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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
My grandfather, Frank Jonathan Hurd (1906-98) worked at Finsbury Munitions Factory between 1940-45. In 1992 I interviewed him for a family history project. Here is what he said about working at Finsbury:
“Down there it was a set wage…you got time and a half for Sundays ‘cause you had to work Sundays as well it was a seven day a week down there. It was pretty hard work even down there. It was a different kind of job, it was dirty work, hot work in that rolling mill there was…’cause everything was blacked out, we had to work under lights all day long ‘cause the windows were all blacked out so that no lights at night anywhere and that made everything pretty hot there, it was a pretty hot place to work I tell you. I was right alongside the foundry – thank goodness I wasn’t put in the foundry but this was next door to it and it was pretty hot there. They used to bring the brass out red hot, roll it, that was the idea roll it out to a thickness to make the cartridges and then it would bring it down to us and then we would be working on a .303 machine stamping out these cartridges. We used to do… there were four machines working… we used to stamp out pretty near a million cartridges a shift which was eight hours straight and you’d get twenty minutes off for lunch and that was all in your eight hours. You’d start at seven in the morning and you’d have twenty minutes around twelve o’clock for your lunch and then knock off at three. If you were afternoon shift you’d start at three and have lunch about seven o’clock that night, twenty minutes, and then you’d go to eleven o’clock and then the eleven o’clock shift would come on and if you were working night shift you’ be on that one and you’d be eating your dinner at two o’clock in the morning and then twenty minutes - that’s all you get - and you’re on the machines again. That was it, It was working eight hours all round the clock – and those machines never stopped.”
About the war-time blackout:
“Well, they were blacked out for air raids in case there was an air raid because you know Darwin was bombed and you never knew how close the Japs would come and they were the ones we had to worry about. We had trenches dug out right alongside all the factories – because it was a big place Finsbury, there was about ten thousand people working there when I was there. There were these big trenches dug out because we used to do a drill too we used to do a mock air raid, we had to know which trench to run into in case there was a bombing raid. That was done because there was no lights in Adelaide, Adelaide was all blacked out, street lights were all blacked out… ‘cause I had to push my bike down there in them days from Brooklyn Park, it was a six mile push down there and a six mile push back home. And at night shift well you had a little kerosene lamp in front of you, hardly a glimmer and that was all you was allowed. Everything was blacked out; there were no lights in Adelaide at all, street lights and anything else.”
About women working at Finsbury:
“No, my wife never had to go to work but we had a lot of women working down there, a terrific lot of women who was I suppose be half the workforce would be women down there and they worked mighty hard too and they did a mighty good job. Especially in the latter part I was on the .303 machines for quite a while and then I was put on what you call the 25 pounders and I was making on those shells and the women they used to work mostly in that department…we had no women in the rolling mill, that was very hard work, there was no women working there. But in the 25 pounders they used to work those machines a lot better than what I did when I was on them and all the inspections and all that measuring, they all had to be checked ‘cause they all had to go right to a thousandth of an inch, the measurements and they all had to be checked all the time and the women were doing all that type of work. My wife never had to do it because she was never called on to do it. There was a lot of old people worked down there too at that time, cause I was only 35-36, I was down there about four and a half or five years so I was just over only 40 when I came out. So if anyone was over 55 -60 we thought they were very old, we used to call them’ Old Harry’ and all that type of thing. There was a lot of old people down there and I take my hat off to them because they did a darn good job.”
(From: Frank Jonathan Hurd Interview with Geoff Shinkfield, July 9th 1992)