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The Black Powder Mill History

The following text was provided to us by the Friends of The Black Powder Mill.

The Black Powder Mill

The Black Powder Mill, Building Number 745, built in 1942, is the only surviving building of around about 400 buildings of the Albion Explosives Factory, formerly a significant and important defence production facility.


The Black Powder Mill

The Mill Machinery

The mill, an ‘edgerunner mill’, consists of two large rotating grinding wheels turning quite slowly in a large bowl. An electric motor in the basement provided power for the mill, the drive system passing through the floor. It was operated remotely and people were not allowed in the building during operation. Edgerunner mills, once used in flour mills, are now rare in Australia.

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A unique safety-related design

The Black Powder Mill is a small triangular building. Its peculiar design is intriguing. It has two massive concrete walls and a third timber frame wall facing Kororoit Creek. In the event of an explosion the blast and fragments would be directed towards the creek away from the rest of the production facility and those working there in. The internal walls are of malthoid or other non-friction materials. All internal gaps and joints were taped and sealed. Only approved tools were permitted in the building and these were accounted for by use of a detailed shadow board.

Black Powder

‘Black Powder’ may also be known as ‘Gunpowder’ or ‘Fuze Powder’. These are all essentially the same material - an intimate mixture of saltpetre (potassium nitrate), sulphur and charcoal. The black colour comes from the charcoal. Gunpowder has been used in China since the 12th century. It has been produced in Europe in plants similar to this from the 16th Century. In Australia, early usage was on the goldfields and in other mining, quarrying and construction work.

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Stages of manufacture

• Preparation of raw materials
•Mixing in the required proportions
•Incorporation - the Milling Operation – where the mixed ingredients are incorporated together to become an explosive mixture containing all three ingredients
•Pressing - to improve the density of the product
•Corning – to polish the grains
•Drying – until now the powder is handled slightly damp for safety reasons
•Sizing and Sieving – to get the correct grain size suitable for the particular end application
•Packing – into shipping containers

Fuze Powders

Fuze Powders, the main product from the Albion Black Powder Mill, were used in time fuzes in artillery ammunition, bombs, and mines. These were set by using trains of compressed gunpowder in adjustable rings. Innovative experimental work conducted on the site used Australian timbers to produce the charcoal, instead of the more difficult to obtain imported timbers.

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Albion Explosives Factory

The Albion Explosives Factory, was a key element in Australia’s munitions industry from 1939 to 1986. Originally built on farming land as No 5 Explosives Factory for the Commonwealth by ICIANZ Ltd, it covered over 500 hectares and employed approximately 1500 people during World War Two and then up to 350 in peacetime. During the World War Two, it produced large quantities of TNT and nitroglycerine-based cordites, as well as a wide range of various armament chemicals. Significant amounts of Fuze Powder were produced at the Black Powder Mill.


In the 1950s and ‘60s, it was very significant in providing employment for many recently-arrived migrants to Australia. British and Maltese people were heavily represented. Post-war production was centred around RDX-based high explosives but other products included double-based rocket propellants, triple-based naval gun propellants, TNT, ammonia and ammonium sulphate, and nitric and sulphuric acids.

The Albion factory was closed in 1986, mainly because of residential and community pressure resulting from the development of the surrounding suburbs and to achieve a reduction in operating costs by combining the production processes with those already existing at the Mulwala Facility in southern NSW.


Now, after significant remediation of residual contamination, the former factory a
rea is providing high class residential living. So the progression has been from a rural farming community through an important, very busy industrial phase onto a peaceful residential settlement – Cairnlea.

 

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