NSW Manager for General Motors in the 1920s, Mr JF Potter, must have been looking for a site to establish General Motors as an industrial showpiece. He chose Carrington Road Marrickville. But why? How did this and other parts of Marrickville become a powerhouse of Australian manufacturing?
One thing you might know is that Carrington Road floods every now and again. There’s a reason for this. It’s built over the former Gumbramorra Swamp. The swamp drained south to the Cooks River, and in the early 1800s was a wild and dangerous place where escaped convicts and bushrangers hid. Later, some parts were turned into brickworks and farms, including dairy farms and market gardens around Carrington Road.
Pontiac Six, Motor Progress, No. 1, October 1926
So General Motors actually made cars in Marrickville? Yes! When you think about the car industry in Australia, you probably think Victoria and South Australia but cars were made across Australia for most of the Twentieth Century. The General Motors Australia assembly plant on Carrington Road Marrickville supplied cars to all of New South Wales.
On opening of the plant in November 1926, a car could be completed in just 30 minutes. Then by May 1927, a car was rolling off the assembly line every ten minutes. On 23 August 1927, the plant celebrated its 10,000th car in just the first nine months. It was a Pontiac Six.
Convertibles, family cars and commercial trucks were all made at the Marrickville plant. We’ve put together a list of the vehicles from trade publications and newspaper articles (below). General Motors cars from the 1920s like Chevrolet, Cadillac and Vauxhall are still well known to this day.
General Motors’ extensive range was the part of corporate strategy by American millionaire William C Durant. Mr Durant started General Motors in 1908. You can read about how he did this here. General Motors maintained its brands’ identities and this continued when General Motors purchased one of its major Australian suppliers, Holden in 1931. But more about that another time!
Remember Sydney’s flying photographer, Milton Kent? Here is a superb photograph taken by Kent over General Motors on Carrington Road Marrickville.
The gleaming General Motors factory is set against old Sydney with its brick pits and chimneys. A network of new power poles lines the streets. You can see General Motor’s office building, the big saw-tooth roof of the assembly plant and the distribution yard, full of new automobiles. (We’ll get to the cars in coming weeks.) The buildings under construction on the right include a new cafeteria for the factory’s workers.
The goods railway line from Marrickville to Port Botany runs just behind the factory. This line opened on 14 October 1925, just one year before General Motors, and made it easy for vehicle parts made in Australia and overseas to reach the factory by train. It even came right inside the factory’s storerooms, and is still there today.
And Carrington Road itself is a grand boulevarde. General Motors gave £5000 to Marrickville Council to build the road from concrete, as it remains today.
You might also like to explore other aerial photos of 1930s Sydney in the Royal Australian Historical Society’s Adastra Aerial Survey Collection
General Motors on Carrington Road Marrickville was big – as big as Melbourne’s and around double the size of Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane. When opened, the plant was designed for 175 workers producing 60 cars a day.
On Opening Day, a Chevrolet was assembled and driven off the assembly line’s rails under its own power in 29 minutes, considered quite a marvel by the fascinated onlookers! Equipment was strung from above and the factory had plenty of beams to support equipment as well as overhead pipes carrying oil and water as well as power.
In the 1920s and 1930s, cars were assembled in Australia from an imported chassis and many locally produced parts and materials. Holden supplied some of the bodies to General Motors. Australian leather and wool was used for seats, timber and lead for batteries and hardware was also locally made. General Motors wanted to showcase its links with Australian manufacturing, even producing a booklet on the topic. Discover Australia Builds a Motor Car (1928) for yourself.
This booklet also mentions another Carrington Road Marrickville business Duly & Hansford (we’ll come back to them another time).
Here is the assembly line in 1928. This photo was taken by commercial photographer Milton Kent. Milton Kent pioneered aerial photography after getting his pilots licence in 1926. We’ve found some photographs of General Motors taken by him in a plane which we’ll show you next week.
Carrington Road’s industrial past (and future?) Save Marrickville is campaigning against a proposed 35-storey residential development along Carrington Road Marrickville which includes the last Australian General Motors factory (listed by the National Trust: picture below), but I have found a much bigger history.
In 1926, the American motor vehicle firm General Motors (Australia) Pty Ltd established assembly plants in Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane, Adelaide and Sydney to produce motor vehicles for the Australian market. Sydney architects Ross and Rowe were commissioned for the Sydney plant (6-10 Carrington Road). The design was to comply with all the conditions of a modern assembly plant and to provide the best possible conditions for all employees, according to GM’s magazine Motor Progress. The NSW Premier, the Hon. JT Lang, opened the factory declaring:
Factories were the milestones along the road Australia must travel to become a self-contained nation whose secondary industries would absorb her primary products . . . there is no market like that created by the employment of local labour . . . and it will be a striking advertisement to the world of this country of ours.
General Motors – Carrington road, Marrickville
General-Motors purchased Holden in 1931 during the Depression (fearing it would be snapped up by a competitor) and continued to operate there until 1939. The factory then produced tyre cord until 1961 after being taken over by Davies Coop, a significant
corporation in the Australian textile industry in the Twentieth Century.
Other businesses were established close to General Motors. AH Peters (16 Carrington Road) made bodies for trucks and utilities including ambulances used all over NSW.
General Motors – Opening Day 30 October 1926. Source: General Motors Australia
In our first post, we introduced the General Motors-Holden factory on Carrington Road Marrickville. It’s still here today but we thought we’d share more about this historic building on its opening day on 30 October 1926.
