Like other regional towns and cities, Broken Hill played a vital role in production during the Second World War. These lathes are a fantastic example of the engineering skill exhibited by the local miners.
The Silver City had the facilities and the skilled tradesmen to undertake the manufacture of large precision machine tools. Over its history, the city and the mining industry in particular, had shown the capacity to innovate in the area of technology because of its isolation. The lead-time for the delivery of spare parts for mining machinery had ranged from four to six months so Broken Hill developed the capacity to manufacture a wide range of spare parts in-house. Therefore it was well placed to adapt to the new requirements of wartime production.
The wartime program was to manufacture lathes that were then used in aircraft engine production. The lathes were manufactured at the Broken Hill mine workshops between 1941 and early 1944. It was a joint program undertaken by the Zinc Mine, South Mine and North Mine. The program also used machine tools from the Central Power Station and some work was carried out at the Silverton Tramway workshops.
Overall, the program produced a total of 73 lathes, 60 engine lathes, 10 turret lathes and 3 parting and centring lathes. The turret lathes were designed for specialised repetitive production of items such as military aircraft engine cylinders.
The workers on the program were high-calibre tradesmen described as fine family men and active in a range of community events. They displayed pride in their work, good camaraderie and considerable stamina. The early shifts were twelve-hours, which was exhausting and eventually a shift was reduced to nine-and-a-half hours. The following inscription on one of the lathes illustrates the pride they had in their work:
“Made by the workmen of the mines at Broken Hill 1942”