This history page contains a photograph which is one of several belonging to the photo gallery pages which are part of several pages relating to the invention of the world's first automatic totalizator in 1913 and Automatic Totalisators Limited, the company founded to develop, manufacture and export these systems.

The Automatic Totalisators Chalmers Street Factory 1938

This is the Automatic Totalisators Limited factory at 182 Chalmers Street, near Central Station in Sydney. This building is still standing and I walked past it, not recognising it at the time, in December 2013. The only writing on the back of the photograph is 1938. At that time this was a six story building. The New South Wales number plate on the vehicle in the image, consists of two groups of 3 digits. This type of number plate was replaced with a new scheme in 1937 having two letters followed by three digits, indicating this vehicle was registered prior to 1937. Having mentioned the number plate it is interesting to note that the latest ATL Toolroom, which was located in Nancarrow Avenue Meadowbank used to manufacture vehicle number-plates for the Department of Motor Transport.

More after the image ...

The photograph below was donated to me by Frank Matthews, who was the last Senior Partner of Julius Poole and Gibson, George Julius' engineering consulting company. George Julius also founded Automatic Totalisators Limited. Frank also donated most of the photographs in the Photo Album of this website. Frank kept them and many more from being discarded when he retired.


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There is no photographers stamp on the photograph


A reputable Journal has an article on Totalisator History. It states the Automatic Totalisators Limited factory moved from Newtown to the southern end of the Sydney CBD in 1930 and that one of the best precision workshops in Australia was established here. Another article presented in the Automatic Totalisators Limited - Later ATL chapter of this website, contradicts this article and states the factory moved here from Newtown in 1933. We have two conflicting records of when this factory started operation, 1930 and 1933. In December 2015 Narelle and I followed a lead from Diane McCarthy and investigated the Sydney phone books. We visited the State Library of New South Wales which had Sydney phone books on microfiche from 1889 to 1950, which was very easy to use. In the November 1933 phone book the factory was still at Newtown and in the May 1934 phone book it was at this factory in Chalmers street. Therefore the 1933 article is closest and possibly correct, if the factory moved in the remainder of 1933. In conclusion, this factory operated from late 1933 or early 1934 until 1947 when it was moved to a custom built factory located at Nancarrow Avenue Meadowbank in Sydney. The 1947 move to the Meadowbank factory is confirmed in the Sydney phone book. The Meadowbank factory continued to operate until it was vacated after AWA Limited, another iconic Australian electronics engineering company that I had previously worked for, purchased the company in 1991.

William Johnson, a long serving engineer and manager with Automatic Totalisators, who spent long periods overseas on iconic projects like Caracas, spoke to me about this image as he recognised some of the faces in it. William related the following information. The man in the first standing row, wearing a white dust coat, with his left hand in his pocket and hair parted on the right hand side and wearing a tie, is his father, another William Johnson. He said his father was probably a Leading Hand when this photograph was taken and became a Shop Foreman during the war years.

William also said Joe Norris, is standing in the same row and has his arms crossed. Peter Collier ex Automatic Totalisators Limited Chief Engineer in Victoria, confirms this in an email on 5 January 2016, when he wrote In the photo of the 1938 staff I think that the person standing to the right of Keith with arms folded is Joe Norris. I remember Joe, he visited Brisbane on several occasions during the period after the PDP11 systems started operations in 1979. I always enjoyed talking to him and Norm Noble as they both visited at the same time. William is not sure but thinks the third person to the left of Joe in the image, with his left hand in his pocket and wearing a dust coat and tie is probably Don Hardy. William's father was Don's best man at his wedding which William thinks was held at Durban. William also said the man standing in the back row second from the right with his right hand on the shoulder of the man in front of him and his left hand across the shoulder of the man on his left, whose mouth is partially obscured by the man in front is Alan Lakeman. Alan was William's boss, under Val Adams, who was the Engineering Manager of Harold Park. The young fellow seated in the middle of the front row is possibly Jimmy McGeeky, who tragically passed away not long after in a car accident. The man kneeling in the front row third from the right is Bob Williams, he was a despatch clerk. The young fellow standing in the middle of the first standing row, is possibly Keith Dodwell.