The building was opened in front of enthusiastic well-wishers. Staff, dealers and suppliers celebrated the future of Australia’s motor trade. Buicks, Cadillacs, Chevrolets and Olds mobiles lined Carrington road.
Lang is welcomed by Innes Randolph, Managing Director of General Motors in Australia, and JT Potter, Manager of the Sydney Branch. Source: General Motors Australia
The crowd watched NSW Premier Jack Lang shake hands with the General Manager, Innes Randolph. Lang was not known for being cheerful, but photos from the day show him grinning with pride at the opening of the new factory. JT Potter is behind them – he chose the Marrickville site and oversaw construction.
Inside, Jack Lang officially opened the new plant. In his rasping voice, the Premier announced, “Factories are the milestones along the road Australia must travel to become a self-contained nation.” He continued, “There is no market like that created by the employment of local labour…the entire operation will all go to stimulate associated industries, and it will be a striking advertisement to the world of this country of ours.”
General Motors-Holden kept an album of photos from the day for nearly 100 years. Discover the 1926 Album for yourself.
Next time we’ll look at the factory in production.
Have you heard about the old General Motors-Holden factory in Marrickville? It’s right here at No. 10 Carrington Road. You can still see it for yourself. But why Marrickville? What did it mean for Australia and our industry?
Well, we’re excited to bring you the story of how a thin strip of land played a big role in the Twentieth Century. We’re unearthing new information all the time, so join us as we reveal a fascinating history, full of people, their stories and hopes for the future. So let’s go!
Our story starts in 1926. The American motor vehicle company General Motors wanted to expand. Australia seemed perfect – a wide-open land to explore, a wealthy and adventurous people and a prosperous economy.
Their key rival Ford had just fitted out an old wool store in Geelong. But General Motors had bigger ideas. It planned five modern assembly plants: Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane, Adelaide and Sydney (yep you guessed it – on Carrington Road, Marrickville).
In Sydney, General Motors hired well-known commercial architects Ross and Rowe to build the new factory, and they built fast. The Sydney Morning Herald marvelled at the “speedy construction” (the design was completed in just 10 days) but the feat was impressive: reinforced concrete floor, shadowless light, 1000 electrical points and a fancy office building and staff dining hall.
Discover the Herald’s article from 1926 for yourself.
And what happened to the other General Motors assembly plants across Australia? Gone. This is the last standing.
Butchers of 205 Victoria Road Marrickville
There has been a butcher shop at 205 Victoria Road, Marrickville from 1911 up until the mid-1970s. The original building, a cottage and shop was demolished in 1936. The current flats and shops were rebuilt in its place.
Between the 1920s to the 1970s there were about 30 butchers in the suburb of Marrickville. Today there are about 16 butchers.
Join us for an engaging presentation of Shady Acres by Leslie Muir with guest speaker Christine Yeats. The Royal Australian Historical Society, the Madden Family and Halstead Press recently published an investigation into political corruption, developer donations and the impact of powerful lobby groups on the design and construction of Sydney’s metropolitan railway and tramway network in the 19th century.
Shady Acres foreshadows the transport shortcomings that the city and its suburbs endure today.
Chris Iacono, Chairman, Co.As.It. Italian Family History Group, & his Committee invite you to attend the first IFHG event of 2018
Fabian LoSchiavo was the third child born to Dario and Helen LoSchiavo. He was born at St.Margaret’s Hospital, Bourke Street, in 1949. He grew up in Pymble and Marsfield, and attended Catholic schools there, including boarding school in Bathurst (as an attempt to help him survive asthma). In 1969 he entered the Premonstratensian Order of Canons Regular but left in 1972 to return to lay life. After completing a degree at UNSW in History, he did a Graduate Diploma in Archives Administration, a one-year course to train archivists for government or private archives. In 1981 he began work at the Archives Office of NSW in their office in The Rocks, taking early retirement when that Office was closed in 2013. Fabian’s interest in family history probably began when, at Grandma’s house in Malabar, he was allowed to look at the old photos which ‘Granny’ had stored in a box under the house. ”Who were these people, the ladies dressed in white frilly frocks of the Edwardian era and enormous hats with flowers on them?” He obtained his first historical death certificate when he was 16….Great Great Grandfather Hobbs, who died in 1871 and was described as “Governor of Her Majesty’s Gaol in Wollongong”. Fabian says: “Mum was thrilled, and brandished the certificate at Dad, saying ‘See! I told you we weren’t convicts’. My father, very proud of his origins in the Aeolian Islands, would tease Mum terribly about her Anglo-Irish ancestors…’When Rome ruled the world, your ancestors were digging up potatoes!’ (Historically incorrect, but he loved to boast of Roman glory.)” In retirement, Fabian has not lost his interest in family history, helping friends for the sheer fun of it. Fabian will talk about “Tall Stories”…getting to the truth of family history…does it matter?”
Event date: Wednesday 28 February 2018
Event Time: 6:45 pm for 7.15 pm start
Event Venue: The Cultural Centre, Italian Forum
23 Norton St, Leichhardt NSW 2040
Entry $5 ~ No bookings required ~ Please register at front desk on arrival
Please join us at La Giara Café Restaurant in the Italian Forum after Fabian’s talk. (Refreshments at your own cost.)
Subsidised Parking available in the Italian Forum Carpark. Validate your ticket at Cultural Centre front desk.
Contact Pina Leyland at Co.As.It. for more information. Tel: 02 9564 0744 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note: This event will be filmed