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The History of Bullivants in Australia

William Munton Bullivant was an early innovator in the stranded wire cordage field, invented in the mid-19th century by German mining engineers in the Harz Mountains and gradually improved upon and stimulated by the Industrial Revolution.

Sometime after 1875 Bullivant formed his own wire rope manufacturing firm, Wm. Bullivant & Co, at Millwall, on the south bank of Thames estuary, near London.

A characteristic of the British wire rope market was that firms tended to be located in their specialist markets. For example roperies were located near the collieries and shipping yards they serviced and so Bullivants began to specialise in maritime and traction applications.

The Australian market for wire rope was relatively small by comparison. The high level of mineral exploitation from the gold rushes to later discoveries at Mt Lyell, Broken Hill, Mount Morgan and Kalgoorlie resulted in British firms establishing agents to service the market. Meanwhile Bullivant expanded his firm and took into partnership his four sons. Bullivant realised that his antipodean agents could never provide the same level of expertise and services as the home company. After a visit to Australia in 1891, Pelham Bullivant bought out the existing agency in Sydney (F.M. Mitchell & Co) and set up Bullivants Australia.

The role of the Bullivant’s Company was indicated by its location and the nature of its staff. Its position on Lower Kent Street close to the Darling Harbour wharves was convenient both for the storage of imported stock and as a base for the provision of shipping services, Bullivants traditional specialisation.

A newspaper advertisement from 1904 mentions mining and crane ropes, aerial ropeways, associated hardware and machinery blocks and tackle being available from the Sydney store.

By 1925 Bullivants had 126 documented customers ranging from BHP and its sub distributors to chandlers, municipal and electricity supply councils, sawmills and elevator installers.

Bullivants next strategic move in Australia was to join three other British wire rope makers and The Broken Hill Proprietary Co Ltd to establish a new entity call the Australian Wire Rope Works at Newcastle, adjacent to the existing iron and steel works. The AWR product range gradually expanded as the means of making more complex and high performance ropes became available. This was despite strong prejudice by British mine managers that the British product was best. By 1938 imports of all but the most specialist ropes had ceased. Bullivants net sales rose to $216,820 by this time and gross profits varied by product between 3.8 - 12.2%.

The maritime link was gradually weakening and soon other changes would alter Bullivants position as an independent BHP subsidiary.

Meanwhile, as part of an overall business strategy, AWI embarked upon an acquisition programme to consolidate its wire rope distribution activities. Bullivants bought out the owners of four companies which it had distribution connections, John Reid & Nephews Pty Ltd (Brisbane), Smits Splicing Services (Perth), Inglis Smith & Co (Melbourne) and R. R. Rex Pty Ltd (Tasmania). These actions meant that for the first time Bullivants had a firmly established distribution chain on a national basis.

Bullivants Pty Ltd retained its trading name until 1992 when owners BHP Steel Ltd changed its name to BHP Lifting Products Pty Ltd. In 1999 BHP Lifting Products was divested and purchased by Bullivants Pty Ltd, a company owned by RMBV Australia Pty Ltd.

In 2003 Bullivants achieved accreditation to ISO9001 and AS4801 further reinforcing their position as leaders in the lifting industry and showing their commitment to safe operations.

2004 saw the acquisition of Sling Rig who had an outstanding reputation for quality and service through its six locations. They were a perfect fit to the growing Bullivants footprint and gave broad exposure to new markets in Western Australia.

In 2006 Bullivants, through acquisition, became a part of the Wesfarmers group of companies and operates as a separate business within the Industrial Specialists Division.

Thanks to the legacy left by William Bullivant and all of the hard work that started over 120 years ago our customers can be assured that Bullivants are Safely Lifting Australia.

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