Australia has a long and proud history of manufacturing. Harrington Industries is one company that helped build a fledgling Australia, and after a century in business, it’s still going strong today!

Harrington Industries was established in 1919, originally trading as GA & L Harrington, named after its founding brothers. George Arthur (affectionately known as GA) and Len Harrington set up a general engineering shop in Ultimo, New South Wales. The company’s centenary marks the culmination of four generations under the Harrington family: GA’s son George Harrington joined in the late 1920s, and his son John Harrington started in 1959 and is now the company’s Chairman & Director; Len’s grandson Mark Bennett (Engineering Director) came onboard in 1974; and John’s sons Trent (who is now the Managing Director) and Marshall (Purchasing Director). Four generations in one Australian company may possibly represent an unrivalled feat.

‘Trusted for 100 years’ is the company creed, and that trust has been forged and repeatedly proven over the century. Since its first product – a rabbit trap for farmers – the company has been an active participant in many of the landmarks of the last century of Australian history.

In the 1920s GA & L Harrington was the first Australian company to manufacture a one-piece car door (previously, they were made in two parts). A new press – one of only two in Australia at the time – was installed for this purpose. Output reached 1,500 door frames per week. One writer in 1929 described the new press as offering the possibility of “… opening up a new era in the production of motor parts. Messrs Harrington have risen during the past decade to a high position in the motor engineering industry, and their foresight in grasping opportunities is another indication of that enterprise which characterises the work of all true Australians who have the interests of the manufacturing community of the Commonwealth at heart.”

As Marshall puts it, “Our company’s history and varied industry knowledge base gives us a unique advantage.” Those qualities allowed the company to branch out into other industries including aviation, commencing with the production of parts for the de Havilland Tiger Moth aircraft, a British biplane that would be used during the Second World War.

Australia had resolved in 1935 to build its own aircraft, after industrialists, industry leaders and politicians had warned that in the event of war we would be cast adrift and left isolated, and amid the threat that Japan would soon invade. A total of 1,070 Tiger Moths were eventually constructed in Australia, and GA & L Harrington’s skill, experience and reliability were employed in producing approximately 280 pressed metal parts for the plane.

Without a military equipment manufacturing industry, Australia was desperately unprepared at the outbreak of the Second World War. GA & L Harrington – along with many other Australian companies – was harnessed for war production. Over the course of the war, other components produced by the company included Bren gun carrier parts, Mosquito and Dragon aircraft parts, hurricane lamps and other ancillary war equipment. With so many items required immediately during those frantic years, GA & L Harrington quickly stepped in and produced them.

The media at the time reported on the company’s manufacture of urgently needed hurricane lamps. A newspaper article from those desperate times noted that this was the first time that hurricane lamps were produced in Australia: “It is gratifying to know that local industry is capable of producing at short notice material for war purposes not previously manufactured here.”

The company’s wartime role also included production of Bren gun carrier parts. Australia’s Bren gun production incorporated several features of Australian design, and was widely regarded as an improvement on the British carrier. When it was suggested that the Bren gun carrier could be produced in Australia in large volumes, many experts were sceptical. However monthly output approached nearly three times the figure thought possible.

GA & L Harrington’s ability to step capably into the breach with speed and efficiency exemplified the way Australian industry responded during the transition to war-production, which was widely hailed by industry leaders. Sir Alexander Roger, who led an industrial mission from Britain to Australia in 1942, described Australia’s efforts as “… an inspiring example to the whole Empire and to the Allies. What Australia has achieved is a miracle of production. I have learned a lot from Australia, and we were able to bring back a lot of production information for use in Britain.”

Now headquartered in Padstow, in Sydney’s south-west suburbs, the company’s proud heritage has been built on the foundations of skill, fairness and the high esteem in which the founding brothers GA and Len were held, as borne out by the memories and anecdotes of surviving family members. GA died in 1948 and Len in 1988, but their legacy lives on.


