Port Adelaide is one of South Australia's oldest settled areas, and its unique architectural heritage reflects its maritime history, attracting tourists to gaze wonderingly at the impressive sights. Despite an active program of redevelopment, it's not hard to uncover heritage places such as its pubs and the Jervois Basin Shipwrecks. A simple stroll through the streets of Port Adelaide will quickly uncover the quirky remnants of its unique history.
But while Port Adelaide has perhaps the most visible history in the western suburbs, many other areas in the region also have also a proud past. Semaphore is a classic example with its unusual buildings, and neighbouring Largs Bay may be smaller but also has many tales to tell, including that of Fort Largs.
While researching the story of Finsbury Hostel I stumbled across some unusual finds in Adelaide's north west which I would like to share with you.
As you drive along Tapleys Hill Road it is impossible to miss the huge Adelaide airport and its screaming jets taking off. But continue further north and you won't find any trace of an earlier airfield that once serviced Adelaide.
Harry Butler was an Australian with a love of flying. Born in Minlaton on the Yorke Peninsula, he started his career in the Australian air force as a mechanic but then went to England and joined the Royal Flying Corps so that he could fly. He proved to be very competent, winning an Air Force Cross and being promoted to Captain.
On his return to Australia with a Bristol monoplane and an Avro 504-K, he made a name for himself as a stunt pilot, landing on Unley Oval in front of 20,000 people.
In 1920 Butler bought 60 acres of land in Albert Park to use as an aerodrome. He called it Hendon Aerodrome after the airfield in England, and erected a hangar as well as a landing strip. He regularly operated joy flights in the area, and made drops of advertising leaflets.
Unfortunately Harry Butler was seriously injured in an accident at Minlaton and died 18 months later. The aerodrome continued to be used until 1927, when it was closed due to the growth of housing in the area.
The Hendon Aerodrome is commemorated by a cairn, although you're not likely to see it. Positioned on a church's private property in Philips Crescent, the cairn is now hidden behind shrubs and a locked gate.
At the start of the second world war, Australia had a limited capacity to manufacture ammunition, and plans were quickly developed to build more factories. In South Australia large factories were established at Hendon to produce .303 rifle ammunition, at Salisbury to make explosives, and at Finsbury in 1941 to produce cartridge cases and fuses.
A reporter from the Australian Women's Weekly wrote in 1943 about the Finsbury Munitions Factory:
My impression of the factory is that it resembles a huge bakehouse, and that women do jobs like those of baking day at home, without the cooking. The workers sit and pat mixtures into little cakes, fill with powder small bags, like icing bags, weigh ingredients, tie up bundles resembling thin cheese-straws, put mixtures in tins, solder the tins, and pour liquid like melted gelatine into bombs.
A Derelict Factory Warehouse - Once Used by Clyde Apac
The Finsbury Munitions Factory was huge and employed four thousand women, many living in 300 fibro cottages that were built nearby - later the site of Finsbury Hostel. The factory comprised at least twenty major buildings spread over more than 50 hectares, bounded by Torrens Road, Carlton Crescent and Burleigh Avenue. It was linked by rail to the Woodville line, with the Finsbury railway station located where the Al Khalil mosque on Torrens Road is today.
Kelvinator Australia Moved Here from Keswick in the 1960's
Many of the original munitions factory buildings still stand today - they were useful during South Australia's golden age of manufacturing after the second world war, but with the decline of car (and other) manufacturing in SA many are now empty and derelict. Names of post war occupants include Pope, Email, Clyde Apac, Kelvinator Australia Limited, ROH, International Harvester, Tecalemit, and Chrysler Dodge De Soto Distributors (who also occupied the Le Cornu building for a period.
Interestingly one former munitions factory building is now being used to assemble parts for the new Royal Adelaide Hospital. Many of the remaining buildings now lie quiet, awaiting a future in South Australia's turbulent economy.
The Hendon small arms ammunition factory played an important part in our war effort. Most South Australians would have known someone who worked in one of the munitions factories during those years.
After the Hendon factory closed it was sold to by Philips Electrical Industries in 1947. Philips shifted its operations from Sydney and the factory played an important part in the booming electronic industry as transistors and integrated circuits took over from valves. At its peak it employed 3500 people - nearly twice the wartime staff. During the 1970's Philips produced consumer goods such as radios, TV's and other domestic appliances at Hendon.
Former Hendon Ammunition Factory Building Later Used by Philips