cement history

Fake History

Perhaps you remember the blog I posted over a year ago: “When Wiki Got It Wrong – But How Wrong?”

Between then and now I’ve discovered it can take a long time and a lot of energy to redress just one small error in a Wikipedia article. The Wiki article was titled “Sydney Harbour Bridge” and it said that Railton Tasmania supplied the cement for our iconic bridge. AussieLegend wrote the information and he was quite sure he was right. After all, he gave a trustworthy source – The Companion to Tasmanian History, produced by the University of Tasmania.

Did most of you, like me, always believe the cement came from Kandos? I have certainly found plenty of supporting evidence, including newspaper articles, advertisements, the Bridge Pylon Lookout Museum website, a publication produced by the Historic Houses Trust of NSW called Bridging Sydney, and the official Sydney Harbour Bridge Souvenir produced for the opening of the bridge in 1932.

I re-edited the Wiki article to show, with evidence, that Kandos supplied the cement. AussieLegend wasn’t having a bar of it. He re-edited showing Railton and Kandos provided the cement. Wiki was more complex than I thought. I identified myself with a profile page on Wiki but AussieLegend wasn’t engaging.

There were indeed a few things muddying the waters beneath the bridge. First, was the entry on Railton in The Companion to Tasmanian History. It stated that the cement company at Railton “contracted to supply cement for the Sydney Harbour Bridge contract”. Then there was an article in the Launceston Examiner 26/7/1928 which stated “the product of the works [at Railton] is being used in the construction of Sydney Harbour Bridge”. And finally there were four articles which mentioned that there was a contract between the owners of the Railton cement industry and the contractors building the bridge, a contract to supply cement for the bridge.

I had to accept that Kandos had to share the honour with Railton or prove that Railton did not in fact provide any cement. As Professor Bob pointed out, it’s difficult to prove a negative. Further research was needed.

Over the next few months I searched. More publications in the State Library only confirmed Kandos. The Kentish Museum at Sheffield near Railton had no information, though they referred me to Wikipedia. Cement Australia at Railton wasn’t prepared to open their archives. Sam Vellenoweth, former manager at Kandos, couldn’t be located. Sydney and North Sydney historians could offer me nothing further. Nor could NSW State Archives. Everything still pointed to Kandos. Except for those questionable sources above.

I went back to the contract. In 1924, the year that Dorman Long & Co secured the contract to build the harbour bridge, they entered into a contract with Tasmanian Cement Pty Ltd at Railton for it to supply the cement for the bridge. Eventually Dorman Long bought the cement company. Its Director of Construction of the bridge was Lawrence Ennis who also became a director of Tasmanian Cement and their spokesperson. He was confident that soon the quality of the cement would meet the requirements of chief engineer Bradfield for construction of the bridge. In 1928 Tasmanian Cement was reformed as Goliath Cement Company. Again it was in the hands of Dorman Long with Lawrence Ennis as a director. There was further investment and further optimism that the quality of the cement would be acceptable. In the meantime the Mudgee Guardian reported 19/5/1930 “Kandos cement has stood up to the severest tests and the considered opinion of engineers is that it is second to none”.

In July 1929 Ennis admitted “Railton cement is not used in the Sydney Harbour Bridge”. Furthermore, when Ennis wrote his booklet Bond of Empire: Story of Construction of Bridge for the opening of the bridge, he listed on page 48 where all materials for construction came from – “cement – Kandos Cement Company Ltd”.

I have no doubt Dorman Long and Lawrence Ennis hoped their investment in the cement company at Railton would pay off, but it did not. The single article (Launceston Examiner) doesn’t stand up on its own. I went back to The Companion to Tasmanian History and presented them with the evidence.

You will be pleased to know that the sentence in the online version of The Companion has been deleted. As editor Alison pointed out, the entry didn’t actually say Railton provided cement for the bridge, only that there had been a contract. It was AussieLegend who made the leap. The sentence in Wiki stands: The concrete used was also Australian-made and supplied from Kandos, New South Wales.[26][27][28][29]

Sigh of relief! We can confidently continue to brand Kandos as the town that supplied the cement for Sydney Harbour Bridge.

There is an addendum however. On revisiting the Kentish Museum website, I discovered this:
The Goliath Portland Cement Company at Railton started its journey in the 1920’s. Throughout its history, the company has produced the highest quality cement available in the world. This cement has been used in both large and small building projects within Australia, including Sydney Harbour Bridge.

As you can see fake history like fake news is likely to spread and be believed.

The featured image of the Kandos cement works in production was captured by the author c2008.

cement works in production-kandos

6 thoughts on “Fake History”

  1. You are the legend Colleen! Your ‘dogged’ investigation should be recognised by all lovers of facts that Kandos Cement and all its workers deserves the due credit for such a huge input into the building of Sydney Harbour Bridge.

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  2. If we’re going to talk about fake history then we should be talking about this website and the fake history that it has created as a result of the Wikipedia edits

    The Sydney Harbour Bridge article originally simply said “The concrete used was also Australian-made.” That was eventually expanded to “The concrete used was also Australian-made and supplied from Devonport, Tasmania and shipped to Sydney on a ship named Goliath” but the source used to support that claim didn’t support it and it was ultimately challenged on 1 January 2018. That same day, “KerryRaymond” (NOT AussieLegend”!) added the citation from The Companion to Tasmanian History. Note that on that day the article stated “Contracted to supply cement for the Sydney Harbour Bridge contract, the Company was more successful than its Maria Island contemporary”. If a business is contracted to supply something, it’s normally expected that the company lived up to its contract. Failure would result in penalties but since the article said that it was “more successful than its Maria Island contemporary” it’s a pretty good indication that it did supply. However, that source did not mention a ship called Goliath, it specifically referred to Goliath Cement in Railton Tasmania. However, the article stayed that way until 6 June 2018.

    On 6 June “Osullivancol” turned up and without any evidence to back-up her claim that the concrete wasn’t supplied by Goliath Cement, removed the claim and citation, against Wikipedia policy. When sources contradict each other Wikipedia takes a neutral stance and publishes both claims. If something is supported by a citation then it needs a stronger source to remove it. That’s why Aussielegend stepped in and restored the content, quite in accordance with policy. To make things worse, the source that Osullivancol provided was a bad link, so it didn’t support the claim made by her. On 8 October, Osullivancol returned and this time supplied sources for Kandos that actually worked. Again she removed Railton without proving that the existing source was invalid so the sourced Railton claim was restored.

    The reason that this issue took so long to resolve is primarily because Osullivancol didn’t provide any sources to support her claim that Goliath Cement didn’t provide the cement and the source she initially supplied was broken.

    Regarding some other fake history from above:
    1. “AussieLegend wrote the information” is, at best, misleading. AussieLegend merely corrected information based on the sources provided, including those supplied by Osullivancol.
    2. “I identified myself with a profile page on Wiki but AussieLegend wasn’t engaging. ” – This is completely irrelevant. The correct location to “engage” is on the talk page of the article and Osullivancol made no attempt to justify her removal of cited content.

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