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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)

As well as these 'manufactories' and private activity in early colonists' homes, in the course of time more private mills sprang up. One of the earliest was established in 1832 at Blackwattle Bay, Sydney; it manufactured the 'finest as well as the coarsest cloths'. In 1838 there were seven woollen mills in New South Wales and by 1841 most people in the colony were dressed in tweeds made at Parramatta. The output of woollen cloth reached 235,000 yards per annum in 1852, and when the product reached England
it received such high recommendation that Bradford manufacturers began producing a tweed which they called Parramatta cloth.

A plethora of improved water -and steam-powered equipment based on the discoveries of Arkwright and others, as described in the previous section, was being introduced in the overseas factories and it was only a matter of time before Australian manufacturers began using similar machines. There is no clear indication, however, of which mill introduced the first 'automated' machines. Certainly, by the 1850s when the gold rush began some mills were already using powered spinning and weaving.

The production of tweeds increased year by year until 1851, when the diversion of manpower to goldfields had a disastrous effect on the industry. Despite these setbacks there were still five mills in operation in New South Wales in 1860, and in 1862, the Bowenfells mill was re-opened after having been closed in the 1850s. Among the mills that had managed to survive was the one founded by Thomas Barker in 1852; this particular mill was taken over by John Vicars in 1871. This concern was moved to Marrickville and was eventually to become one of the largest woollen mills in the country, until more recently (1980s) incorporated into the Macquarie Worsteds Group.

New South Wales was not the only place where cloth was produced. The Waverley Woollen Mill at Distillery Creek, near Launceston, was established in 1873 and won the bonus of 1,000 offered by the Tasmanian Government for the first thousand pounds worth of woollen goods manufactured in the colony from wool of native growth.

A considerable quantity of machinery was used at the Waverley Mill, including carding engines and self-acting mules for spinning as well as power looms; the power to drive the machines was derived from an American turbine, or water-wheel.

Around the same time as Tasmania won its many medals, Queensland made a conspicuous show of its cloths as well as its wools at the Exhibition of London. Justly proud of its growth in pastoral wealth, in spite of occasional droughts, and anxious to show that the artisans of the town were as much heeded as the squatters by Parliament, the colony surprised those visitors who supposed Queensland to be a region inhabited by bushmen and diggers.

The early years of Victoria were devoted to sheep and cattle, leaving the townships to function merely as depots of supplies for the squatters. When gold fever broke out, the few industries that had made a start were ruined by the high rate of wages. Merchants had to rely on England and America almost exclusively for their wares. When the gold rush subsided, mutterings of discontent grew amongst the populace bemoaning the lack of employment opportunities. As towns grew more rapidly than employment opportunities for the inhabitants, a demand was created for local manufactories to be established.

The system that was widely lauded was based on the doctrine of protectionism, similar to the system in operation around that time in America, which in turn was based on a still older equivalent English system. Interminable debates about the merits and drawbacks of protectionism ensued; similar arguments relating to the doctrine, propounded by vested interests of diverse persuasions, still can be heard at regular intervals to this day.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Macquarie Worsteds Group; Waverley Woollen Mill, Distillery Creek Launceston

People in Bright Sparcs - Vicars, John

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 264 - 266, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher