The history of the companies emblazoned on this building is as murky as the canal flowing past outside. T.C. Whittle was a construction company responsible, from the 1940s to the 1960s, for New Selborne Chambers on Phillip Street in the CBD, the St Margaret’s Hospital for Women in Surry Hills, and the Cameron office complex in Belconnen Town Centre (demolished 2006) among others. But even that illustrious resume didn’t stop T. C. Whittle from ending up delisted from the ASX in 1980, dodgily changing its name to TCW Investments, and finally, being deregistered completely by ASIC in 2005.
Belmadar, on the other hand, was known mostly for roadworks, and we all know how well done those are in Sydney. It’s no surprise then that Belmadar is gone, and the current tenants are an events production group called Licorice Productions. It’s one of a number of new companies moving into the formerly industrial Mascot/Alexandria area to not feature heavy pollution as an output. This building in particular backs onto the Alexandra Canal, and while there immediately weren’t fish jumping happily from the water and dolphins waving hello with their flippers, there may still be hope for it yet.
In 1886, British migrant George Marchant purchased a Brisbane ginger beer manufacturing plant. By 1890, Marchants was the largest soft drink business in Australia, with a product range including hop beer, soft drinks and cordial, and with plants in Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide, Newcastle and Sydney. Oh, and Bexley.
Let’s not beat around the bush – the building looks old. The Bexley depot of the Marchants soft drink empire may be a panel beater now, but it’s clear to see how it would have been back then. It looks like a horse and cart might explode from behind that door at any second in a frenzied rush to deliver kegs of creaming soda, just like in the olden days.
George Marchant was known for his strong belief in social equality, and women workers in his factories earned more than the average female wage in the food industry at the time. When the soft drink company’s registration was abandoned in 1917, the brand name was sold off and kicked around for decades between Pepsi, Shelleys, and ultimately Coca-Cola, which owns the brand today. Marchant himself died in 1941, by which time this site was long since out of the soft drink business. Hmm…I’m thirsty.
For decades, passers-by of the Arnott’s Biscuit factory at Homebush would experience delicious smells emanating from the place. From 1908 to 1997, this was where the action was for the large variety of Arnott’s products. Since the factory’s relocation to Huntingwood, the site has undergone a remarkable transformation.
The first Arnott’s Biscuits factory opened at Forest Lodge in 1894, but when demand created the need for a larger factory, Homebush was chosen as the best location because of its proximity to the rail system. Company founder William Arnott had made the decision to move the factory closer to Sydney, but died in 1901, before he could see his dream realised. Seen at the time as a mistake on Arnott’s part due to Homebush’s then-long distance from the city, the factory eventually became the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. In fact, the Arnott’s factory was one of the foundations of economic prosperity in the growing residential suburb of Homebush in those days; there were few families in the suburb that didn’t work for Arnott’s.
Arnott’s may have moved on from this location, but their biscuit range is still the most popular in Australia. Scotch Fingers, Milk Arrowroots, Iced Vo-Vos, Tiny Teddies and Sao (I get the feeling that the plural of Sao should still just be Sao, like sheep) are exported all over the world, and all the while the Homebush factory still stands, albeit with a very different purpose.
The Bakehouse Quarter redevelopment started in 1998, taking the Arnott’s factory that was so familiar to locals and converting it into a shopping and leisure precinct akin to Birkenhead Point.
While you can’t spit without hitting a cafe, there’s also the obligatory business sector, which includes the corporate HQ for Arnott’s. No substitute for a good location, I guess. That’s not the extent of the Arnott’s involvement, either: plenty of heritage Arnott’s paraphernalia exists at the site, all part of the old factory. The giant neon Sao sign is the most prominent, but even Arnie (groan), the Arnott’s parrot, gets a look-in.
Cobbled roads and Edwardian-style lighting make up the section of George Street that passes through the vicinity.
A large part of the factory itself has been converted into an AMF bowling alley and laser tag site. It’s not as farfetched as it seems – back in the day, Arnott’s had a bowling green included on the grounds, presumably as a showcase for the Iced Vo-Vo.
A car park has replaced the former oven area, which is still keen to reveal itself to those on the lookout.
The site’s still growing, and there’s still a lot of work to do. Zumba classes and conversations over meals at the steakhouse are still constantly interrupted by the sound of construction workers striving to turn the more industrial parts of the factory into a heritage paradise.
My favourite element untouched from the old days was this, the toilet to nowhere.
I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up with a fair portion of residential area set aside within it, but whether that would be incorporated into the extant factory is anyone’s guess. Would it be cool or trendy to live in a former Tim Tam chocolate coating room? Probably.
One of the reasons the site was chosen by Arnott’s in the first place was because of its excellent rail infrastructure. You can still get a good view of the factory by train as you pass by between Strathfield and North Strathfield stations, and this bit of free advertising still passes over the busy Parramatta Road.
Huntingwood should keep a close eye on the Bakehouse Quarter, because when Tiny Teddies eventually grow up to become Standard Teddies, and Scotch Fingers grow to represent the entire hand, Arnott’s are gonna need more room, and that’s precisely when AMF and Zumba are gonna move in, ably proving that there is indeed no substitute for quality.
Thomas W. Green established his wool handling and broking business in 1905, a time long before recruitment agencies. The Green empire spread itself over two locations; one in Queanbeyan and one here at Glebe. This was at a time when Glebe’s stores were full of first-hand wool. Stunning, I know.
TWG Wool, presumably renamed KFC-style in the 90s by a pony-tailed marketing man, was purchased by Landmark in 2005, and has practically disappeared since. The Glebe location was taken over by the terribly named Trojan Workforce recruitment company on the first level, and the awesomely named Ultraceuticals Pty Ltd on the second. They could literally put heroin or mutagen in a bottle marked Ultraceuticals and I’d down it without thinking twice.
While researching this place, I stumbled upon what may have been a contributing factor to T. W. Green’s desertion of this location:
“I’m sorry, sir, but only the J. Wilson from J. W. Green is allowed to redeem this prize!”
It wouldn’t surprise me if a. that actually happened and b. NSW Lotteries did this kind of thing more often. “Oh, sorry Mr. Smith, but this prize can only be claimed by Mr. Snith. Check the results again.” Talk about pulling the wool over your eyes.
Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Ltd. started life at our old friend Homebush West in 1909, and over the next few years became the Federation-era’s answer to Sony. In 1918, AWA received the first radio broadcast from the UK to Australia – an address to troops by then-Prime Minister Billy Hughes. AWA then transmitted the first newsreel pictures from Sydney to London in 1930.
Not content to just broadcast and receive the radio signals, AWA entered the consumer radio market after the Second World War. AWA became the leading manufacturer of consumer radios in Australia, and subsequently branched out into other areas. Fans of commercial radio (I know you’re out there) may care to thank AWA for owning and operating 2GB sister station 2CH for many years.
Of course, an Australian company couldn’t do this well without at some point having their own building, and in 1939, that dream was realised in York Street, Wynyard. The AWA Building was the tallest building in Australia until 1958, and remained AWA’s head office until the late 1990s, when AWA backed out of the broadcasting race because it’s kinda hard to get a decent signal amongst all those skyscrapers in Wynyard. Today, the tower is E. G. Collections, “specialising in Ladies Suits”, with office suites above, and doubtlessly the friends of all of the building’s employees are sick of hearing about how you can see the office in that one bit in The Matrix.
Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall for the kind of olde-tyme radio business they were so deeply involved in, 1991 saw AWA acquire Smorgon Technologies. Although it sounds like a Captain Planet villain, it was a world leader in totalisator systems, and this purchase led to AWA’s own acquisition by Tabcorp in the 2000s. Wow.
AWA regained its independence from Tabcorp’s clutches in 2004, and these days focuses on IT and commutation services, which is a newfangled way of saying it’s doing what it always did, but NEW. Strangely, AWA has licenced its brand name to Woolworths, Big W and Dick Smith Electronics for use in generic consumer electronic devices. You know, just in case anyone out there is 150 years old and remembers how good the sound was from their AWA car radio.