Australia has enjoyed a long and prosperous manufacturing era since the Federation began in 1901. From automobiles to fabrics, the glory days saw our country produce a variety of products and tackle some blockades along the way. Our sheet metal machinery experts thought they’d take a look back on Australia’s illustrious manufacturing history for today’s blog and detail the turning points that brought us to where we are today.

The early 1900s and WWI

The beginning of our country’s manufacturing history begins with the formation of the Federation. Barriers being broken down between states meant that trading was not only easier to perform but also opened the doors for higher product and manufacturing demands. The first world war, however, was the catalyst that Australia didn’t know it needed to really bolster the country’s manufacturing industry. 

The country’s reliance on imported goods became apparent during the war as it was becoming increasingly difficult to bring anything in. This forced the country to start manufacturing more of its own goods. Aspirin began to be made in Australia – which had been previously imported from Germany – and BHP (now a large multinational business) opened up a new steelworks in Newcastle. This opened the door for a plethora of possibilities. 

Car manufacturing and the great depression

By the mid-1920s Australia received two automotive factories from the United States – one from Ford and the other from General Motors. This is because it was found to be cheaper to import the components and make the cars here rather than import the complete builds. Four manufacturing plants were established around Australia including Adelaide and Sydney. The old saddlery business, Holden, became the exclusive supplier for General Motors in 1924 and merged with the company in 1931 – becoming General Motors-Holden.

When the great depression hit, Australia took measures to protect its economy which once again served as a boost to local manufacturing. Tariffs were put into place on certain imported goods in the hopes that if the imported products were more expensive, then people would be pushed towards buying locally and thus fuelling the country’s economy and encouraging more and new manufacturing opportunities to arise. 

And it worked. In 1937, General Motors-Holden built the country’s first all-steel welded car body at their new Melbourne-based headquarters plant in Fishermen’s Bend. Other products like writing and printing paper were also being manufactured as well as water heaters, pumps/valves and drills.


Similarly to the first world war – it was quite difficult to import certain products from other countries and so manufacturing in Australia increased to combat this. But this time there was an already well-established industry in the country. In addition to meeting the local demand, we also exported a variety of products to Britain. The industry expanded further, and we were able to produce things like machine tools, aircraft, chemicals and textiles/fabric. General Motors-Holden were amongst those that diverted their resources to creating weapons, engines and vehicle bodies for the war effort.

Post-war boom and the decline

Australia’s manufacturing industry experienced an exceptional boom during the war and the years that followed. In 1948, General Motors-Holden built the first all-Australian motor vehicle that was to be released commercially. A whopping 18,000 people had paid a deposit for the 48-215 – which became known as the FX– before even having seen the car. The company couldn’t keep up with the overwhelming demand.

Over the next few years, several advancements were being made locally as well as overseas. Australia found new markets in Asian countries such as China and Japan – who were exceptionally advance when it came to automobiles and other electrical goods. As we began to import more and more products from overseas for smaller costs, our manufacturing industry started to dry up. 

More recently, Australia said goodbye to the automotive manufacturing industry with the final plants shutting down in 2017, putting an end to our long history of automotive manufacturing. It was simply much more affordable to import automobiles (since tariffs were reduced to basically zero) and other products from overseas than it was to pay for the labour to manufacture them in Australia anymore.

Sheet metal machinery in Melbourne

Whilst it’s not to the extent of the golden age – Australia still manufactures certain products and for some of them – quality sheet metal machinery is needed. ACRA Machinery is your one-stop-shop for all metal fabrication machines and tooling in Melbourne. We offer a fantastic range of new and used machines as well as repair and maintenance services.

If you’d like to know more about our range of sheet metal machinery, then please do not hesitate to get in touch with us by calling 03 9794 6675 or filling out the contact form on our website.