The Great Depression in Marrickville

Boots, shoes etc, the world-famed Marrickville tweeds, porcelain baths, basins, sinks… famous Marrickville blankets, rugs, clothes, motor bodies wonderfully constructed bodies of superfine grace, beautifully streamlined…furniture, hardwood, toys, machinery! Some marvelous machinery – made in Marrickville. That is the point sought to be driven home by the Marrickville manufacturers “Made in Marrickville” (Australian Made, Labor Daily, April 1930, p 7)

1930 began with a hope. Could the depression be avoided through the manufacturing excellence, showcased at Marrickville Town Hall?

But it was not long before factories slowed due to low sales. General Motors on Carrington Road Marrickville shut in 1931 as Australian car sales declined to just 5 per cent of the previous year. Unemployment in Marrickville reached 29 per cent. Other areas were worse-off (nearby Newtown reached an unemployment rate of 43 per cent).

The NSW Government scrambled to create Relief Schemes to provide work for the unemployed by fixing roads and drainage. A particular focus was to “improve” low lying land in Marrickville, Tempe, Wolli Creek and other parts of Sydney by filling and draining swamps (SMH, 28 July 1930). This included work on the Sydenham pit and drainage of the former Gumbramorra Swamp to the Cooks River.

Relief work was low paid and hard. Those who complained about the conditions were threatened with being cut out of food rations and further work. It is no surprise that strikes and industrial disputes became common. And Marrickville Town Hall once again became an important meeting place, this time for the Unemployed Workers’ Movement, Women’s Vanguard as well as hosting fundraising events to help the unemployed.Next time we’ll find out how General Motors survived the Great Depression.

You might also like to read about Made in Marrickville now.

 

Carrington Road: So what is an assembly plant?

In the 1920s, the General Motors assembly plant in Marrickville was described an engineering marvel and fascinated Sydneysiders. Visitors to the plant included Charles Kingsford Smith, world-champion golfer Walter Hagen, singing organist Julia Dawn, the Master Builders Association, the Millions Club, the 2UW Radio Club, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Radio Movie Club. An illuminated scale model of the plant was a hit at the 1929 Sydney Motor Show.

But what is an assembly plant? It is a factory with an assembly line, where work is separated into a sequence of tasks. Henry T Ford developed a moving assembly line in 1913 and it cut the cost of automotive production. Cars became affordable so more people could buy one. Assembly lines made household goods cheap and readily available in the Twentieth Century, something we can still appreciate 100 years on.

General Motors on Carrington Road was possibly the first purpose-built assembly plant in New South Wales with moving production lines. Ford had only just opened its plants in Geelong, Adelaide and Brisbane (Sydney came later in 1936). Here’s a description of the General Motors assembly line from the 1930s:

Bodies are hauled by electric hoists into the body storage area, where they are fitted with electric wiring harness and dashboard instruments, later assembly begins with the riveting of the chassis frame. Red hot rivets are tossed from the furnaces to the riveters with seemingly reckless abandon. Each man is ready to collect and the hot rivets are hammered into place with pneumatic hammers. Petrol tank, axles, steering wheel, steering column, transmission and springs are then fitted, and the chassis moves on to a trestle. Mechanics fit spark plugs and prepare the engine. The chassis frame is treated with anti-corrosive, the engine lowered into the chassis frame, and the unit is ready for its journey along the conveyer line. Fenders and other parts are fitted and a body is gently lowered to the frame… An army of men swarms over the unit… the engines are started and the cars roll off under their own power to checking pits. Here every bolt and nut is inspected, steering and wheel alignment are checked, the ignition system is inspected to see that everything is functioning perfectly… The car goes on its first journey…

Speaking of nuts and bolts, we’ll bring you more on where these could have been made soon (hint: it’s just down the road!)

 

 

Buicks, Chevrolets, Cadillacs & Oaklands: General Motors Cars of the 1920s

 

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!