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Munitions Factories

At Footscray and Maribyrnong, munitions factories were the centre of Australian defence industry for more than a century. The Footscray ammunition factory, established in 1888, manufactured pistol and rifle ammunition using imported cordite until the Maribyrnong explosives factory provided a local supply of the propellant in 1912. The Maribyrnong ordnance factory began in 1924 and was a military engineering works. When the privately owned Footscray factory was acquired by the Commonwealth in 1927, it joined the two federally built factories to form a military industrial complex employing 500 workers drawn primarily from Melbourne's west. The importance of the factories peaked in World War II. In 1941 the workforce of the factories totalled over 16 000, the result of massive industrial domestic mobilisation, especially of women. On continuous operation, the factories succeeded in their task of equipping the Australian armed services although workers endured often hazardous and sometimes injurious conditions. After the war came steady decline. Despite the Korean and Vietnam wars the factories were denied federal capital to upgrade, and closed by 1994. Outmoded and inefficient, they nonetheless had been vital to the western suburbs as major employers.

Richard Watter