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Kinnears Rope Works

George Kinnear & Sons moved from Moonee Ponds to a larger site at Ballarat Road, Footscray, in 1902, following the purchase of the business by sons Edward and Henry in 1899. Edward superintended the manufacturing; Henry managed the city office and handled purchasing and sales. At Footscray the enterprise flourished through aggressive organisation and marketing, generous tariff protection and strengthening wartime demand, employing some 200 mainly local workers by 1915. Absorbing the partners' homes, the factory soon presented a massive red brick wall along Ballarat Road.

Kinnears enjoyed a reputation for technical innovation, importing advanced machinery from Belfast, which was serviced, improved and duplicated in their engineering and fitting shop. By 1934 Kinnears had a soft fibre-spinning mill and advanced plant for manufacturing industrial yarns and twists, sewing and shop twines, and cordage. In 1935, in partnership with James Miller & Co. of Brunswick, Kinnears revived the flax-growing and milling industry. During World War II the firm supplied rope and twine to the Allied forces in the South-West Pacific, and the machine shops made weapons. After the war, when the fourth generation of Kinnears entered the business, the firm expanded into synthetic fibres.

Despite the astringent portrait of the Kinnear brothers in John McKellar's novel Sheep with a shepherd (1937), they were generally regarded in Footscray as good employers. Their factory was one of the district's largest, women were always a significant proportion of the workforce, and the annual picnics were famous. A family company until 1956, Kinnears became part of the Boral group in 1986, trading as Boral Kinnear's. It was the major rope-maker in Australia but the changeover to synthetics, and tariff cuts, brought heavy competition from cheap imports and forced the transfer of production offshore and substantial reduction of the Footscray workforce. Kinnears then became part of Illinois Tool Work, who sold the Footscray business to Tapex Pty Ltd. The firm's slogan 'Always secure with Kinnear' was misplaced for the 150 workers retrenched when the plant closed in 2002.

John Lack