Dunlop’s Productive Past

From the 1940s until the late 1970s, the Dunlop factory at the edge of the Wollundry Lagoon was a center for productivity in Wagga Wagga. It stood on the corner of Forsyth and Murray Streets and became a hub of employment for the region.

The factory initially opened as a munitions plant in about 1942, making fuses to service the military during the Second World War. Dunlop Weatherproofs took over in 1944 and began to manufacture “Jungle Greens,” camouflage clothing for the Australian troops fighting in New Guinea. The staff were initially comprised of Mr JC Gordon (the manager) and just 10 other workers. After the war ended, the factory continued on as a garment division of Dunlop Australia Pty Ltd.

Dunlop’s was a landmark building which housed the largest single workforce in Wagga Wagga during its operation. At one time Dunlop’s employed 260 people, a number which included 208 women. Jobs varied along the assembly line and the women were eventually trained to be high-speed industrial machinists. It had it’s own ‘hospital’, kitchen, canteen and rest rooms. There were large electric fans for cooling the building in summer and heaters for the winter.

Women working as machinists at Dunlop's factory in Wagga Wagga.
Women at work at Dunlop’s factory in Wagga Wagga, c.1960 [from the Lennon Collection, RW1574].
At the height of its existence the Dunlop Weatherproof Factory was a major manufacturer of many varying types of clothing, including industrial waterproof and safety garments, fashionable men’s and women’s raincoats and sports clothing; including the ‘whites’ for the Davis Cup tennis team. Dunlop’s distributed their products to industries right across the country; for instance, the Victoria Police, Queensland miners, and even professional fishermen in Darwin.

Despite its overwhelming success, the Dunlop factory had its share of challenges. As well as the prospect of the adjacent lagoon flooding from time to time, Dunlop’s had a constant battle attracting enough staff to keep up with production demands. It was repeatedly reported in The Daily Advertiser that the factory was in urgent need of more female staff; one report suggested that a lack of accommodation for girls from outlying districts was a major limiting factor to the factory’s growth.

Men, women and children gathered around a workbench at Dunlop's Factory.
An Open Day at Dunlop’s factory in Wagga Wagga, 1963 [from the Lennon Collection, RW1574].
The Dunlop Factory officially closed on 31st March 1977 as a result of Dunlop Australia’s falling profits in a weak market. It was reported that there were approximately seventy people working for the factory at the time of its closure.

The former factory building gained a new lease on life when, in 1980, it was transformed and re-opened as a warehousing complex. The building had been subdivided and further warehousing space was added to the existing structure. Today the site is occupied by various retailers and services including a paint shop, hairdresser, cafe, greengrocer, bakery, butcher and the South Wagga Post Office.

The exterior of the Dunlop Factory
Dunlop Weatherproofs Australia Pty Ltd at the corner of Murray and Forsyth Streets, c.1960 [from the Lennon Collection, RW1574].

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