From the time of Federation in 1901, the Government resolved to make Australia independent of British munitions and armament supplies. In 1908, land was purchased and building of the new munitions factory commenced. When it officially opened in June 1912, the Factory had 190 employees, this grew to 373 by June 1914. The Factory floor covered approximately 90,000 square feet and had its own power house, tool room and forge. From 1923 to 1930 building extensions were carried out including a 3-story building to house the manufacturing of the Vickers machine gun, a steel storage building, and the General Machine Shop. Further extensions were erected during the 1938-39 period for the manufacture of the Bren light machine gun.
With the outbreak of World War II, production increased and by 1942, two hundred thousand rifles were being produced each year. By the end of 1942, employment at the factory had grown to around 6000 with a further 6000 people employed at the various feeder factories. Following the end of World War II, commercial production once again began to overtake military work. As part of the re-equipping after World War II the Factory manufactured parts for locomotives and rolling stock. Other commercial production at this time included refrigerator and Sunbeam Mixmaster parts, Westrex film projector spares, handcuffs, slazenger golf club heads and the old turn-handle pencil sharpeners. In the1970s, commercial manufacturing once again expanded with new orders being taken from the mining, agricultural and transport industries. During the mid-70s the factory was making almost 250 different types of commercial product.
The site is now deserted, some of the buildings are used for storage, the museum that opened in the late 1980’s remains open to the public. Though many of the buildings have fallen into disrepair and the future remains uncertain.
Tool & Gauge Shop
The Tool and Gauge Shop and Metrology Laboratory was built in the 1930s and ‘40s. A severely geometric structure of the functionalist style of architecture, with plain face brick walls, metal framed and louvre windows set in walls with horizontal parapets devoid of decoration. The Tool and Gauge shop spans 3 split levels and features a saw tooth roof. The gauge room is linked by stairs as a separate wing and features silk-oak joinery.
During World War II a munitions factory was built at Rocklea and a new Tool and Gauge shop was built at Ipswich. Constructed in 1941, the Tool and Gauge shop spans 3 split levels and features a saw tooth roof. The gauge room is linked by stairs as a separate wing and features silk-oak joinery. It was built specifically to manufacture the tooling for the munitions factory. At the end of the war, the building was given back to the state government, who utilised it for local manufacturing of high tolerance tooling and equipment. This not only included the railways, but also the RAAF, the Power House at Swanbank and the local mining industry. The Tool and Gauge room was built along the lines of a laboratory for testing, measuring and adjustment of the fine gauges and tools.
Attached to the Tool and Gauge shop was an air-conditioned Metrology Laboratory. This area was responsible for the very accurate measurement and checking of tools and gauges being produced. The small arms gauges were required to have a tolerance no greater than 0.0004 inch. All gauges were required to be submitted to the Inspector General of Munitions at Maribyrnong in Victoria before final acceptance.