I remember Keith Dodwell very well. I met him when I visited Autotote in Philadelphia on a business trip. He was very hospitable to me and my wife Narelle. Keith has achieved something that I find quite remarkable. He served 60 years with what is essentially the same company, Automatic Totalisators in Australia and then Atusa/Autotote the subsidiary of Automatic Totalisators Limited in America, starting at age 14 and finishing at 74. Keith was instrumental in establishing the American subsidiary ATUSA/Autotote. There are some comments from Keith in the Caracas a latterday Julius tote installation chapter of this website. Keith ended up Executive Vice President of Autotote.

William also sent me a Trove Digitised Newspapers link showing a Sydney Morning Herald newspaper page 3 of 44 dated 16 June 1936. On this page there is an article titled THREE NEW STORIES Automatic Totalisators Limited. This article describes the addition of three new stories to the existing three story Automatic Totalisators factory at 182 to 194 Chalmers Street, the factory in this image when it only had three stories. I had no idea this factory was so massive nor that it had undergone such major expansion.

The complete Chalmers Street Automatic Totalisators factory can be seen in the image below. The staff image above was taken in Belvoir Street, the street that runs up the left hand side of the factory, at the extreme left hand side of the building in the image below. The doorway with the gate in the background of the image above can be seen at the left hand side. William Johnson Jr. also recollected being shown this factory in the image below when he was a young boy, by his father and remembered that the building had an advertisement for Oil of Ulan on it.

The Chalmers Street Factory Image of The ATL Chalmers Street Factory

Image Source: State Library of New South Wales [Home and Away - 35251]

William later sent me an electronic copy of the 1936 Flinders Ward rate book pages 1 to 89 provided by the City of Sydney archives. It led to a sequence of events resulting in the realisation that the ATL Chalmers Street factory building was still in existence and it also raised a new question. This rate book indicates the Owner or Landlord is Automated(sic) Totlisators Limited and amongst other things that it has one floor and three rooms. Well that leaves a screaming question! How did this one floor building, become three for the additional three stories to be added to, resulting in a building with six floors? Perhaps the other two stories are recorded elsewhere! The column in the rate book that immediately follows the No. Of Floors column is the No. Of Rooms column which is recorded as 3. Just speculating, three rooms would make for a very small factory, what if 3 should have been in the previous column recording the number of floors and the actual number of rooms has been omitted?

William provided sufficient information for me to deduce that the factory building still existed. The Rate Book document William sent, showed 182/194 in the No. of House column for Automatic Totalisators in the Chalmers Street entries. I noticed each entry had a Remarks column at the end of each line. The entry prior to the entry for Automatic Totalisators was the Commonwealth Government Repatriation Department building at 168/180 Chalmers Street. In the Remarks column for this entry, I read the text Here Belvoir Street, which I took to mean, that government building was on the corner of Chalmers Street and Belvoir Street. That meant that the Automatic Totalisators factory at 182/194 Chalmers Street had to be on the same street intersection on the other side of Belvoir Street. A check with Internet city maps confirmed it was there. It was easy to see that the present day Internet Street View building and the one in the image at the top of this page and the Sydney Morning Herald article artist's impression of this building, were probably all the same building. William also sent an image of a photograph in the State Library of NSW collection, of this whole factory building when it was still the Automatic Totalisators factory. That photograph in the library's collection was proof positive that the building standing today is definitely the old Automatic Totalisators factory. I have since gained approval to included that photograph in this website and it is shown in the image above titled The Chalmers Street factory.

There are full sized images of this factory building in the Photo Gallery of this website. To view these, return to the photo gallery directory by clicking on the image at the top of this page and select one of the two following image thumbnails of this building. The first image shows the ex factory building in 2014 and the second is a full sized rendition of the State Library of New South Wales photograph shown above. The second image file contains a lot of additional information regarding this ex Automatic Totalisators Limited factory.

