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COMENG 2 A History of Commonwealth Engineering Volume 2: 1955 - 1966

290 x 210 mm, 336 pages, 102 colour plates, 600 b & w illustrations

9781877058738, $59.95, Hardcover

John Dunn

Available: Now

The history of Commonwealth Engineering spans some 70 years and its story is a window into Australia’s industrial and manufacturing development from the end of the First World War through to the early 1990s. At its peak the Comeng Holdings empire was the largest manufacturer of railway rolling stock in the Southern Hemisphere, having the largest order book for rolling stock of any firm in the Western world. It continued to grow in size until in December 1982 it was listed at number 48 in the top 150 companies in Australia. It then had almost 7,000 employees.

The sheer range of products produced by this one company was truly extraordinary: motor car and bus bodies, ambulances, trams, light rail vehicles, passenger trains, diesel railcars, freight vehicles, bogies, industrial and mainline locomotives, vehicles and machinery for the steel industry, portable and fixed cranes, earth-moving equipment, curtain walling for high-rise buildings, bridges, oil refinery equipment, ships, aircraft hangars, pontoons, fibreglass components, mining equipment, industrial fans and compressors, gearboxes, sewage treatment plants, furnaces, ovens, dryers, electric power tools, ventilation equipment, scientific instruments, iron and steel castings. And so the list goes on!

This second volume takes up the story in 1955 (where volume 1 left off) and traces the company’s activities through to 1966—detailing the unprecedented expansion that took place during that period. With plants in NSW, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia Comeng had already become the largest rolling-stock manufacturer in Australia.

In 1955, Comeng entered into a licence agreement with the Budd Company of Philadelphia to manufacture stainless-steel rolling stock to Budd’s patented shot-welding method. This gave Comeng a lead in passenger-car design that no other company could match and established a benchmark for modern rolling stock in this country. Then in 1958 it founded the Union Carriage and Wagon Company (UCW) in Nigel, South Africa—a plant that would quickly achieve the highest output of rolling stock of any firm in the Western world.

The export of Comeng’s Australian railway products in this period extended to New Zealand, India, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaya. Railway products exported from UCW went to Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Luanda (Angola), Malawi, West Bengal and Taiwan. Other Comeng products would eventually cover a much broader export field.

Much of the expansion in this period was due to the Comeng Board’s determination to diversify its product range—one of the most successful of these endeavours was the pioneering in Australia of curtain-walling for high-rise office blocks. Comeng also initiated the use in Australia of glass-reinforced plastic in road, rail and general applications. Other non-railway work ranged from saws and spades to heavy earth-moving equipment as well as a wide variety of products for the steelworks industry.

By the end of the period covered in this volume the company was returning a healthy profit and each of its plants was fully occupied, turning out a wide range of products in this important era of Australia’s postwar growth.

As in the first volume, much of the story has been told from the personal accounts of those who worked at one or other of the five plants. Their memories and anecdotes bring a rich tapestry to this work that goes far beyond anything the author could have achieved by his own research alone. This is very much their story.