The Small Arms Factory, which opened in June 1912, has proudly supported Australia’s soldiers on battlefields around the globe from Gallipoli to Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. All Australian troops were equipped with weapons made in the Lithgow Small Arms Factory. A 90,000-foot factory floor and tool room, and forge, were both located within the buildings. Each machine was driven by pulleys extending overhead with shafts running the length of the buildings. At the time there were 340 machines, 11 forging hammers and 22 oil fired furnaces in use. The Small Arms Factory manufactured single-shot gun models 1A and 1B, as well as a repeating model 12, under the Slazenger brand and after the end of World War II the factory produced around 100,000 guns per year.
As part of its efforts to maintain skilled labour during times of peace, the Small Arms Factory was authorised by the Government at the time to accept commercial contracts, sometimes controversially. Forgings, investment castings, and finished products were all included in these contracts. Manufacturing brand name products including Sunbeam Mixmaster’s, Pinnock sewing machines, Slazenger golf clubs, Zircalloy’s spanners, and many more.
Originally collected for technical appraisal and reference, this impressive collection has been accumulated over years of operation. Their former employees and community members explained to the Australian Defence Industry how significant the collection was in terms of the history of small arms, commercial products, machinery, and tools. The Australian Defence Industry donated the entire collection to Lithgow in 1995, since managing the collection in a museum had not been within the SAF’s purview.
Since 1996, the Small Arms Factory Museum has been open for public viewing, staffed entirely by volunteers. The museum showcases firearms from all over the world, including small arms, long arms, and machine guns, as well as commercial products and precision metalworking equipment.
The Small Arms Factory is owned and operated by the French firm Thales Group, which provides services to the aerospace, defence, transportation, and security industries. The factory continues to produce the Austeyr rifles F88 and the Minimi rifle F89 which are employed by the Australian Armed Forces.
A state historical landmark, the Bowenfels Gun Emplacement, constructed in the early 1940’s in Lithgow, was an important part of Australia’s military defences during World War II. In World War II, the Bowenfels Gun Emplacement was constructed as one of two anti-aircraft batteries to protect Lithgow’s coal mines, manufacturing and transport industries as well as the Small Arms Factory, due to their important contribution to the war effort. As the only anti-aircraft gun emplacement of its type within New South Wales, Bowenfels Emplacement has been saved and protected, with displays and information of the area and function of the emplacement still visible to visitors. It is still possible to see some of the original signage from World War II. The guns were never fired during the war and between 1934-1944 the guns were removed from the gun stations. The Bowenfels station was cleaned and cleared for the installation of replica guns in 3 of the emplacements.
The two stations are equipped with four octagonal concrete gun emplacements for 3.7 heavy anti-aircraft guns, arranged around a central reinforced concrete bunker, consisting of a square cube-shaped concrete chamber and three level buildings connected to a smaller two octagonal buildings. Fittings, such as bolts, mark the location of various elements of the structures that have long since deteriorated.
The Scenic hill emplacement is located in a vastly different area surrounded by disturbed bushland, an example of the more isolated environment it was historically a part of. Unfortunately, due to its isolated location it has deteriorated, suffering collapse and erosion. Three dummy gun emplacements intended to confuse the attackers, were built nearby with at least 2 of these in existence near Hassan’s Walls Road in Lithgow. They can be accessed via a track leading from Chifley Road, located in small clearings with small scrubby native plantings.
The Bowenfels Gun Emplacement has been cleared of debris and made accessible for tourists and visitors to explore them and inspect the guns. From the small visitor’s carpark, it is easily accessible via a short walking track across a grassy field. Well worth the trek to see Lithgow’s Great Protector of the 1940’s era.