More Industries of the West
Berger Paints (continued)
During the 1960s the Rhodes site changed markedly in appearance. First, a modern paint factory arose on the site of the old corroding shed. Its single span construction was the largest in the southern hemisphere, and it had a two-storey mezzanine above the main floor which carried the paint dispersion and mixing equipment. Then a new warehouse was built to replace a number of smaller buildings which had served the site for the preceding decades. This warehouse provided for the storage of paint on pallets and employed the most modern handling equipment. Company acquisitions and expanding markets meant that the Rhodes site became the Asia Pacific Area headquarters for BJN Holdings Limited, a group of companies with factories, warehouses, depots and retail stores in a hundred locations throughout Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Fiji. The research laboratory at Rhodes was part of a worldwide network of such facilities which were exploring the possibilities of new technology.
Concord Plaster Mills
To the south of the Berger complex was Concord Plaster Mills, part of the CSR Building Division. The company had been linked with the Municipality of Concord since 1942 when the Concord Plaster Mill was opened on the site to process gypsum for the manufacture of Plaster of Paris for the building trade. The plaster mill functioned alone for five years while the adjacent Gyprock factory was under construction. Because of wartime restrictions, the equipment installed in the Gyprock factory was designed and manufactured in Australia, using overseas models. Opened in 1947, the Gyprock factory utilised most of the plaster manufactured in the Concord Plaster Mill. Bulk plaster and additives were mixed with water and fed between two sheets of plaster linerboard to form a continuous sheet of Gyprock plasterboard. The use of Gyprock for interior walls and ceilings was stimulated by postwar materials shortages and it soon gained acceptance as a replacement for fibrous plaster in the building industry.
In 1948 a floor tile plant was added to the site. It produced asphalt floor tiles until 1952 when the manufacture of vinyl asbestos tiles commenced. From 1979 the asbestos was removed from the production process and vinyl tiles were produced at the plant until June 1982 when a diminishing market forced the closure of the factory.
During the 1950s and 1960s the Concord site was also used for the secondary processing of hardboard and softboard for the manufacture of acoustic tiles and similar products, and for the storage of megass, a fibre byproduct of sugar cane, at that time used for the manufacture of caneite insulating board.
For many years a specialised engineering workshop operated on the site to maintain equipment used by the Building Materials Division. The company reclaimed a portion of the foreshore of Homebush Bay. This land was used for materials storage and semi-trailer parking.
A building materials research laboratory was opened in 1961 and the Concord site also held an extensive warehouse and the administrative offices of the New South Wales Gypsum Products Group. Some 137 people were employed at the CSR site.
O’Donnell GriFFin Pty Ltd
O’Donnell Griffin Pty Ltd, part of the Comeng group, was a major employer of electrical tradesmen in the district. The company established premises in Concord in 1962, although it had been formed as early as 1904 as a partnership to install dynamos and generators in factories and workshops. The Concord site was the administrative centre and major production plant of the O’Donnell Griffin group in New South Wales and provided electrical, mechanical and fire protection engineering services and contracting to a variety of major commercial, industrial and institutional projects.
Westinghouse Brake & Signal Company (Australia) Pty Ltd
While O’Donnell Griffin was one of Concord’s newest industries, its near neighbour to the south, the Railway Brake Division of Westinghouse Brake & Signal Company (Australia) Pty Ltd, was among the district’s oldest. The two hectare site was selected in 1911 as the first Australian factory of the company. For the previous four years, since its formation in 1907, the Australian branch had imported goods and equipment for its contract work from its parent company in Britain. Like the Arnott’s company further south, Westinghouse Brake was attracted to Concord by the relative cheapness of land and its proximity to the railway line.
Manufacturing of railway air brakes and associated equipment began in 1912 and was considerably stimulated by World War I. As demand increased, additional plant was constructed on the site to expand production capacity. The original floor area of 2043 square metres grew to cover 13,470 square metres, including a store area of 2,970 square metres. As engineering technology developed, so equipment and facilities had to be modernized and replaced. The plant accommodated a design office, iron foundry, press shop and machine shop, test and development shop and an extensive warehouse. There was a simulated train on the premises for experimental and testing work. All marketing, spares sales and accounting were handled on the site.
The need to keep pace with technological change was a major consideration in industries associated with transport engineering. That the Railway Brake Division of Westinghouse Brake & Signal at Concord was meeting this need is attested to by the company’s success in winning the industrial section of the Excellence in Aluminium Design Awards in 1982. The winning product, Westcode, is an electric pneumatic braking system specifically designed for multiple-unit electric passenger trains. The company employed about 300 people at the Concord plant.
(to be continued)