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SAF Centenary weekend workshop of presentations and talks a great success

30th October 2012

Over the weekend of 20-21 October the Lithgow Small Arms Factory Museum held a series of interesting talks for history enthusiasts with the Saturday focusing on weapons and technology and the Sunday on the history of the factory.

The first speaker was Warrant Officer Class Two Ian Kuring who gave a very well researched PowerPoint presentation on The Development of Military Small Arms in Australia during the Twentieth Century. WO Kuring is a former member of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam and has held many history postings within the Australian Army including curator of the Infantry Museum at Singleton. He is also the author of “Redcoats to Cams- a History of Australian Infantry 1788-2001” and was therefore well qualified to speak on this subject.

WO Kuring’s presentation was segmented into rifles, sub machine guns, light machine guns, medium machine guns and sniper rifles, all of which were developed and/or manufactured in Australia, mainly at the Lithgow Small Arms Factory. Particular emphasis was placed on the firearms designed in Australia, the Owen and Austen Sub machine guns, the SMLE Rifle No. 1 Mk III* HT sniper rifle and the experimental Shortened and Lightened and No. 6 series of rifles (not introduced into service). It was interesting to note that including minor variations and training rifles, more than 70 different firearms were introduced into Australian service during that time.

Lieutenant Colonel Todd Vail RFD followed with an insight into the Role, Organisation and Tactics of the Modern Australian Defence Force. Lt Col Vail has had a very interesting career in the Australian Infantry serving with the 1st Commando Regiment, the British Royal Green Jackets Regiment and several posting in the 4/3 Royal NSW Regiment. His postings have varied from being Aide-de-Camp to the State Governor to service in Baghdad and Kabul and staff posting at Victoria Barracks.

His experience over such a wide area within the Australian and British Armies was evident in his very interesting presentation which gave an up to date perspective of how our modern Defence Force operates in such diverse theatres as Afghanistan and East Timor. Lt Col Vail’s talk was followed by a spirited question and answer session which indicated the interest of all attending.

Our third speaker was Group Captain Doctor Rob Lee AO RAAF Specialist Reserve who is a psychology graduate specialising in human factors, systems safety and air safety investigations within the Australian Defence Force. He held the position of Director in the Bureau of Air Safety Investigation (BASI) for ten years and has a lifetime passion for all things to do with aircraft and flying.

In keeping with the weekend’s history and technology theme Dr Lee spoke on the Australian Aircraft Industry in World War Two - Politics and Production. He touched on the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation which manufactured the Wirraway, Wackett and Tiger Moth aircraft early in the war and went on to explain the technical problems experienced with the manufacture of the British Beaufort bomber.

As the Australian-built Beaufort was to be fitted with Pratt & Whitney engines instead of the Bristol Tauruses originally installed, the aircraft required several design changes which substantially delayed production. Political interference added to these delays and by the end of the war total production of the Beaufort was well down on that originally expected. It is interesting to note that the Australian Government selected Pratt & Whitney to supply the aircraft engines, the same US company that supplied all machines in the Lithgow Small Arms Factory.

The final speaker for Saturday was Graham Evenden, Business Development Manager for Thales Australia. Graham is a retired British Army officer who has substantial firearms design experience in Britain and in Germany with Heckler & Koch. He is currently overseeing the new Small Arms Test Capability at Lithgow Small Arms Factory. Graham spoke on the Current and Future Development of the F88 Austeyr.

Graham brought nine examples of the Austeyr rifle to illustrate his presentation. The first was the stock standard Austrian AUG introduced into Australian service in 1988 as the F88 Austeyr. This rifle was made at Lithgow under license from the Manlicher Steyr company and served Australia well over the ensuring years. In 2003 the rifle was upgraded by the replacement of the integrated optical sight with a rail allowing multiple aiming and sighting accessories to be fitted. This variant became known as the F88SA1.

In 2010 further development of the rifle lead to the introduction of the F88SA2 variant which delivers significant reliability improvements over previous F88 variants. The rifle incorporates a dark tan stock rather than the familiar green stock and light tan baked enamel metal work giving a two-tone camouflage effect. Currently Thales is working on a completely new concept rifle to be known as the F90 (known as the EF88 in Defence). This rifle can be fitted with a fully integrated grenade launcher and incorporates many new design features yet delivers a rifle more reliable and 1.63kg lighter than the F88SA2 fitted with a M203 grenade launcher.

Dick Smith with Museum Custodian Donna White and Museum Secretary Kerry Guerin

The highlight of Saturday was a visit from Dick Smith and Peter Pigott, with Dick flying in in his helicopter. Both enjoyed a quick guided tour of the museum and lunch, much to the surprise and delight of the attendees and casual visitors.

Peter was chairman of the panel appointed by the Federal Government that wrote 'The Pigott Report' This report was instrumental in the development of the National Museum of Australia, and it was an honour to have both he and Dick visit our Museum.

Sunday’s speakers brought a change of pace to the proceedings with Professor Greg Patmore from the University of Sydney’s School of Business who chairs the School’s Ethics Committee and has an interest in labour history and the impact of industrialisation on regional economics. He addressed the gathering on The Factory and the Lithgow Community before the Second World War.

