Kwinana bulk handling facility
C.B.H. had its origins in the misery caused by the Great Depression.
One of the biggest costs for farmers was the cost of bagging, transporting and storing their crops. Bags of wheat were hand sown, taken to a receival station by wagon or truck, weighed, manually stacked and then hauled manually on to trains. They were then taken to a port like Fremantle where they were re-weighted and re-stacked before being again manually loaded onto ships for export. All this extra handling cost money and if these costs could be reduced then profits during good years could be maximised and losses in bad years could at least be reduced.
Bulk handling of wheat seemed to be the solution and it had been tried in 1920 when Westralian Farmers Ltd. put funds into building silos and other infrastructure. Unfortunately the company did not succeed but the idea remained despite considerable opposition.
In order to get a bulk handling system to work there needed to be proper storage facilities across the wheat growing areas, rolling stock on the railways had to be adapted and port facilities constructed to hold the grain and transfer it to ships. Most importantly of all any large scale bulk handling had to be done in close co-operation with the farmers who would supply the grain.
In the 1930-31 growing season there was a bumper harvest of wheat grown but world prices were falling and some growers got less for that crop than they had a few years earlier for crops only 25% the size. In 1931 the Farmers Debt Adjustment Act was introduced to keep farmers who were technically bankrupt, working their land under close supervision from their creditors.
John Thompson, the General Manager for Wesfarmers experimented with different solutions for storing grain and the design he eventually came up with was still basically the same right up in to the modern era. A simple structure of corrugated iron sheets sloping outward and supported by a timber framework became the basis for bulk storage bins.
A bucket elevator was introduced to get the grain into the bins and a partially mechanised shovel (called the Clarke shovel) was developed to shift grain around inside the storage facilities.
The first storage bins were constructed at Wyalkatchem, Benjabbering, Korrelocking, Nembudding, Yelbeni and Trayning by Wesfarmers. Each of the bins were designed to hold 14,000 tonnes of wheat and 200 flat top railway carriages were converted to hold loose grain. Finally extra storage facilities were built at Fremantle.
C.B.H. was formally registered in 1933 with the idea that all startup costs would be paid off and that control of the co-operative would then be handed to the growers. (This occurred 10 years later in 1943.)
In 1935 a Royal Commission was held into bulk handling and despite heated opposition from some sectors it found in favour of bulk handling and recommended that concrete silos be constructed at Fremantle.
During its first year of operation C.B.H. built 53 bulk receival bins and almost 12 million bushels of wheat were received. By 1941 there were 234 bins across the wheat belt.
In 1959-60 a period of 'rationalisation' occurred when the number of bins was reduced from 316 to 200. The surviving bins were increased in size to accommodate the expected extra crops.
In 1972 the Kwinana grain handling facility was developed and was at the time the largest bulk handling complex in the world. It is able to store 912,000 tonnes and can load ships at the rate of 5,000 tonnes an hour.
Despite the lack of proper accommodation and facilities for its workers in the early days, C.B.H. managed to engender the kind of employee loyalty and respect that companies can only dream about today. The company continues to develop and expand its operations and today handles 11 different types of grain.
The C.B.H. grain terminal at Kwinana