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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

III Australian Textiles - The 20th Century
i Technology and Development
ii Australian Wool Textile Research

IV Australian Textiles - To Date

V Acknowledgements



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Australian Textiles - The 20th Century

At the beginning of the 20th Century, there was a strong desire shared by many that Australia should process a large portion if not all of the home-grown greasy wool and export it in a manufactured state. Rallying under the slogan 'Australian goods for Australian people', Australian mills, which used only four per cent of the local clip in 1904, expanded this to nine per cent by 1909.

Counterbalancing this entrepreneurial drive was a prejudice expressed by many Australians against domestically manufactured products; this in turn had an adverse effect on the balance of payments, not to mention the employment figures. As we have noted already above, the industry had to contend with many disadvantages as compared with those in other parts of the world: great distances separated producers from their markets, employers were faced with higher wage bills and their employees enjoyed shorter working hours (Australia had introduced the 48-hour week), and there was no indigenous technological base. All these factors combined to make the path of the Australian manufacturer a very hard one.

The federation of the colonies in 1901, however, introduced a uniform customs tariff throughout the Commonwealth, and this in turn encouraged commerce thereby stimulating the wool-manufacturing industry. In 1909 Australian Woollen Mills was established in New South Wales, as was the Onkaparinga Woollen Company, in South Australia; in 1910, Australian Knitting Mills was formed in Melbourne, and in 1917, Yarra Falls Limited in the same city.

The military requirements of the First World War were, of course, a great boost to the industry. Almost all the wool produced during that era was purchased by the Government as part of the war effort. At the cessation of hostilities, there remained a vast stockpile of unsold wool, and in 1920, the British Australian Wool Realisation Association (BAWRA) was formed to dispose of the stockpiles held by the Australian growers. Around that time, in order to furnish employment for the soldiers returning from overseas, the Australian Government took active measures to promote secondary industries, which contributed to the establishment of textile mills in a number of regional centres. The total number of textile and garment manufactories in the Commonwealth soon climbed to 4575, with Victoria having the lion's share represented by 2087 installations. New South Wales had a total of 1832, South Australia 319, Queensland 252, Western Australia 178 and Tasmania had 89 factories.

A typical mill established at the time was Wangaratta Woollen Mills, in Victoria. The building measured 244 feet by 66 feet, and, because of its high glassed ceiling, it was described as 'lofty, light and airy'. As there was no electricity available in Wangaratta, it was necessary to construct a power house. The power house generated steam in two water boilers, rated at 250 H.P. each. The boilers, feed pumps, engine and condensing plant were made in Castlemaine, Victoria. Commenced in 1922, the factory was producing worsted knitting and weaving yarns by 1923, as well as supplying electricity to the local township. In 1926, the mill had returned its first profit of 1,700, for a turnover of 40,000. Confidence in the future was firm and plans to expand the operation by the addition of a scouring, carding and combing plant were being drawn up; this was supplemented by a dyeing and recombing plant in 1930.

Meanwhile, in New South Wales, Fred Burley, the founder of Berlei Ltd, affords a good example of the trends developing in the industry. Burley travelled to Europe and America to inspect the most modern factories and purchase the most up-to-date plant. He realised early that, to ensure a robust industry, close and detailed study of Australians' requirements was essential. The company established a research department, and, in conjunction with Sydney University, an anthropometrical survey of Australian women was initiated, in the course of which the measurements of more than 6000 women were taken.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Australian Knitting Mills, Melbourne; Australian Woollen Mills; Berlei Ltd; British Australian Wool Realisation Association (B.A.W.R.A.); Onkaparinga Woollen Company; University of Sydney; Wangaratta Woollen Mills; Yarra Falls Limited, Melbourne

People in Bright Sparcs - Burley, Fred

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 270 - 272, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher