Text: Chris Chardon
Images: MLDHS, Trove
Airflow Refrigeration Ltd. (refrigeration engineers) had premises situated on the disused Glenelg-North terrace railway line and facing South Road at Mile End South. The property was purchased in 1938. The manager of Airflow Ltd. was Mr. Benno Henry Rohde, known as Ben.
However in July 1948 it was proposed to build an electric rail service to Glenelg along the old railway line but on a portion of it was a large brick building owned by Airflow Refrigeration Ltd.1 It appears that the plan was not implemented but the proposal, as will be seen below, may have caused management of Airflow to reconsider its business plan.
In September 1950 came news of an invention being possibly the first of its kind in the world:-
“A combination refrigerator and dining table has been designed, and made in Adelaide. The inventor, Mr. B. H. Rohde, built a refrigerator into a dining table, with special space for air-conditioning salads and fruit under glass. Diners can just lift a little door and lift out the cold, fresh eats. There are also power points for toaster and hot water jug and a hotplate for keeping the tea or coffee pot warm. Immediately construction of the refrigerator-table was finished yesterday at Airflow Refrigeration Ltd., Mile End South, where Mr. Rohde is managing director, it was whisked along to the show and put on display in Centennial Hall. Mr. A. R. Heinemann, another director, told me that so far as he knew the device was the first of its kind in the world.”2
In February 1951 Mr. Rohde decided to establish a new company. “New company BHR Ltd., engineers, has been incorporated in Adelaide with nominal capital of £50,000. Directors are Messrs. B. H. Rohde, and M. M. Rohde.”3
Mr Rohde was living in the Aldgate Valley at the time and became aware of a potential site for construction of a factory. It was on the Piccadilly Road in Crafers. In February 1949 the land which he decided to buy was owned by Martha Fewster, a widow.4 The land consisted of a little over seven acres. Martha died in January 1951 and ownership of the land was transferred to Gordon Fewster of Crafers, a bootmaker as the executor of Martha’s will.
On 16th March 1951 the land was sold to B. H. R. Ltd (Better Home Refrigeration and also the initials of the owner of the company Benno H. Rohde). The land is at what is now no. 8 Piccadilly Road. Construction of the refrigeration factory commenced soon after. A newspaper article explained what was planned and the logic behind building a factory in Crafers:-
“NEW FACTORY FOR CRAFERS
Many hills residents employed in Adelaide factories would like to work nearer their homes, a Mile End factory chief believes. So he’s putting up a 15,000 sq. ft. plant at Crafers to make table model refrigerators. Mr. B. H. Rohde, of Airflow Refrigeration Ltd., decided on a decentralisation move when he needed a new plant to make a popular line of refrigerators built into dining-room tables. He had designed these “thermally controlled tables” himself. The factory has frontages to the Summertown and Mount Barker roads. Mr. A. R. Heinemann, of Airflow Refrigeration, said reinforced concrete blocks, 4 ft. by 3 ft. 6 in., were being used for cavity walls at the new factory. A separate company, BHR Ltd., will control the Crafers enterprise. The initials are those of Mr. Rohde, but he says they also stand for Better Home Refrigeration Ltd. Mr. Rohde lives at Aldgate Valley, so the location will suit him. The business at Mile End is on the old North terrace Glenelg railway, route, and may later have to be demolished.”5
Meanwhile demand for the Dina~Fridge was growing. A newspaper article in September 1952 reported:-
Lack of space compelled an Adelaide man, who did not know where to put the refrigerator when remodelling his kitchen, to invent a refrigerated table. He is Mr. B. H. Rohde, of Hilton. Mr. Rohde has applied for world patents. He said yesterday that negotiations were going ahead or supplying refrigerated tables direct to India. Africa and Pakistan, One had been sent to Dundee, in Scotland, for inspection by a firm of refrigeration engineers, who hoped to manufacture them under licence by their subsidiary companies in six other countries, including the US. The tables are now being built in a recently constructed factory at Crafers.”6
“Following World War II there was a building boom that resulted in a shortage of labour and building materials. Clay bricks were difficult to obtain and alternative materials were sought – Mount Gambier stone and cement bricks were two options and Gorebats were another material that found some favour.”7 A Gorebat is a hollow rectangular concrete block, approximately 1m x 800mm x 250mm in dimension. The B. H. R. Ltd factory was built of Gorebats, as was the Aldgate Memorial hall, Cherry Gardens Memorial hall, the Echunga hall and several other buildings.“
In 1953 production of the Dina~Fridge and other white goods were in full production at the Crafers plant. The Dina~Fridge was advertised for sale in interstate and country newspapers throughout South Australia and Australia. There were several agents throughout South Australia and the fridge was displayed at the Adelaide and country shows.
Ben Rohde’s son, Brian William Thomas Rohde, was a manager there and with Airflow later.
