This 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, the company founded to develop, manufacture and export these systems.

The Automatic Totalisators Chalmers Street Factory 1938

This is the Automatic Totalisators 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 ...
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There is no photographers stamp on the photograph


According to The Rutherford Journal article titled An Unlikely History of Australian Computing: the Reign of the Totalisator the Auotmatic Totalisators factory moved from Newtown to this factory in 1930, whilst an automatic totalisators document presented in the Automatic Totalisators Limited - later ATL chapter of this website, indicates it was 1933. In conclusion it appears that Automatic Totalisators moved their factory from Newtown to the Sydney CBD in either 1930 or 1933. I will check with the Sydney Telephone books from 1930 to 1933 to see which factory address appears for each year, the next time I am in Sydney. This factory operated until 1947 when it was moved to a custom built factory located at Nancarrow Avenue Meadowbank in Sydney. The Meadowbank factory continued to operate until it was vacated after AWA Limited, another iconic Australian electronics engineering company that I 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. Joe Norris, is standing in the same row and has his arms crossed. I remember Joe, he visited Brisbane on several occasions during the period after the PDP11 system 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 Norm 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. 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, 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 very well. I met him when I visited Autotote in Philadelphia. 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 in America, starting at age 14 and finishing at 74. There are some comments from Keith in the Caracas a latterday Julius tote installation chapter of this website. William also recollected being shown this factory when he was a young boy, by his father and remembered that the building had an advertisement for Oil of Ulan on it.

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 Chalmers Street Automatic Totalisators factory can be viewed in the following two images of this website. To view these, return to the photo gallery directory by clicking on this image. It makes the later factory at Meadowbank look diminutive.

William also sent me a copy of the 1936 rate book covering 182/194 Chalmers Street. This document indicates the Owner or Landlord is Automated 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! What is known is that the Sydney Morning Herald article is quite right and that the artist's impression was quite accurate as the building is still standing in 2013, as testimony to the details. I have looked it up on Google Maps and it is easy to see that the present day building, the one in this image and the artist's impression of this building are all the same building. William provided sufficient information for me to deduce that the factory building still existed. I noticed the Rate Book document had a Remarks column at the end of each entry. 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 is Here Belvoir Street, which I took to mean it 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 corner across Belvoir Street. A quick check with Google Maps confirmed it was there. William also sent an image of a photograph in the State Library of NSW collection of this complete building when it was still the Automatic Totalisators factory. That photograph in the library's collection proved the building standing today is definitely the old Automatic Totalisators factory. I have since gained approval to included that photograph in this website. The image following this one in the photo gallery is of this factory in 2014 and the one after that is the image from the State Library of NSW. To view these images, click on the image above to return to the photo gallery index and then click on the following icons.

Neville Mitchell, the best ATL company historian I know wrote the following about this image, 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.

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.