Industrial boom: Paynter Dixon’s nation building innovation

The expansion of Paynter & Dixon coincided with the rise of Australian manufacturing. This was a time of disruption, market firsts, and opening the nation’s door to global trade…

Leaving behind the trauma of World War II, Australia entered a new era of growth and prosperity.

Higher living standards, unprecedented consumer spending, large scale migration, and the expansion of manufacturing were all drivers of broader societal change. ‘Made in Australia’ goods and products found their way into households, from Vegemite to the FJ Holden car.

Ron Paynter, son of founding partner George Paynter, was now Chairman of Directors and determined to grow the company.

It was Ron who, in the late 1940s, toured America and brought back a different way of building.

The ‘Single Responsibility’ approach – now commonly referred to as ‘Design and Construct’ or ‘simply ‘D and C’ – would transform the construction industry in Australia.

In effect, Paynter & Dixon acted as the traditional Master Builder, with one company responsible for total control of the project from concept design to commissioning of the building.

D and C was successfully trialed in 1948 with a new Bankstown factory for Dunlop Sporting Goods (pictured). There was no turning back, but the new approach demanded greater resourcing and inhouse expertise.

In 1951 a decision was made to float the company to raise capital for expansion. The head office was also relocated to the prestige address of 139 Macquarie Street overlooking the Royal Botanic Gardens.

“Paynter & Dixon offers an all-embracing service resulting in considerable savings in both time and costs for clients,” read the client brochure.

Expertise spanned every phase of the project: design and architecture, estimating and quantity surveying, documentation and authority approvals, and engineering and construction management.

The Macquarie Street Office housed the various disciplines across six floors. For a young Estimator by the name of Colin Lindsay, the city was transforming within a stone’s throw of his third-floor office.

“In the 1950s, trams were still running in Sydney, and our magnificent Sydney Opera House was then a tram depot,” recalls Colin in his memoir.

“The Cahill Expressway was also under construction and from the third-floor verandah we could watch the huge excavation for the tunnel through the Hyde Park Gardens.”

Meanwhile, the domestic market was attracting American heavyweights such as Unilever and TNT, which in turn fueled demand for industrial infrastructure.

Trading as ‘Paynter & Dixon Industries’, the public company wasted no time in commencing operations across the seaboard: Victoria (1953), Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania (1954), and Western Australia (1955).

An industrial client could now rely on Paynter & Dixon to oversee their building requirements anywhere in the country, from new factories in Melbourne, to warehouses in Perth.

The company tagline proudly stated: Building across the nation. Services were expanded to support industrial clients on a strategic and ongoing basis: “We can embrace such diverse matters as site investigation, interior design, maintenance after completion, valuation, and insurance and taxation consultation.”

The following 20 years represented a golden era for Paynter and Dixon Industries. Projects spanned all facets of manufacturing, including aircraft, automobile, chemical, clothing, cosmetics, electrical, foods, glass, metallurgical, paint, pharmaceutical, plastics, radio and television.

Further funds were raised for expansion through listing on both the Sydney and Melbourne Stock Exchanges in 1958.

In 1961, the company completed a new warehouse and showroom for stevedoring services giant, Scruttons. The deal included taking possession of Scruttons’ former warehouse at 161 Clarence Street. Without delay, the address was converted into spacious new headquarters for the design and construction company.

Colin Lindsay recalls the first calculators to appear in the new digs. “These amazing machines could multiply, divide and draw on memory. They were the size of a printer … but I remember one very senior estimator saying they wouldn’t last!”

The late 60s and early 70s saw Australia gripped by high inflation which slowed down economic growth. Rising costs led to many manufacturers relocating their operations offshore. There was, however, a silver lining with the growth of transport infrastructure.

Paynter & Dixon pivoted with the changing needs of industrial clients, building super-sized warehouses, logistics and distribution centres. Master planning rose to prominence as the development of large sites required the foresight to plan and stage capital works over a timeframe spanning years.


Building techniques were also pioneered for the expanding transport industry, including specialised docks, integrated weigh bridge pits and tilt-slab construction.

Arguably, the introduction of international container trade to Australia proved the crowning achievement of this era. Paynter & Dixon’s critical role involved the design and construction of the first container terminal and depot.

Based in Fremantle (pictured) and opened in 1968 by the then-Premier of Western Australia, David Brand, the company worked around the clock to ensure the terminal was operational for the arrival of the world’s first fully cellular purpose-built container ship, also built in Australia.

Contracted by Seatainer Terminals Limited, Paynter & Dixon went on to build container terminals in NSW, Victoria and South Australia.

Further technical innovations followed, including sonar test facilities in Sydney, and a gamma irradiation facility for Ansell in Western Sydney.

Industrial giants

Australian Window Glass, Dandenong, Melbourne

The first drawn glass plant in the Southern Hemisphere covered an area equivalent to almost 14 FIFA football fields – 96,250 m2. The mega-structure was supported by roads, marshalling areas and car parks.

Austral Standard Cables, Liverpool, Sydney

Telegraph poles across the country were threaded with Austral’s phone lines. The new factory plant encompassed 71,250 m2 of floor area and was completed within 9 months.

Phillips Electrics, Sydney and Brisbane

The introduction of television in 1956 saw Phillips become a household name. The new Sydney CBD headquarters and exhibition centre integrated five additional buildings fronting Clarence and Kent Streets – 39,000m2  in total.

Lifesavers, Hawthorn, Melbourne

There were no less than 14 flavours being produced for the distinctive ‘O’ shaped lollies by 1958, prompting the confectionary giant to build new manufacturing, warehousing and administration.

Cadbury Schweppes complex, Tullamarine, Melbourne

Opening doors in 1975, the then largest soft drink factory south of the Equator churned out 360 million cans of soft drink per year. The latest refrigeration, canning, and processing equipment was installed within the 12-month construction window.

Worked flowed in across the sectors as Paynter & Dixon continued to design and construct hotels, public halls, schools and sport and recreational facilities.

This included ‘Hurstville Bowl’ in 1960 – Australia’s first fully automatic Tenpin Bowling Centre. A five-metre bowling pin was perched above the building, promoting the American craze to local leisure seekers.

The Sydney Morning Herald praised the technical precision: “The flatness of the lane itself must not vary in any part of its whole 60ft length by more than 140,000th of an inch.”

The pipeline of industrial projects continued throughout the 1970s. Legacy assured, Paynter & Dixon would once again embrace change with the dawn of a new decade…

Next article: New ownership leads the company into the modern era, from ground-breaking design prototypes, to wide-scale diversification and community support.