Expertise from the ground up

The company’s philosophy has always been that family members come into the business through the shop floor and work their way up into management roles. As John Harrington affirms: “Expertise comes from knowing how to form metal, and practical experience is required for that.”

During John’s time at the company he has seen a variety of changes, innovations and evolutions in the industry, from the invention of the calculator in the 1960s, through to the emergence of computers and the implementation of CAD in the 1990s.

“There were no adding machines, computers or air conditioning in those days,” recalls John of his early years at the company. “All the calculations had to be done manually.”

One of John’s most significant achievements was managing the modernisation and automation of the Harrington plant in the 1980s. He introduced coil feeding into the presses, which reduced costs significantly. The company has managed to remain at the forefront of some great changes, from general engineering and metal pressing, then die wire spark erosion cutting, computers, automation, robotics and the latest in smart technologies.

“We’ve embraced it all,” remarks John.

In 2013, GA & L Harrington began trading as Harrington Industries. A milestone for the company came the following year with the opening of an overseas plant in Thailand. Several of the company’s customers had moved production there and requested that Harrington Industries join them. A press shop was set up in Rayong in 2014, and since then the company has grown considerably, attracting many new customers and products from Asia and abroad.

Trent Harrington led the establishment of the Thailand factory and building up that arm of the business has been a major career highlight: “Managing the Thailand factory evolution from an open greenfield site into a fully operational and profitable business has been very satisfying. Operating in Thailand allows us to continue our involvement with the automotive industry, which brings with it a bounty of future global opportunities.”

“It’s exciting. That’s why I haven’t retired,” adds John. “There are always new products and processes to understand.”

While the company now has an international presence, John points out that Harrington Industries still remains the leading press shop in Australia, with an impressive roster of clients that included ResMed, Nissan, Ford, Toyota, General Motors (Holden), Mitsubishi and the iconic Victa lawnmowers. In 1987 the company was awarded a certificate of appreciation for its contribution to the Australian production of the Boeing 747 leading edge – a very difficult pressing made from aluminium alloy.

Today, Harrington Industries boasts a staff of 45 in the Sydney plant, with a further 50 personnel in Thailand. The company is a proud member of the Australian Industry Group – as well as of AMTIL.

One of the company’s most challenging but rewarding projects has been its account with medical device manufacturer ResMed, which has been one of Harrington Industries’ biggest clients since 2000.

“We have developed our own processes for the manufacture of high-volume medical grade stampings,” explains Trent. “And because of this our Thailand facility continues to win new business with ResMed. They are an Australian business that is now a global leader in sleep therapy, and we are proud to be part of their impressive international growth story.”

Another major highlight was the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games: in 1999 Harrington Industries won the contract for the engineering design and produce 14,500 torches and 200 community cauldrons. Its winning design for the torch took a creative leap of faith on John’s part. One of the requirements was that the flame needed to withstand extremely high winds without blowing out. The company didn’t have a wind tunnel facility to test its burner design, so John decided to drive over Alfords Point Bridge in Sydney at variable speeds with the lit torch held out of the sunroof.

“We certainly got some interesting looks from other motorists that day,” jokes Marshall Harrington, who checked and lit each torch personally, supervising the assembly of 17,000 torches in total.

The Sydney Olympic torch was followed by 13,000 torches for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. In recognition of the company’s work ahead of the Sydney Games, John had the chance to run in the official torch relay team.

“Running with the torch was very special,” he recalls.

From rabbit traps, to automotive components, equipment for the war effort to sophisticated components for airliners and medical devices – as well as numerous products for the mining, white goods and general engineering sectors – Harrington Industries has consistently been involved in making Australian manufacturing history, enduring through the ups and downs of the last century. It lit the way with hurricane lamps in the 1940s, and with the Olympic Torch at the turn of the millennium. As it enters its second century, Harrington Industries is poised to continue shining a light for Australian manufacturing for many more years to come.