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Albion Explosives Factory

 

HISTORY OF THE ALBION EXPLOSIVES FACTORY

DEVELOPMENT Of AlBION EXPLOSIVES FACTORY

 

HISTORY

The following text and information is from 'Albion Explosives Factory' by G. Vines and A. Ward, wriiten in 1988. It has been updated, in 2005, for this project by O .Ford and the Friends of the Black Powder Mill.

The first explosives Factory was built in the Deer Park area in the 1870s.

The demand for explosives followed the discovery of gold. Miners had to get through rock and blasting through with explosives was the easiest way of doing so. At that time explosives were being imported from Britain although German and American explosives were tried. To be sure that the explosives were handled and stored properly, magazine stores were constructed in many locations to house the explosives as they were unloaded, and to provide a reliable supply for the mines. Thats why the AEF (Albion Explosives Factory) was built.

Deer Park, or 'Kororoit Creek', was originally chosen for its isolation, as it was several miles from the outskirts of Melbourne, and the availability of permanant water in the Kororoit Creek. The same factors influenced the later expansion of ICI and the establishment of the government Explosives Factory in the same area. Until the second world war the only manufacturers of commercial and military explosives in Australia were at Deer Park and Maribyrnong.

In the 1920s the Deer Park Factory's isolation was becoming threatened by the encroaching suburban sprawl, but before it became necessary to move for safety's sake the depression of the 1930s stifled the suburban growth. In 1926 the merger of several explosives and chemical companies in Britain resulted in the formation of Imperial Chemicals Industries Ltd. In Australia, Imperial Chemical Industries of Australia and New ZealandLtd was formed in 1928 from a nucleus of Nobels, Deer Park, Kynoch, West Footscray; and the Spotswood Fuse Factory.

Fear of competiton led indirectly to the manufacture of Black Powder in Deer Park. The powder trade had withered in Australia since the Bendigo works of the 1880s and Kreb's plant were serving the conservative miners who shunned nitro glycerine. Deer Park stopped production in about 1923 after a fatal explosion and the Bendigo ICI works was closed. ICI was still importing just a few hundred tons of black powder a year for quarrying.

In 1930 Essington Lewis of BHP investigated the cost of Black Powder at Iron Knob and was impressed by the cheapness of it in South America. The factory at Faversham in the U.K. closed in the mid '30s and increasing Australian sales led to a small plant being built in Deer Park in 1936 and the West Footscray plant of Kynoch Ltd moved to the Deer Park site, to the newly erected factory. During the war the Deer Park Black Powder Plant was enlarged, and innovations made in the manufacture ofcharcoal from Australian timbers. This plant was still in existence in 1987 although out of commission, badly deteriorating, and with an uncertain future.

In the 1950s ICI was also responsible for commencing housing development in Deer Park to attract people to the area at a time when labour shortages made it difficult to meet the demand for its products during the Post War boom. Many of the streets in Deer Park bear the names of localities in Britain where ICI carried out its operations, eg. Slough, Welwyn, Dumfries, Huddersfield, etc.

 

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Development

The role of the Albion Explosives Factory, or Explosives Annexe No. 29 as it was intially called, was to supplement the production of explosives and propellants and to supply armament chemicals used in their manufacture.

the Albion Explosives Factory was constructed on behalf of the Commonwealth of Australia by ICIANZ (Imperial Chemical Industry of Australia and New Zealand) from 1939 on, to supply propellants and armament chemicals for the services. It was built under the name Armament Annexe no 29 changed in about 1942 to the No 5 Explosives Factory. Strictly speaking ICI was involved in the design and the supervision of construction at Albion. The actual erection of the buildings was carried out by the Department of the Interior and plant installed by the Explosive Supply Directorate, but it is clear that ICI's expertise was called upon for most aspects of the work. The factory was operated by ICIANZ until the end of the Second World War in 1945 and from 1946to1954 an agreement was made between ICI and the Commonwealth to operate a synthetic ammonia plant and an ammonium sulphate plant.

As originally planned the factory comprised a TNT section, operation commenced Dec. 1940; and a Cordite Section including a Nitroglycerine Plant. Acids are essential for each section so a plant for manufacture of nitric acid and sodium nitrate and for denitration/concentration of acids was provided.

 

Description Of Area

This area is located on the far Western side of the site, bounded by the Kororoit Creek, Station Road and Furlong Road. All the buildings in this area have been demolished, the only remaining building being the Black Powder Mill (745), close to the Kororoit Creek.

 

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Significance of the area

This area produced gunpowder and other explosive powders, an important part of explosive production. Therefore the only surviving building, i.e. the Black Powder Mill, is significant.

I.C.I Ballarat Rd. Deer Park, Explosives Factory

I.C.I was closely involved in the construction and wartime operation of the Albion Explosives Factory, although the exact nature of the involvement is still unclear. It had had expertise in explosives and chemical production which it brought to Albion. The areas of interest to Albion included the Black Powder Area, the Acid Plant and the Nitro Glycerine area. Also interesting is the Gelignite area which used similar technology to the propellant area at Albion. The main area of difference is that I.C.I produced explosives for commercial rather than military use so that it was never involved in the production of propellants.

Black Powder Area

The buildings and plant of this area were so similar to what is known of the Albion Black Powder area as to suggest they were from a single design source. While the staff at the ICI, have stated that their company was only responsible for the construction of the synthentic ammonia plant and the ammonia oxidisation plant it is apparent that they provided designs and advice in the Albion construction or that both black powder plants were built to a common standard design.

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In 1987, I.C.I had three black powder mills identical to the Albion Mill, except for one having an above-ground drive installed after an explosion. The other buildings at I.C.I may also have had thair counterparts at Albion but nothing is left at Albion to assess this assumption. The buildings at I.C.I included the charcoal house with six retorts, the press house where layers of mixed and crushed powder were pressed into a cake on a hydraulic press, the breaking down house where this cake was broken up, the combing house where the broken cake was fed through rollers to be crushed further and then sieved to various sizes and the glazing house where the pellets of powder were given a polished finish.

Many of the buildings were of timber frame with only the internal walls being lined, usually with some form of particle board. Most had curved, timber framed roofs coated with malthoid. This style of roof is referred to by personnel as a 'Bristol Truss".

The single skinned walls permitted proper cleaning of contaminants, whether the chemical ingredients or the explosives themselves. All seams and joints were sealed with tape prior to painting to prevent the entry of dust or grain particles. When some of the machinery was in use, such as the combing plant, the entire room was filled with black dust, and even after shutting down, the room would have to be ventilated for some time before it could be entered. Upon opening the door the operator would find dust so thick they could not see into the room. In 1987, the remnants of this dust were still to be seen on every surface in the building.

 

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