Boral's history 1946-1949
An Entrepreneurial Start
By all accounts, David Craig was something of an entrepreneur, but in those days - the 1920s and 1930s - people called him a 'company promoter'. Craig's preferred strategy was to help introduce overseas brands to Australia; for this he received a fee for setting up the company and then sold out, preferring not to have any long-term involvement with the enterprise. He is reputed to have bought the Australian rights to Life Savers sweets and Smiths Potato Crisps. In the 1930s, Craig and his associates secured local patent rights from the United States for an industrial process to manufacture fibreboard from woodchips. He resigned his directorship after the company had built a plant at Raymond Terrace, before defence orders during World War II helped it into profit.
In 1939 Craig led a consortium seeking approval to manufacture bitumen from imported crude oil in Sydney. The application was rejected in 1940 by the Advisory Committee on Capital Issues. Craig appealed to Arthur Fadden (later Sir Arthur Fadden), the Federal Treasurer and, after a Tariff Board inquiry the appeal was again rejected. However, Craig persisted and finally, after seven years, the official prospectus was released to the public on 19 February 1946. Boral was born. Bitumen and Oil Refineries (Australia) Limited was incorporated on 4 March 1946 under Craig's chairmanship, with part-owners California Texas Oil Company Limited (Caltex) supplying the crude product from overseas. Land was purchased at Matraville on Botany Bay, New South Wales, and the first Australian-owned bitumen and oil refinery was officially opened just over a year later in March 1947. The ceremonial laying of the foundation stone went ahead despite the fact that the refinery was only half completed and Randwick Council had reluctantly taken Bitumen and Oil Refineries to court over the construction of a refinery so close to residential areas.
Jim Cornell was the first employee of the company, initially working out of David Craig's office at 24 Bond Street near the present Sydney Stock Exchange. He remembers being sent out to look at the proposed refinery site at Matraville and not being able to locate it in the desolate sandhills on the road to La Perouse. Cornell's expertise was in customs and shipping, and he was employed by Bitumen and Oil Refineries to instruct Caltex's New York office on the correct packaging and marking of the new plant equipment for Australian Customs. The acronym 'Boral' was first used as the company's shipping mark.
Building the Refinery
The first year of operation was difficult. Establishing the refinery took longer than anticipated, due to the shortage of building materials and skilled labour. The refinery construction office at Matraville consisted of old army huts and trestle tables; the typewriters regularly jammed because of the sand.
The company had great difficulty in obtaining steel to build the refinery because of the scarcity of materials. However, the British Naval Store yards, which had a plentiful supply, were nearby. The steel they had stockpiled during the war years to repair military ships and submarines was no longer of use to them. Bitumen and Oil Refineries bought these steel reserves but the refinery needed to re-roll the steel for use as storage tanks.