Bunning Brothers

History

Robert Bunning (1859-1936), timber merchant and sawmiller, was born in 1859 at Hackney, London. He was apprenticed as a carpenter, and in 1886 he and his brother Arthur arrived in Fremantle, and set up as building contractors.

By January next year they had won contracts for additions to the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum and for the Roebourne hospital. Robert became the driving force in the partnership which built the Weld Club (1892) and Trinity Congregational Church (1893) in Perth and the Coolgardie warden's quarters (1895). They claimed to have owned most of the buildings in Barrack Street, Perth, at one time.

A boom during 1896-97 in the export of jarrah turned Bunning's attention to timber. He bought his first sawmill at North Dandalup in 1897. Very little is known about this mill. By the early 1900s it concentrated on the development and expansion of sawmills and timber yards in the south-west of the state. It was cheaper and easier for Bunnings to buy up existing mills that had land concessions than establish their own.

Despite a constant shortage of capital Bunning established sawmills throughout the south-west, imported the first band-saw in WA to Lion Mill (now Mount Helena) and was the first to instal a timber-drying kiln. In 1907, the company of Bunning Brothers Limited was incorporated and their timber yards were established in Murray St Perth on what is now the David Jones department store site. He also imported a unique locomotive known as 'Dirty Mary' for use on steep grades, and was one of the first to use a tractor for log-hauling in the bush. In 1929 he leased Garden Island for a holiday resort but was defeated by the Depression.

In 1936 during a dinner to celebrate his fifty years of business in WA, Bunning collapsed and died while replying to a toast.

Bunnings Bros Pty Ltd went back to making bricks during the Second World War. They teamed with the rival Perth group Millars at the request of the federal Ministry of Munitions to became shipbuilders and built the small "snake" boats used by the famous Z force to land on Japanese-controlled territory in Asia.

Bunning Bros Pty Ltd rode the postwar housing boom to become the largest logging operators in Australia. In 1946, Bunnings built a workshop at Manjimup for maintaining mill equipment. It was the largest of its kind in the South West.

The company went public as Bunning Timber Holdings in 1952 but continued to trade as Bunning Bros. In the mid-1950s Bunning Bros diversified into hardware, initially to serve the trade but the company decided it could retail hardware in a similar way as supermarkets sold food. It opened its first retail store in West Perth in 1961 followed by the Bunnings' Super Centre at Albany in 1962. In 1968, the timber yards were relocated to Welshpool, and by 1970 had expanded into being one of the biggest producers of building materials in the State. In 1983, they bought out Millars (WA) Pty Ltd and, in 1990, the Alco Handyman hardware operations. Bunnings Limited was then bought out by Wesfarmers in 1994. The Bunnings name lives on in the more than 250 hardware stores across Australia, including Midland and Albany.

Lion Mill- Following the closure of the Hummerston mill and having gained substantial new timber leases, Robert Bunning's Perth Jarrah Mills purchased the site in 1905. Over the course of the next year purchased other mills to the north and north west of Lion Mill. Soon Bunning controlled timber concessions on land totalling over 30,000 acres to the north of the town and on this basis he built a new mill on a site a little to the north of the old mill site. Until they closed it in 1923, Robert and Arthur Bunning operated Lion Mill as their main mill in WA. In 1924, the townsite was re-named as Mt Helena and in the following year the Roads Board transferred its offices to the more central location of Mundaring.

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