The Industry That Never Was
By Robert Messenger
Have typewriters ever been made in Australia? Was there at one time a typewriter industry in this country?
These questions vex typewriter enthusiasts today, because the clues they are offered often suggest that the portable typewriters they own were made in Australia.
Well, in the case of those wonderful little Remington portables sold here in the mid to late 1930s, the answer is both “Yes” and “No”. “Yes” if one accepts assembled means “built”, but “No” is one believes “built” has the same meaning as “made”.
These gorgeous old Remingtons can be found with a decal stating “Australian-Built” across the front.
It was a classic case of the distribution company, Chartres, playing with semantics. The typewriters it sold were assembled in Sydney from parts made in the United States. Strictly speaking, the line should have been “Australian-Assembled”, rather than “Australian-Built”. The word “built” suggested the machines were actually made here, which was not entirely accurate.
This subtle subterfuge was made necessary by an Australian Government decision, announced on May 22, 1936, to reduce the importation of American-made typewriters into this country by 75 per cent. The ban was applied in an effort to correct Australia's adverse trade balance with foreign countries. There was a concession, however, where employment in Australia was involved, so portable typewriter parts were not effected by the restrictions.
The outbreak of World War II resulted in a total ban of non-essential items, which included typewriters, and not even parts could be shipped in. So this production of so-called “Australian-Built” portables was short-lived, and examples so labelled are keenly sought by collectors today. New, fully-assembled US typewriters did not start to arrive in Australia again until the early 1950s.
In a later era, Japanese-made Nakajima portables were sold in Australia with a metal sticker which suggested they were made by CFM (Currie Furniture Manufacturing) in Sunshine, Victoria. These were sold under a range of model names, but they had all arrived in Australia fully assembled. The same applied to Pinnock Craftamatics, which were imported by a company which had, in the late 1950s and early 60s, built sewing machines in South Australia.
So Australia did once have a sewing machine industry, but never a typewriter industry.