The Lithgow Small Arms Factory had a huge influence on the town during the First World War in terms of industrialisation and the provision of jobs both for the construction of the factory and the manning of the several hundred machines needed to manufacture the SMLE rifle and bayonet. The use of modern semi-automatic machines prompted management to attempt to pay wages lower than that accepted by usual Australian standards sparking industrial unrest. Several conflicting Unions were formed which were resisted by the factory which initiated the Small Arms Factory Employees Association (SAFEA).

The huge influx of workers required to fill all positions at the factory seriously stretched the available housing in Lithgow resulting in the construction of 114 houses in a purpose built village named Littleton close to the factory. Shortly after the end of the war the federal government sought to relocate the factory to Canberra to provide an industry for the fledging national capital. This was strenuously resisted by the town, the employees and even the factory management which triumphed in the end.

Tony Griffiths expanded on Greg Patmore’s address when he told us of the Effects the Factory had on the lives of Lithgow Women. Tony is a historian who has researched Lithgow and the Small Arms Factory and has published the history of this important factory in two volumes “Lithgow Small Arms Factory and its People” (available in our musuem shop).

The town of Littleton was not completed until 1921 and in the meantime workers were housed in substandard structures and even tents. Many workers were “hot bedding” and at times were sleeping five to a bed. These conditions may have been acceptable to the workers who spent most of their time at the factory however they placed considerable strain on their wives and children. During the Second World War a hostel was built on the Showground for the men however the women were placed into accommodation as far away as Katoomba and travelled each day to work by bus or train.

Tony returned after lunch to give us further insight into the Small Arms Factory this time telling us Why it was built, Why in Lithgow, and Why it opened eighteen months later than expected.

Following the federation of the Australian states in 1901 it was decided that Australia should become more independent in its defense and that a small arms factory should be built. After considerable investigation Lithgow was chosen as the site for the new factory. The availability of coal and steel, an existing rail link to Sydney and active lobbying by the Lithgow Progress Association all contributed to the final decision.

The US company Pratt & Whitney won the contract to supply all plant required to manufacture 15,000 rifles and bayonets per year. The contract was to have the building in operation by the end of 1910 and all drawings and sample rifles and bayonets were supplied by the Enfield factory in England. Pratt & Whitney had production problems as the rifles supplied were incompatible with the drawings. No one told them that the Enfield factory used their own standard of measurements. For all measurements over two inches standard units were used however all measurements under two inches used an “in house” measurement known as the Enfield Inch which differed very slightly from standard.

This setback plus problems with the electrical generators resulted in an eighteen month delay and the factory was eventually officially opened on 8th June 1912.

Justin Hewitt completed the history of the Lithgow Small Arms Factory with his address Weapons from the West. Justin is an archaeologist who is researching the various feeder factories used to supply parts to the main factory at Lithgow as a PhD project.

Factories of various sizes were established at Bathurst, Orange, Forbes, Mudgee, Wellington, Cowra, Young, Dubbo, Parkes and Portland between September 1941 and October 1943. Another factory was planned for Katoomba however it was not completed. Orange and Bathurst were the major feeder factories which manufactured the rifle and bayonet allowing the parent factory in Lithgow to concentrate on Bren and Vickers production. The other feeder factories produced small parts which were sent to the major factories for assembly. As the requirement for parts diminished the feeder factories were gradually closed, the last being Bathurst in March 1946.

This workshop of talks and presentations was our first endeavour at planning and hosting this type of event. It was a great success, and a source of encouragement that we can make the Lithgow Small Arms Factory Museum a centre of excellence for research and learning. Further similar workshops are planned for the future, and perhaps even tours of the old Factory.

Official Opening of the AACSA special exhibiton gains more recognition for the museum

3rd October 2012

A great day was had by all when the launch of the special exhibition by the Antique Arms Collectors Society of Australia took place in the Hayes Gallery. Our Patron Ron Hayes travelled from Wangi Wangi to be our special guest. The Centenary cake was made by our volunteer Jen and her sister in the shape of the original factory buildings. Ron ceremonially cut the cake with a first-year-of-manufacture P-07 1913 hook quillon bayonet.

Visitors were amazed by the superb display of antique and colonial weapons, the 16th Century matchlocks and wheellocks in particular drawing much interest and many questions from people, many of whom had never seen such weapons before.

Following is part of the report from the Lithgow Mercury:

Lithgow residents should be proud to have an attraction of the standard of the Small Arms Museum in their city, a representative gathering at the museum was told at the weekend. The occasion was the official opening of a special SAF centenary exhibition at the museum presented by the Antique Arms Collectors Society of Australia. The launch was a highlight of a busy holiday weekend at the museum which included an upmarket visit by members of a Rolls Royce owners club on a tour of the district.

Cr Frank Inzitari, representing Lithgow Council at the function, confessed it was his first visit to the museum but it would not be his last. He said what had been achieved was a tribute to both Lithgow and to the entirely volunteer team who had made it all possible. “It makes me proud to realise we have this in our city”. Cr Inzitari said he was certain the new council would do all that it could to ensure the SAF Museum continues to grow, prosper, and attract an even bigger visitation.

Also speaking was Paul Duffy, president of the Antique Arms Collectors Society of Australia. He said his organisation was pleased to be involved in a museum function marking the SAF centenary. Mr Duffy said that antique firearms from various eras were part of the history of the people. The Small Arms Museum, he said, represented not only the industrial history of Lithgow but the history of Australia. “Museums such as this are accorded a high degree of importance overseas.”