Although B. H. R. Ltd. and Airflow Refrigeration Ltd. were separate companies both worked together:-
“Four refrigeration firms are close to one another along South road and round into Deacon avenue, Richmond. First of the four to move in there was Airflow Refrigeration Ltd., which opened its present plant in 1938. It used to be in William street. An associate company, B.H.R. Ltd., under the same managing director, Mr. B. H. Rohde, has a manufacturing plant at Crafers. A combination refrigerator and dining table is made at Crafers and distributed from the South road establishment, where upright refrigerators-including a new model designed for built-in kitchens-are made.”8
The Crafers plant was producing other novel household items:-
From The Advertiser, 24th December 1953
“A modern wall unit for kitchens, which combines refrigerator, work table and clothes drier has been manufactured in South Australia. Designed by Mr. B. H. Rohde, of Stirling, it is similar in appearance to the streamlined kitchen furniture popular in American homes. The keynote of the whole unit is compactness and simplicity.
“Refrigerator In New Kitchen Unit Designed Here
“At one end the unit top lifts to reveal a drying compartment. It is fitted with a sliding wooden rack, fan, heating element and metal tray. A special covering of clear plastic over the wooden drying rungs protects clothes from any natural wood oils. At the other end of the unit the top opens to give access to a six and a half cubic foot refrigerator. Equipped with ice cream freezer, crisper and three chromium-plated trays the whole compartment is lined with stainless steel. The refrigerator may also be opened from the front. For securing minting and slicing machines and preparing food, a hinged utility shelf (which drops back flat into the side of the unit when not in use) is attached to the front. Overall measurements of the unit are 2ft. 10 in. by 5ft. 8 in. by 1 ft. 9 in. wide. The unit costs £212 10/-.”9
By early 1954 the Mr. and Mrs. Rohde had taken up residence in Glenside Road, Stirling. It seems that management of the two companies appreciated the employees who worked for them. Evidence of this appeared in the press in December 1954:-
“Christmas Entertainment at Aldgate.
“The management of (B. H. R.) Ltd., Crafers and Airflow Refrigerators Ltd., Mile End entertained the employees their wives and children in the Aldgate Hall. A variety programme was produced by the Aldgate Variety Company and the first half concluded with two carols being sung followed by a Christmas Sketch by Molly Radbone and Geoffrey Knight.
“Father Christmas distributed toys to all the children from the traditional Christmas Tree, which was artistically decorated. After a short interval the Variety Co. presented a Musical Comedy, “The Swiss Chalet“
“At the conclusion, Mr. Palmer, Manager of Airflow, thanked the Company on behalf of the audience. Mr. Geoffrey Knight responded and said it had been a pleasure, and conveyed season’s greetings.
“Mr. Barnes, an employee of Crafers factory spoke words of appreciation to Mr. Rohde (Chairman of Directors) for what he had done for the employees during the year and then made a presentation. Mr. Rohde suitably responded and thanked the whole of his staff for their co-operation; he also included the Variety Co. in his remarks and extended Christmas greetings to all. A most delicious supper was served.
“The hall was decorated for the festive season, which added to the spirit that prevailed during the whole evening. Mrs. Rohde and Molly Radbone were responsible for the lovely decorations, which included streamers Christmas stockings bells, horse shoes, candles, tiny Christmas trees, holly, pine cones, stars and numerous other trinkets.”10
It is unclear when production ceased at the Crafers plant but it is thought to have been in the mid 1960s. Jack Benbow operated an engineering workshop at Parkside and as his business grew more space was required. The solution was to open another engineering workshop (which is now Atelier Cafe) in the premises at the rear of the Crafers service station.
The late Bill Davey senior, a long-time employee of Jack Benbow, who had worked at Parkside since he was a teenager, was foreman of the Crafers
workshop. Jack’s earthmoving business managed by his son-in-law was based in the vacated Dina~Fridge building. Interestingly there was no lease registered on the Certificate of Title.
In November 1964 the Commissioner of Highways acquired a little more than seven acres of B.H.R.s land. The land was taken as part of the South Eastern Freeway project. New Certificates of Title 3428/134 and 135 were created. In December 1980 B.H.R. Ltd sold its remaining interests in the property, approximately one acre. In 2020 three businesses are housed in the factory building – Q Glass, Crafers Auto Service and Active Education.
- News, Adelaide, Wednesday 28 July 1948
- News, Adelaide, 13 September 1950
- News, Adelaide, 22 February 1951
- Certificate of Title 2011/57
- News, Adelaide, Wednesday 17 October 1951
- Advertiser, Adelaide, 17 September 1952
- Burnside Historical Society December 2009 Newsletter, Volume 29. No 4 on page 7
- News, Adelaide, 1 December 1953
- Advertiser, Adelaide, Thursday 18 February 1954
- Mount Barker Courier and Onkaparinga and Gumeracha Advertiser, Wednesday 22 December 1954
Do you have memories of this building, it’s owners or people who worked there or have you ever seen a “Dina Fridge” ? Contact us at email@example.com or drop into the History Centre at the Coventry Library, 63 Mount Barker Road, Stirling.