Thursday, July 18, 2013

Special Collections Fossickings 26: From Buchanan’s and Bicycles to the Burdekin - a North Queensland business


Buchanan's famous iron lace was the work of Alfred Green's Foundry.  Carine Williams Album, NQ Photographic Collection ID 5006
Who remembers the splendid Buchanan’s Hotel that once occupied a prime site in Townsville’s CBD? Opened in 1903 it boasted cricketer Don Bradman and US President Johnson among its famous visitors, but its most memorable architectural feature was the façade adorned by magnificently decorative iron panels. In their book, “A pattern of pubs”, Dorothy and Bruce Gibson-Wilde describe the verandahs as being “wreathed in some of Australia’s finest iron lace manufactured by Green’s Foundry in Townsville”. The loss of these panels in the fire which ravaged Buchanan’s in 1982 was mourned by the son and granddaughter of the man who had made them – Alfred James Green. The latter recalled her grandfather’s pride in the creation of the panels and of the columns which he had cast for the sumptuous verandah lounge of another famous local hostelry: Queen’s Hotel on the Strand.

But the story of Green’s Foundry has long outlasted Buchanan’s iron lace and the Queen’s Hotel columns. Originally occupying a site described as adjacent to the present Lowths bridge, and at first largely engaged in bicycle repairs, the firm was relocated in 1906 to Brandon, in the Burdekin, under the new name of Delta Iron Works. To this day the company thrives under the ownership and management of Alfred’s descendants, manufacturing and repairing machinery and providing engineering services for North Queensland agricultural and industrial concerns: a remarkable example of business success and stability, family involvement and commitment to the region.

In 1997 Keith Green donated archival papers, relating to Alfred Green’s enterprises, to Special Collections, where they are regarded as important source material for the history of development in North Queensland. Earlier this year volunteers, Jean and Alan Dartnall, began work on listing the Alfred Green archive and a subsequent, much larger donation of material from the ironworks – a  mammoth task considering that together the archives comprise nearly 200 cartons of correspondence, stock books, order books and accounts. Nonetheless the Dartnalls’ skillful work is slowly building a picture not only of the diversity of the business’s operations and the range of its clients (from far northern Queensland to southern states) but also what they describe as its “personality”.  References to unpaid accounts, sometimes resulting from hardship brought on by drought and cyclones, reflect the vicissitudes of running such a business in the late depression and early war years. But the war also brought increased work with the surge of troops and equipment into the north.

Special Collections volunteers, Dr Alan Dartnall and Jean Dartnall, who are currently working with the historical records of the Delta Iron Works company.
One reason for the firm’s survival through often tough and changing times must surely have been the dedication of its staff, as exemplified in a 1937 letter to a client.  “At the completion of this job”, wrote Mr Charles Green, “the workmen concerned had worked continuously and without sleep from Friday morning until Sunday morning”. Would that still happen in 2013?

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