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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 5

I 1788 - State Of The Art In Textile Technology

II Australian Textiles - The Early Days
i Wool Fabric Manufacture
ii Cotton and Flax
iii The 19th Century - Automation Accelerated in Textile Technology

III Australian Textiles - The 20th Century

IV Australian Textiles - To Date

V Acknowledgements



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Wool Fabric Manufacture (continued)

Protectionism, though opposed by the merchants, officials and squatters, was promoted with great vigour by the town workers and farmers; finally, the Parliament of the day initiated a policy of bonuses and duties under which industries multiplied in Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania and Queensland.

The outcome, in Victoria, was the establishment of many flourishing workshops for the manufacture of clothing, employing thousands of artisans, particularly young females, in Melbourne alone. This was followed, initially at Geelong, by factories to manufacture the cloths to supply the local sewing machines.

The first Victorian woollen mill -the Victoria Woollen and Cloth Manufacturing Co. -was established in Geelong, where work was done by hand loom as well as by steam power. Other mills in that city were the Barwon, the Albion and the Union. These establishments employed about 600 operatives. Ballarat had the Woollen Cloth Company and the Ballarat Woollen Company; Castlemaine had one woollen mill.

South Australia began manufacturing late. As a wheat-raising, copper-mining and wool-growing colony, its townships remained comparatively under-populated. With the passing of protectionist legislation, however, Lobethal mills, situated in the Adelaide hills, came into being.

The problems experienced, even in the 1860s, in establishing a wool-processing mill can be seen from some of the mistakes made and obstacles overcome in setting up the Victoria mill at Geelong.[3] The economics were sound, on paper -theoretically Australian wool could be converted locally into cloth at a saving of sixpence per yard on the manufactured article.

Things did not go well, however. The building was constructed before the machinery arrived, and then was found to be 'at least half the size' required to accommodate the equipment, and a new mill had to be built. English manufacturers were totally unco-operative and even obstructive, as they saw the venture as being in direct competition. In the first very difficult years (1870s), the mill also had to face severe import competition from unscrupulous importers who deliberately created a glut in the woollen cloth market, thus forcing the Victoria's prices down to cost level and lower.

By this time period, automation was beginning to enter all the processing sections in Australia. Thus, in scouring the wool was soaked for 10 minutes or so in large vats of hot water containing alkali and then carried on an endless belt through rollers which squeezed out the liquor. It was then received on a revolving fan and thrown into another large tank of clear cold water. From there it was fed through another pair of rollers, and dried, usually in a drying room with a latticed floor situated above the steam boilers.

Most of the first 'textile' patents taken out in both N.S.W. and Victoria related to wool washing[4] either on the sheep at the farm, which was common practice then, or for improved systems of transport of wool through the scour vats (ammonia and 'magic' soap) or between the scour and rinse vats.

Bearing in mind the population of Australia, the lack of trained people and the dominance of English manufacturing, it is not surprising that, during the 19th Century, there is no evidence of significant Australian contribution to wool textile technology. Other than in machines such as that described above, the period was one of establishment of industry in the face of severe obstacles: lack of expertise; an obstructive 'home' government and hostile 'home' textile industry; a very small population, and, of course, isolation from the mainstream of innovation in Europe and America. This century saw major textile development: the introduction of ring-spinning; mechanised combing; precision-built powered looms; synthetic dyes, but although these developments eventually reached Australia, it was usually many years after their penetration into the mills in Britain.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Albion Mill; Ballarat Woollen Company; Barwon Mill; Lobethal Mills; Union Mill; Victoria Woollen and Cloth Manufacturing Co.; Woollen Cloth Company

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 266 - 267, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher