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History

05 Feb 2020

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Building with Wunderlich

No other company played such a key role in providing building materials (across Australia) as the Wunderlich company.

It had a major presence in South Melbourne, with a long-term office, showroom and depot on the western side of Hanna Street (renamed as Kings Way in 1961), at the corner of York St. Other factory sites in Melbourne were in Sunshine and Vermont, both established in 1925.

Ernest Wunderlich had arrived from England in 1885 and opened a factory in Sydney (with brothers Alfred and Otto) in 1890. They entered the Melbourne market in 1904 with a city factory and showroom before moving to South Melbourne in 1925.

Famous for manufacturing pressed zinc ceiling panels and decorative work, their products were used on most city office buildings up until the 1960s, particularly terracotta tiles and faience. In the suburbs, their terracotta roofing tiles adorned many houses, to an extent found nowhere else in the world, and complimented other company products such as Durawall, aluminium windows and sliding doors, contemporary-style metal ceilings, ceramic glazed fireplace surrounds, kitchen units and ice refrigerators.

They could make ANYTHING, including asbestos cement strips to fit under a corrugated iron roof to keep sparrows out of the eaves. They were also major producers of “modern” asbestos-based products, such as Durabestos.

The extensive South Melbourne premises included a classic saw-tooth roofed factory, and a fleet of trucks used to deliver and install Wunderlich products. The company was a major employer of locals from South Melbourne, and many older residents could recall family members engaged in one of the numerous occupations – assemblers, carpenters, electricians, roof tilers, metal workers, estimators, welders and so on, who were engaged in selling and assembling building products. But building could be dangerous, and one local recalled her father being almost fatally injured when he fell through a roof.

Wunderlich was a major contributor to the built form of Melbourne and played a major role in the industrial history of Southbank •

Robin Grow

President - Australian Art Deco and Modernism Society

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