Neville Mitchell, the best ATL company historian I know wrote the following about the staff image at the top of this page, the Chalmers Street factory and the move to Meadowbank:

I have spent some time scanning the faces of the workers outside the factory I think this was Chalmers street. I cannot see anyone there that I knew at Meadowbank. Neville changed his mind when William put names to the faces of several iconic Automatic Totalisators employees in this image. When Neville removed 30 years of ageing from his recollection of several of the people mentioned he too recognised them.

When the Meadowbank plant opened I would imagine a lot of workers found it difficult to get to it from the Eastern Suburbs. There were many men there in 1962 that were ex WW2 forces both Australian and British, who lived locally in Housing Commission or war service homes. In 1948 there was many new factories opening up in the Eastern Suburbs, Morris / Leyland, CIG, Stromberg Carlson, Magnavox, Chrysler, GMH, Graden Gears, Ansett Transport [buses], Feltex Carpets, to name a few. Getting a new job was not too difficult. And besides the Chalmers Street factory had a few pubs nearby where it is a good mile from the Meadowbank factory to Mary's Pub in West Ryde.

It is interesting to note that Neville mentions the Morris/Leyland factory above, as this factory presents a coincidence with totalisator history. This factory stood on the grounds of what used to be Victoria Park Racecourse. The office of this factory used to be the tote house of Victoria Park Racecourse where a Julius totalisator operated. To read more about this, click on the image at the top of this page, scroll down to the bottom of the page and select the Go to the index button in the nav bar at the bottom and then select the George Julius Genealogy and other latterday interest chapter and scroll down to the heading Victoria Park Racecourse.

Neville also recalls a good time had in the USA with both William Johnson, who provided information presented above and Keith Dodwell, who William thinks is in the above image:

I was talking to Bill about our time together at ATUSA, we had some great times with Keith and Mary Dodwell. Sailing on their yacht on Chesapeake Bay, dining at Du Pont restaurants, and in between doing some work.
Sadly, Keith Dodwell passed away in 2015. His eulogy is in the Caracas a latterday Julius tote installation chapter under the heading A sad Time for the Ex-Autotote/ATL Fraternity. To read this, click on the image at the top of this page, scroll down to the bottom of the page and select the Go to the index button in the nav bar at the bottom and then select the chapter mentioned.

Frank Matthews, introduced above the image at the top of this page, wrote the following about the photos in the Photo Gallery of this website relating to Chalmers Street:

There must be many building projects undertaken by Julius Poole and Gibson that have touched Totalisators. In looking at the Chalmers Street photographs I am reminded of the Dental Hospital just down the street where JP&G were involved in various iterations of structure and services design and in which Max and I were involved. In the early days I remember the trams running past there as they did our office in Castlereagh Street.
Max Sherrard, who Frank mentions was the last Director of Julius Poole and Gibson. There is information about Julius Poole and Gibson, Frank Matthews and Max Sherrard in the Sir George Julius chapter of this website. To read this, click on the image at the top of this page, then scroll to the bottom of the page and select the Go to the index button in the Nav Bar at the bottom of that page. Finally, select the Sir George Julius chapter and scroll down to the heading Julius Poole & Gibson The Original Partners, which is the start of the Julius Poole & Gibson section. Frank also mentions the trams. The overhead electric cables for the trams are clearly visible in the image above titled The Chalmers Street Factory.

P.S. Before you ask the question, why has he not ascertained who owned the vehicle on the right hand side of the image at the top of this page, as the registration number is clearly legible, William Johnson has already raised that question. At the time William suggested finding out, the idea had already crossed my mind. In February 2017 I eventually found the time to do something about it. I was informed that Roads and Maritime Services are legally bound not to release information relating to vehicle registration unless authorised. The information can be requested via the Government Information Public Access (GIPA) Act. This incurs a fee and there is no guarantee that any information will be provided. Additionally, the GIPA Department have advised that they only keep records for 10 years and anything prior to that is very limited anyway. I have taken this to mean that it is very unlikely that they would have any information on a car in a photo that is 78 years old and I have not pursued it any further.