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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 9

I Introduction

II The Australian Chemical Industry

III Pharmaceuticals

IV Chemists In Other Industries

V The Dawn Of Modern Chemical Industry - High Pressure Synthesis

VI The Growth Of Synthetic Chemicals - Concentration, Rationalisation And International Links
i Phenothiazine for Australia's sheep and cattle
ii Some innovative organic syntheses
iii Factory R&D

VII Australian Industrial Chemical Research Laboratories

VIII The Plastics Industry

IX The Paint Industry

X Acknowledgements



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The Growth Of Synthetic Chemicals - Concentration, Rationalisation And International Links (continued)

Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century Australia's ties to Britain were still strong. When chemical industry in Europe and, particularly, in Britain became more concentrated and more international, this was very relevant to Australia and was paralleled here.

Two British industrialists, Lord McGowan of Nobel Industries and Sir Alfred Mond of Brunner Mond saw the need for British industry to counter the concentrated efforts of I. G. Farben and brought about a merger between the four largest British producers of chemicals: Brunner Mond & Co.; Nobel Industries Ltd.; The United Alkali Co. Ltd. and the British Dyestuffs Corporation. The formation of the combine, ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries) was very nearly a takeover by the two strongest partners, Nobel and Mond, and the two strongest men, McGowan and Mond. The strengths of the four component companies were complementary. Nobel had a well organised, profitable international business but few opportunities for diversification and innovation. Brunner Mond had mastered the complex Solvay ammonia/soda process at an early stage and had acquired the Castner-Kellner electrolytic processes; with ambitions to reproduce the ammonia synthesis in Britain they were a tower of technical strength; and United Alkali held half of the alkali and much of the mineral acids business. British Dyestuffs held the key to organic synthesis, the growth point of the period and origin of synthetic biologicals, pharmaceuticals and much polymer chemistry.

Australian companies were well aware of international developments. To share in the new products and to ward off their powerful competitors they sought international linkages. Emerging nationalism and industrialisation policies encouraged local manufacture and, at the same time, required international know-how. George Nicholas concluded that he needed Monsanto's skill in phenol manufacture, so he initiated the joint company Monsanto Southern Cross. The Broken Hill Barrier Companies seeking outlets for their lead linked up with seven UK 'White Lead Corroders' in 1918 to form BALM (later DULUX). Hatrick sought alkyd know-how from Beck-Koller (Austria) and joined forces with Reichhold (USA) (see p. 717). After the second World War CSR formed a joint company, CSR-Chemicals Pty. Ltd., with Distillers of the UK and also joined a consortium with Dow and B. F. Goodrich (USA). Others, like the pharmaceutical companies, sought strength in affiliation e.g. the Drug Houses of Australia and withdrew more and more from basic synthesis to formulation and wholesaling. The most important factor in the early development of chemical manufacture and industrial research was the expansion of ICI Australia's activities to an organisation of the size and concentration of skills and resources which chemical technology requires for survival in international competition. ICI Australia had already a strong position in explosives. The mineral acids and fertiliser industries however, were in the hands of the miners, Broken Hill Proprietary, the Barrier group, Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company, and Cuming Smith and Cpy. These companies, with interests in superphosphate, saw the emergence of large nitrogenous fertiliser plants from the Haber-Bosch synthesis of ammonia as a potential threat; ICI saw it as an opportunity. ICI who had just developed its own version of this process regarded Australia as a large potential market -too soon -and considered the new technology an ideal means of consolidating its operations, in Australia. Prolonged negotiations between the miners and ICI resulted in the formation of two new companies: Commonwealth Fertilisers and Chemicals Ltd. (CF & C), which essentially concentrated on fertilisers, and ICI Australia Ltd. which consolidated most of ICI UK's operations in Australia and New Zealand. The rationalisation was well timed, within two years of ICI UK's and within four years of I. G. Farben's formation. ICI Australia's policy was to seek partnerships with local interests. . . . There seems from the first to have been an intention to bring in Australian money and the Australian nature of the enterprise was made plain by appointing directors who had independent positions of their own in Australia or New Zealand ...'[80] The Managing Director and later Chairman, Sir Lennon Raws (1929-1954), was an Australian and Australian shareholding, at first nine per cent, soon grew and varied between forty-seven and thirty-seven per cent. The legal framework between parent company and subsidiary was remarkably progressive for the period. In areas of immediate interest to Australia at the time, rights to all know-how were to be exchanged freely between the parties. In all other areas, many of which turned out to be new technologies unforeseen as yet, the parties had privileged access, but at commercial terms to be negotiated. To enable ICI Australia to keep abreast of all new developments and select suitable ventures, the company had access to ICI UK's advance patent information and vast volumes of research reports. Taking into account the respective reservoirs of know-how between parent company and subsidiary, this access was of immense value to ICI Australia. Over the years it provided a virtual postgraduate university of technical training and innovation strategy for many hundred Australians. Even in areas of free information exchange, however, ICI Australia retained ownership of patents and the decision to grant rights to third parties, an important encouragement to ICI Australia's own research and its exploitation outside the ICI Group overseas.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - BALM Paints; C.S.R. Chemicals Ltd; Commonwealth Fertilisers and Chemicals Ltd (C.F.& C.), Yarraville, Vic.; Dow Chemicals (Australia) Ltd; Drug Houses of Australia (D.H.A.); DULUX Australia Ltd; I.C.I. Australia Ltd; Monsanto Southern Cross; Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company; Nobel Industries Ltd

People in Bright Sparcs - Hatrick, A. C.; Nicholas, George; Raws, Sir Lennon

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