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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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Cotton and Flax

While the wool-growing industry, encouraged by the ready availability of raw fibre, developed rapidly during the 19th Century, the story of the cotton and flax industries was not so good. Efforts at cotton growing were made from the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788. It was planted in the Sydney area, but did not flourish owing to the climate. Later efforts proved a little more successful, but it was not until the outbreak of the American Civil War that substantial production was achieved; it reached a peak in 1871, with exports to England in the vicinity of 8 million Ibs.

By 1887, however, due to a crash in world prices, production had virtually ceased, and the industry was to languish for a long time.

In an effort to bolster the afflicted industry, a bonus of 5,000 was offered to the first Australian manufacturer of cotton goods by the Government of Queensland. This resulted in the establishment of a mill at Ipswich. However, in the face of stiff competition from low-cost fabrics imported from overseas, the locally manufactured goods were unable to compete and the mill at Ipswich closed its doors in 1897.

Further efforts were made to encourage cotton growing through bounties, and another mill -Joyce Brothers, Ipswich -manufactured sacking and stockinette used for the protection of banana plants. In 1912, the Commonwealth ceased to provide protection and the firm was forced to shut the mill.

While, clearly, sectors of Australia were suitable for cotton growing, it was difficult to compete in labour costs with cotton producers in China and India. The further development of cotton growing had to await the development of mechanical pickers and a substantial domestic spinning industry to buy the crop. It was to be well into the 1970s, before raw-cotton would become a major export.

Likewise, efforts were made in all colonies to cultivate flax, but although areas, e.g. Cowra and Glen Innes districts of N.S.W, were found to be suitable, economics were negative. Firstly, harvesting entailed too much labour; secondly, there were no convenient mills for scutching; and finally, there were no convenient markets. It was only in times of war, and shortly afterwards, that these factors were negated by demand for products such as cordite, as well as cutbacks in imports of domestic clothing. Flax processors were established in both wars, and continued to manufacture for periods after the wars. As soon as there was full exposure to the international market, however, both flax growing and processing here virtually ceased.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Joyce Brothers, Ipswich

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© 1988 Print Edition page 268, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher