port Pine in South Australia. The huge corroding shed in which the stacks were constructed was ninety metres long, forty metres wide and fifteen metres high, and was at the time the largest timber construction in the southern hemisphere. The Rhodes complex also included a factory for processing linseed oil and a paint manufacture building.
At the end of the war, Berger in Australia found itself in the position of having to promote the quality of Australian – made goods in the face of a community preference for imported products. Berger sponsored a `Buy Australian’ campaign, in which, for the first time in Australia, an aeroplane was used for advertising. The Berger biplane toured New South Wales dropping leaflets urging people to invest in Peace Bonds and `Buy Australian’.
During the 1920s Bergerfirmly established itself in Australia, increasing the range of its products and opening branches in other states. A high point of the Depression years for the company was the contract to supply the 272,000 litres of paint needed to finish and protect the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney’s engineering masterpiece which was opened in 1932. During the years of World War II the Berger factory became heavily involved in the provision of paint for government requirements, especially for aircraft. In December 1943 a shrine of honour was dedicated in the garden of the Rhodes works in memory of employees who had served in the armed forces. The postwar years saw an expansion of factory production in the other states. Changing technology brought about the end of the use of white lead in paint manufacture. The wharf at Homebush Bay, where ships had brought cargo and left with finished paint, was no longer required and in about 1960 both the wharf and white lead factory were demolished.