The History of Holden in South Australia

When the siren sounded at the end of the last shift at the Holden plant at Elizabeth on Friday, October 20, 2017, it was the end of an era. Below is an extract from 'A Richness of People', published by the South Australian Chamber of Manufactures in 1969.

Staff pose at the end of the plant's last shift. (supplied)

Chapter 19

The Unique Company of Six Men

IN 1937, a year of depression, doubt and difficulty, a unique company of men with only six members was formed, destined to become a strengthening element in the fabric of South Australian industry.

It was called the Industries Assistance Corporation of South Australia Limited and it was promoted by Sir Edward Holden, in the middle of his term as President of the Chamber of Manufactures, and by Sir Frank Perry, the Vice-President.

The other four members were Sir James Gosse, Sir Oscar Isaachsen, Mr. K. C. Wilson, M.H.R., and Mr. E. R. Dawes, Secretary of the Australasian Society of Engineers. Mr. H. E. Winterbottom was Secretary.

Sir Edward Holden (SLSA)
The corporation was designed to help “manufacturing concerns which were reasonably efficient, or which by the provision of capital or expert advice can be made efficient, provided assistance is not available from the usual channels, and provided further that the effect of the assistance will be to increase the total production and increase and stabilise employment in the State.”

The directors gave first priority to industries making products of which there was large-scale import or which had possibilities of export sales.

It is significant that a union Secretary was on the board, and that emphasis was on the creation of employment.

The corporation succeeded in saving or establishing a number of South Australian industries which have since grown into major employers. It can claim to have been part of a solid foundation for the industrial revolution of South Australia. Its capital-£5,000—was insignificant. Its achievements were incalculable. It was the child of the South Australian Chamber of Manufactures as successor to its Secondary Industries Committee.

It was encouraged by the Government with all the help it could give, and the Auditor-General (Mr. J. W. Wainwright) later joined the directorship.

Working capital was provided by £10,000 in “A” debentures and £20,000 in “B” debentures, the latter subscribed by the Government.

In 1939, the Chamber recorded its appreciation of the work done by the Premier (Sir Richard Butler) to build the State's industries. He had resigned in 1938.

It said: “He was one of the first of our public men to realise where the State was drifting and from then on he was untiring in his efforts to secure new industries for South Australia.

"We believe that steps which he took to adjust taxation and other disabilities prevented certain large industries from leaving the State.”

The Industries Assistance Corporation lasted until 1946, when, under the Industries Development Act of 1944, its balance of funds was transferred to the Treasury and its function was transferred to the Industries Development Committee.

The corporation had 10 main objects of which the principal were the first and second—to encourage the establishment and development of industry in South Australia and to provide capital or credit.

It was also, if necessary, to function as financier, manufacturer, merchant and dealer in all kinds of goods. But in fact, so well organised were the industries which sought its help, that almost all the corporation had to do after examining a venture was to guarantee a bank advance.

This it did, and it was vital help. Today, some of Adelaide's biggest industries are those which were consolidated at a crucial time by the help of the corporation.

Before bank guarantees were given, of course, ventures were thoroughly investigated. But it was seldom necessary to refuse assistance, and never was the corporation let down.

Men sat down and talked it out. It was realised that South Australia had certain inducements to offer to overseas manufacturers to bring their plants and factories here, or to give subsidiaries here the right to make products in their name. This State had valuable things to offer, including the assets of stability and comparative freedom from industrial disruption.

The Premier of the time, Sir Richard Butler, was brought into the discussion and he was completely won over to the Chamber's view. He put his considerable energies into the new campaign, which was to prove the beginning of an era in South Australia's industrial growth which raised it to new heights of status, strength and prosperity.

During the term as Chamber President of Mr. J. A. Rinder, the Chamber formed a Secondary Industries Committee and asked the Government to appoint a representative to it. They named the Auditor-General (Mr. J. W. Wainwright) as their man, and he became a valuable and enterprising member.

This Committee arranged for the publication in the Adelaide Press of six important articles, setting out the objects of the Committee and the needs and opportunities for marked industrial expansion. They caused quite a stir, right through Australia.

By this time Sir Edward Holden had become President. He went to Britain as President of the Associated Chambers of Manufactures, and he told manufacturers there of the development that was going on here. He told them that if British manufacturers wanted to hold their share of Australian trade, some of them should come to Australia or establish branches here.

With the enthusiastic and practical support of the State Government, Sir Edward Holden stressed the advantages of South Australia.

Staff posing at the front of the Holden's Motor Body Builders Ltd. premises at 400 King William Street. c.1919 (SLSA)

Sir Edward Holden, grandson of that saddler who helped to found the Chamber of Manufactures, was one of the moving spirits of the industrial revolution that lifted life in South Australia in the thirties.

He was founder of the motor body business that grew into General Motors-Holden's, makers of the first all-Australian motor car and for many years the biggest employer in South Australia.

Sir Edward, who died in 1947, became President of the Chamber at just the time when his outstanding ability helped it to take a significant part in the development which transformed South Australia into an important manufacturing State.

His influence in attracting new industries was acknowledged. He was second of four successive Presidents of the South Australian Chamber who became Presidents of the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia. The others were Mr. J. A. Rinder, Sir Frank Perry and Mr. William Queale.

Born in 1885, Sir Edward Holden was educated at Prince Alfred College and the University of Adelaide, from which he graduated with a B.Sc.

A trip abroad and a look at the developing motor industry led to his forming, with his father, Henry James Holden, Holden's Motor Body Builders Ltd. This was greeted at the time as the most notable advance in South Australian secondary industry in half a century.

The first big body building works of the company was in King William Street, between Halifax and Gilles Streets. It is now Healing's warehouse and wholesale establishment

The company grew into General Motors-Holden's Ltd., with a factory area of 76 acres at Woodville alone, and l.75 million square feet of floor space.

Holden's Elizabeth (South Australia) plant. The model pictured is the HD from 1965

Sir Edward became a member of the South Australian Legislative Council, and as well as being Chairman of Directors of General Motors-Holden's Ltd., he was the first Chairman of Directors and one of the founders of Australian Cotton Textile Industries Ltd. (ACTIL), a Director of the Bank of Adelaide and of Colton, Palmer and Preston Ltd., and Chairman of Directors of the Adelaide Cement Co. Ltd., Alma Shoes and the South Australian Brush Co.—all big manufacturers.

During World War II, Sir Edward Holden worked in an honorary capacity as Controller-General of Australian Army Canteens Service which contributed a great deal to the comfort and welfare of the troops.

But just before the war began he went overseas. It was his purpose to try to beat the depression, to try to carry on the concept of building South Australia into a strong industrial state.

It was an idea born in the mind of Mr. Fred Simpson, broadened and developed by Sir Edward Holden, and carried into active political policy first by Sir Richard Butler and then by Mr. Thomas Playford, who succeeded him.

Mr. Playford seized upon the theme with energy and initiative. All these men were engaged on an effort to swing the economy of South Australia to a better balance and to attract, develop and encourage a diversified industrial structure that would enlarge the prosperity and extend the potentialities of the State.

Then came the war.


Postscript: The last car to come off the assembly line.
Photo: Randy Larcombe / Supplied by GMH

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