Once upon a time – actually, not that long ago, think the seventies — we actually had reasonably good, working factories that employed people to actually make and manufacture things like aircraft, weapons for the Department of Defence, military uniforms and blankets made from Australian wool.
Under the Fraser government, Australia’s factories, one by one, were closed. Cheaper, it was believed, to buy these things overseas and just concentrate on what we could do best, which seemed to be exporting lots of raw of material which came back to us in the form of manufactured goods with higher price tags attached.
The trade tensions between the US and China, ratcheting up several notches as President Trump’s distaste for Chinese exports to the US increases, makes us aware of how vulnerable we are –remember the African saying, “When elephants fight, the grass is trampled?”
Maybe now is the time to start re-thinking our domestic production and re-open those long-closed factories and start employing people to work in them – and it seems it’s started already.
Writing in Motor in August last year, Chris Thompson reported that the old Holden site at Fisherman’s Bend will be re-designed by BAE as a military vehicle factory, an approximately $5 billion project that will be the biggest of its type in the country:
As part of a Federal Government tender (which BAE is a contender for) called ‘LAND 400’ the contractor aims to build 225 new combat recon vehicles to replace the current fleet of light armoured vehicles used by the Australian military.
Australia once made aircraft, too. The Government Aircraft Factory (GAF) turned out a sturdy little workhorse called the Nomad, a twin-engined turboprop, whose first flight took place in 1971. GAF produced 172 Nomads before the remaining aircraft were mothballed.
Nomads were used by the Royal Flying Doctor Service, Defence and the Coastwatch services. Remember Onkaparinga blankets, made from Australian wool, in the little town of Lobethal in the Adelaide Hills? Sandy Stone loved his. It’s hard not to be nostalgic about these handsome Australian-made large-check blankets, with traditional blanket stitch borders, so often crumpled into the bin marked ‘dog blankets’ at your neighbourhood op shop. Pricier lambswool blankets, with satin ribbon edges and no moth holes, go for as high as $200 a single, on some vintage shop sites, as do the tartan travel rugs (Canadians love ‘em).
We’re entering a new, riskier era for trade and commerce and it might be just as well to think about re-opening those old factories. We may just need them in the future.
Illustration: State Library of Victoria.
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