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Made in Melbourne: the rise and fall of the domestic appliance industry in twentieth-century Melbourne

posted on 22.02.2017, 02:08 by Sharpe, Simone
For much of the twentieth century, Melbourne was an important centre of Australian domestic appliance manufacturing. Yet, by the 1990s, most manufacturers had either closed down or moved their operations interstate or overseas. Received wisdom has it that the Whitlam Government’s 25 per cent across-the-board tariff cuts in 1973 – and subsequent cuts to industry protection – were to blame. But, while this may help to explain why the Australian manufacture of appliances and other consumer durables continues to decline, it does not explain why Melbourne was hit particularly hard. This thesis is an historical examination of the domestic appliance industry in Melbourne, using case studies of some of the industry’s largest companies – the early pioneers such as Hecla Electrics, Electronic Industries (Astor and Radio Corporation), General Industries (Metters KFB) and A. G. Healing, the foreign-owned global survivor Electrolux, and later arrivals Vulcan and Kambrook – to find reasons for its rise and fall in the twentieth century. Using annual reports, interviews, advertisements, photographs and the products themselves, this thesis argues that external circumstances – such as imports, tariffs, world wars, and economic booms and busts – were only partially responsible for the industry’s demise. Instead, it is asserted that the internal decisions and actions of the owners and managers of these companies were often as much, if not more, responsible for their successes and ultimate failures; and hence those of this now diminished industry.


Principal supervisor

Seamus O'Hanlon

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

School of Philosophical, Historical & International Studies


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts