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Comeng A History of Commonwealth Engineering Volume 1: 1921 - 1955 by John Dunn

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 an order book for rolling stock exceeding that 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. By then it 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 main line 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!

The company's activities extended far beyond the shores of Australia. As well as having rolling stock plants in all mainland states, it also founded the giant Union Carriage and Wagon Company (UCW) in Nigel, South Africa-at one time the western world's largest factory manufacturing railway rolling stock. The export of Comeng's Australian railway products alone extended to New Zealand, India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Hong Kong and North America. Railway products exported from UCW went to Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Luanda (Angola), Malawi, West Bengal and Taiwan. Other Comeng products covered a much broader export field.

This volume covers the first half of the company's history, from its beginnings in 1921 as Smith & Waddington, a small family firm building custom bodies for motorcars and buses. The Depression forced a restart as the Waddington Body Company Ltd. In 1937 the company moved to Granville in western Sydney and was renamed Waddingtons Pty Ltd. A larger factory enabled the company to begin building railway rolling stock, but the advent of the war brought new changes. The Federal Government took over control, and the plant became a manufacturer of wartime products such as aircraft hangars, pontoons, ocean-going lighters and large numbers of freight wagons. The company was so successful that the Federal Government changed the name in 1946 to Commonwealth Engineering.

The post-war years brought multiple contracts for double-deck buses, freight wagons, railcars and passenger railway vehicles. In the early 1950s the company expanded into Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia. When the company closed in 1989 most of the archives and records were lost. The author has therefore spent a number of years tracking down hundreds of key ex-employees (in Australia and overseas) so that they could be interviewed for their first-hand account of events as they recalled them. Many of these interviews have been with men in their late 80s or early 90s who started with the company long before the author was born. The oldest of these began at the Camperdown factory in 1928. Their stories and insights are remarkable.

Code No. 011753, 316 pages, ISBN 1877058424, $59.95

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