Urban Decay; Dunlop Slazenger Factory

A modern day ruin brings with it, every bit of nostalgia and intrigued as an 1800 architectural wonder filled with stories of family and heartbreak, deceit and abandonment.  One such ruin at present (Feb 2014) still stands in Bowden Street, Alexandria in New South Wales, Australia – the old Dunlop/Slazenger factory, thought to have closed already some 20 years ago.

Opened in the late 1930’s, it served a dual purpose for production of shoes and sporting gear in one half of the factory and tyres the remaining half.

This urban decay has been the focus of attention for any photographer with even a slight inkling for anything abandoned, decaying, mould or rot infested.  Which I happily fall within and will forever kick myself for not making the trip, even 4 months earlier, where it was still somewhat accessible to anyone who cared to engage in what seemed like an obstacle course, armed with circuit and endurance training, scouting walks, barbed wire fencing, sidestepping pallets, heaving through large ‘pothole’-like puddles cased with years of sewage water and bacteria growth … just your regular Sunday outing, of course.

As appealing as all that seemed, this was also one of those times where I can now curse a knee that is in dire need of reconstruction and no way on this beautiful blue earth, was I capable of scouting walls or fences, without an ambulance en tow and the certainty of time in the emergency room.  Not to mention the very blindingly obvious fact that every conceivable access point had been barricaded, barred, welded or padlocked shut.  Okay, I was getting the ‘do not enter’ message loud and clear.  And just to reinforce that message, we (myself and my wonderful friend Glen, who agreed to accompany me to ensure my safety), and dare I say, probably was just as intrigued as me to enter the premises, got a stern talking to by the ‘supposed’ owner, who it seems does regular drive-by’s in the hope of catching such souls as myself trying to trespass.

So that was that.  I can at least walk away with a somewhat satisfying notion of ‘can’t say I didn’t try’, although not before we’d looked around a bit more, and after making sure, the owner had moved along, hopefully home. We hung around, and got a few pictures of the exterior and some much talked-about graffiti, while passing my camera through the bars to snap anything that was in view (not an easy task considering long exposure doesn’t work quite so well hand held). Fascinating to imagine what the interior rooms must look like;  eye candy deluxe. And another one of those times I thank Canon for producing certain model DSLR’s with a swivel LCD, enabling one to photography at impossible angles.

Even just this one small inconspicuous wall I was able to capture, shows the signs of what must be an amazing techni-coloured concrete jungle inside.

And of course, no derelict building is without some history, albeit slim pickings for this one.

Slazenger was founded in 1881 by a brothers Ralph and Albert Slazenger where the brand quickly became a leading manufacturer of sporting equipment for golf and tennis.  In 1902 Slazengers were appointed as the official tennis ball supplier to Wimbledon with the current deal set to run until 2015, where it remains one of the longest unbroken sporting sponsorships in history.

The surmise of Slazenger is largely due to technology and to some extent complacency. Back in the days when wooden tennis racquets held no peer, brands such as Slazenger and Dunlop were a dominant force in the world, but with the introduction of fiberglass, graphite and Kevlar, so many more brands have become available to consumers, giving them an extensive range of choice, Slazenger were slow to react to this new technology and could not re-gear their existing factories to produce the new materials and keep up with new trends.  And so tried to remarket their brand using quality as their selling feature, however this marketing direction failed to hold support with the public and the brand fell from grace.

In 1959, Ralph Slazenger Jr sold the family business to Dunlop Rubber who was in turn bought out by BTR plc in 1985 and formed a Sports Group, combining Slazenger with the Dunlop Sport branded goods.  In 1996, BTR sold Dunlop Sport for £300 million and a new company formed, known as Dunlop Slazenger, where it was again sold to Sports Direct International (SWI) in 2004 for £40 million, who in turn sold on the rights to the Slazenger Golf brand in Europe.

However with the purchase of Dunlop Slazenger by SWI did not come the global rights to the brand and they chose not to diversify the brands, thereby putting strain on their own resources and finances.

In  Australia and New Zealand, the Slazenger brand is owned and licensed by Pacific Brands, with full and exclusive rights to sell and distribute throughout those territories. From the early 2000s due to poor management sales plummeted. Rather than investing in the brand, the Slazenger management began downsizing staff numbers, closing branches, cutting back long standing sponsorship as well as stripping back costs elsewhere within the business. Despite these radical moves the Slazenger brand still ultimately offered no real return to Pacific Brands and in 2010/11 they sub-licensed it to Spartan Sports who had been operating in Australia since 2005 and is owned by Spartan Sports in Jal Andhar, India (established in 1954).

It seems those who have been fortunate enough over the years to access the factory to photograph have described it as one of eerie fascination.   Describing it as what looks like workers literally just up and left one day.  Leaving gates unlocked, files and paperwork still scattered on desks or floors. Filing cabinets left ajar.  Decrepit remains of the old wooden Slazenger tennis rackets remain scattered among the odd tennis balls.  And of course today, with so many who have passed through its hallways, temporarily or somewhat permanent, it now resembles a haven for drug pushers and the homeless.  A setting you’re more likely to come acroos in a gangster movie rather than a suburb away, as real as life.

It’s been a haven for professional and amateur photographers, wedding shoots, portrait photo shoots.  An urban gallery of colour strewn with graffiti from artists with immense talent, one full wall depicts a life size portrait of Heath Leger as the Joker from The Dark Knight.  Films have been shot within its walls – a maze of several stories encompassing staircases, boardrooms, safe rooms, toilets, storage.

Incredible images can be found on Google for those who were fortunate enough to still venture inside her walls over the years before all access points were shut.  Here you can see the real beauty of what remains and how time has degraded what once must’ve been a bustling environment.

In AbandonedUrban DecayPhotographyTags Ruth SpitzerAbandonedSlazengerDunlopForgotten

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