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

Chapter 12

I The First Half Century - The Initial Struggle

II The Second Fifty Years - The Start Of Expansion

III The Third Fifty Years - Federation And The First World War

IV The Fourth Period - Second World War To The Present
i General Conditions
ii Iron and Steel Production
iii Aluminium Technology
iv Innovative Copper Refining Process
v The EDIM-4WD Load-Haul-Dump Vehicle
vi Copper Rod Production
vii Copper Wire and Cables
viii The Diecasting Industry
ix Automotive Components
x Whitegoods or Consumer Durables
xi Hardware
xii Some Recent New Industries
xiii The National Measurement System
xiv Manufacturing Industry in this Decade
xv Acknowledgements



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Copper Wire and Cables

The outbreak of the First World War produced an accelerated demand for copper, zinc and lead. The dominant position of Germany in the supply of these metals suddenly became a matter of great concern in the British Empire. Australia, of course, had already exhibited its great wealth as a primary source of these metals. Though plans for the fabrication of these metals had been under discussion since 1912, Prime Minister Hughes made it clear in December 1914, that fabricating facilities were an urgent national concern.

Electrical cable became an item of great importance and after the various companies in the United Kingdom had been canvassed, British Insulated and Helsby Cables Co. Ltd., agreed to provide some capital and skilled engineers for the construction of a rod rolling and wire drawing plant in Port Kembla, to be set up adjacent to The Electrolytic Refining and Smelting Co. of Australia and to be called Metal Manufactures Limited.

This was an interesting development in Australian manufacturing history, as the ownership was a consortium of Australian mining interests and the British cable company. Because of shipping difficulties, it was not until 1918 that copper rod for cable manufacture was first produced in Australia. In the following seventy years, a very large company grew from this small beginning.

There were only 2256 telephone exchanges in Australia in 1919, of which 1537 were in New South Wales and Victoria. The demand grew at a spectacular rate and copper wire was the product of principal demand from Metal Manufactures Limited, and in 1923 some 3000 tonnes were produced. Copper tube production had also commenced in the same year with 1000 tonnes of tube produced. Though a large manufacturing company by the standards of the day, 1925 saw the peak of metal production for many years as the great depression began to gather; it was only through its diversion into tube production that the Company was able to survive through this period. However, as a consequence of the difficulties of the period, another significant company, the Austral Bronze Company Limited, became a subsidiary of Metal Manufactures Limited. Austral Bronze had been formed in 1915 to make ammunition feed (mainly brass rods) and to deal in antimony alloys; in 1919 it set up to roll copper and brass sheet. By 1939 the combined operations had produced 16 million pounds in value of copper wire, copper and brass tube and rolled and extruded products, the total output for the same year exceeded 5800 tonnes. Total employment was more than 1600.

The stimulus of the Second World War caused the brass and copper tube plant to become the focus for a vital range of munition supplies, notably, the supply of driving bands for shells. Brass rod, non-ferrous metal plate and alloy tubes, were amongst a wide range of vital materials not previously produced in Australia and that had to be available in high quality within a short time. Though machinery was imported, innovation was associated with the installation of the new equipment and the subsequent solution of the intricate tooling and metallurgical problems associated with the wide range of manufacture then attempted.

It was realised by the Federal Government that the country did not have a domestic source of supply of insulated cables. Metal Manufactures and Olympic Tyre were approached to produce a quick solution to what could be a critical shortage. A consortium of UK companies including British Insulated Callenders Cables and Metal Manufactures Limited joined together to form Cable Makers Australia Pty. Ltd.; all manner of cable constructions were produced in due course, with extensive help from UK personnel. The cessation of war saw a rapid transformation in pressure on the facilities, with heavy demand for cables of all types but in particular for telephone cable, the limited supplies of which had been diverted to war requirements, thus leaving a large unfulfilled need. A new cable company. Austral Standard Cables was set up in Victoria, drawing its primary wire from Metal Manufactures Ltd., to produce the Post Office requirements. A satellite company was also set up in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Austral Bronze Co. Pty Ltd; Austral Standard Cables; Cablemakers Australia Ltd; Copper Refineries Pty Ltd; Electrolytic Refining and Smelting Co. of Australia; Metal Manufacturers Ltd; Mount Isa Mines (M.I.M.); Olympic Tyre and Rubber Co

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 899 - 900, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher