Penshurst Flax Mill (continued)

The Argus Saturday 17 January 1942

Flax Deliveries Penshurst – Large quantities of flax are being received at the depot on the Recreation Reserve recently opened by the Commonwealth Flax Production Committee, and indications point to an expansion of the industry.

Camperdown Chronicle (Vic), Tuesday 26 May 1942

Flax Industry Feeling Labour Shortage - Volunteers to the Rescue.

The labour problem is becoming very acute in the flax industry in Victoria. Certain exemptions are permitted by the Government, but these are not sufficient to enable the work to be done without the aid of volunteers. Last week, Mr G. Williams, manager of Terang flax mill, with the secretary of the flax production committee, Mr Philbeck, visited Lake Bolac, Lismore, and Strathkellar and the seeding plant at Penshurst, their aim being to try and organise a drive for increased labour.

V.D.C. Helps at Terang

The position at Terang mill is not as difficult as, during last week, some extra labour was secured and valuable assistance was given by the V.D.C. But there is urgent need for more help to get the straw up as quickly as possible, as there are about 200 tons to lift.

Hamilton Volunteers

At Hamilton, there were a number of volunteers to go out and do "gating" and picking up, including one of the big drapery employers, who offered his services from 3 a.m. to 2 p.m. In one place, 20 volunteers were obtained, and by broadcast, an effort was made to get boys and girls to give a hand to get the flax off the ground, which was very wet.

Used In Every Arm of Services

While at Lismore, the visitors heard Mr. Lee, who is on loan from the Flax Production Committee, give a talk and he showed a very fine film dealing with the flax industry, which it is hoped to have shown at Terang as early as possible.

Flax is very necessary for war equipment and the demand is very great. Practically every arm of the services requires flax. It is a part of every soldier’s gear, for parachutes, and for fire fighting in war. Many of the hoses for warships are now being made in Australia.

The Argus Tuesday 14th July 1942

Farewell Present Penshurst

Before he left Penshurst Mr W. Gye, who has been manager of the flax mill since its establishment 6 months ago, was bidden farewell at a public social and presented with a wallet of notes. His successor is Mr Bunce.

Camperdown Chronicle (Vic), Tuesday 26 January 1943

Machinery Will Revolutionize Flax Industry

Successful Experiments at Lismore Are Unique to world. Experts Attend Growers Meeting

Experiments in the mechanised harvesting of flax, which have been made at Lismore, promise to revolutionise the industry and place Australia to the fore as a flax producing country. Flax growers and factory managers from all parts of the Western District heard at Lismore, on Friday night, how these experiments will do away with the primitive methods hitherto used throughout the world and effect an enormous saving in labour and costs. Lismore has the honour of being the only place in the world, where machinery of this type has been used.

Men Responsible

The meeting was attended by some of the men responsible for this unique experiment—the chairman of the Flax Production Committee (Mr J. A. Steven son), its research officer (Dr. I. F. Phipps), mill technologist (Mr A. H. Prageur) and chief agricultural officer (Mr A A.Lee). Also present were the president of the Victorian Flax Growers' Association (Mr C. H.McDonald, of Irrewarra), the Commonwealth Inspector of Mills (Mr H. Clarke) and managers of the following mills: Messrs E. Cummins (Lismore), G. Williams (Terang), C. Clark (Penshurst), P. J. Riggail (Strathkellar), Donald (Winchelsea), J. Linton (Lake Bolac), E. Howard (Colac), J.Ritchie (Ballarat).

The president of Lismore Flax Growers' Association (Mr. T. Grimwade), on whose property the machinery was tried for the first time, presided and also present was the secretary (Mr J. Oman).

Lismore’s Wonderful Progress

Mr Stevenson congratulated Lismore on the wonderful progress it had made with flax production. The mill had started in a very modest way with a deseeding depot, which was simply an alteration to the showground buildings, the intention being to send the little flax then grown elsewhere for de-scutching. The active Lismore landowners had, however, been determined to do better. In its second year of flax growing, Lismore had produced 2300 acres, which was one of the biggest crops for any individual district and would harvest 3000 tons of very high quality flax. The faith of the Flax Growers' Committee in the district would be shown by the buildings to be erected at Lismore.

The Argus Saturday 13th February 1943

A Lorry Load of Singing Girls is a Township Memory

Working in the Flax Fields is a New and Pleasant Experience to City Girls

The war has brought the country to the city much and often, but city folk, too, are learning the lessons the country has to teach, and, in the main, are liking what they learn.


As one of a group of 13 who went a-flaxing in the Christmas holidays, I can speak with authority and insight of the work its hardships, joys, and benefits.

My locality, Penshurst, proved a very happy one, both in regard to working conditions and in its surroundings. To be billeted at the hotels instead of fending for ourselves in makeshift quarters was a very good idea we thought. To be driven to our paddock and home again in a genuine country lorry met with everyone's approval. To find that the people of the village liked us and admired us for working cheered us greatly; while to find ourselves in a country that pleased the eye with its little hills and distant rugged mountains gave us great satisfaction and contentment.

Like so many others, our ideas about this important flax industry were quite vague. We are now better informed. Indeed, we have so much knowledge at our fingertips that you have but to ask one question to receive 6 answers. We know that after the farmer has done his work in growing, harvesting, and carting his crop of flax, there still remain many processes to be gone through before it is finally turned into linen, kitbags etc. We know that the little round seed boxes on the end of the long thin stalks contain linseed, and that these are removed from the flax before it goes out to the field again.

We saw the huge stacks of flax in the showgrounds (now the headquarters for the Penshurst flax industry), the majority looking like haystacks in colour and shape, while 2 or 3 were a dirty grey, showing that the flax in these stacks had been through the process known as retting or rotting, and was ready for the next process.

From our paddock where we worked at spreading out the sheaves we saw every day the lorry coming down the long road from the showground with its load of flax, and we watched as the driver pitched, the sheaves in rows over our paddock. Sometimes we helped in this job.

It was fun to drive old Kate (horse) over the bumpy ground when the lorry was empty, and several of us tried our hands at driving back to the township after work. Sometimes a very zigzag course was taken and once old Kate caused surprise and consternation by shying at a harmless cow; and once she started off before we were all ready, and Eileen dropped neatly off the back.

To those who had been long in the city spent, accustomed to the rattling rush of train or car, this sudden change into country life, with its slow tempo and clean freshness, was very pleasant. It was fresh and lovely there in the early morning open paddocks, clusters of pines, and the clear blue mounts of the Grampians range on the horizon. We heard the good morning call of the magpies and the song of the little larks as they flew straight upwards from the ground.

Our work was the spreading out of the sheaves of flax in long rows on the ground. And after a few days of this our Flax Workers' Song gradually evolved to the tune of "Over the Sea to Skye":

"Stretch and throw, heads bent low,

Down the rows we go.

Pitching our sheaves with many a heave,

Endless rows unfold.

Sunshine above, birds warbling sweet,

Hours go slowly by.

Shades of blues, softest of hues,

Colour the summer skies.

Sing me a flax workers' song,

Sing me a song, a flax workers' song,

Sing me a song for aye."

The way to do the job is first pick up your sheaf, cut the twine round the middle, and tuck this in your belt, then give a gentle throw right and left so that half the flax spreads one way and half the other; then, bending down straighten the stalks so that they lie straight in the line.

We soon found that this purely mechanical toil allowed thoughts to wander, ideas to come forth, and many interesting conversations to eventuate. Our discussions on the flax field took us to realms of music, art, philosophy, and travel. Song and laughter, too, could be heard daily by the passerby. We were a happy group.

Perhaps the most vivid impression we have left with the people of Penshurst is that of a lorry-load of singing girls on the homeward trek at 5.30pm jogging slowly down the main street, clad in overalls, slacks, jodhpurs, hats, bright blouses, and fly nets.

Note: Miss Lonie noted in her story that the Showgrounds was the headquarters of the Flax Mill and this was where the stacks were. It is the first time and only time anyone has mentioned this location.

The Penshurst Flax Growers Association was formed on Saturday the 20th February 1943 after a meeting which was held at the Town Hall

Those nominated were;

President - Mr W Kriewoldt

Vice Presidents - E E Huf and W C Gillert

Secretary - J Burow

Committee - A Burow, J Huf, and E Koenig.

Auditor - N Alexander

Treasurer - This position was combined with the Secretary - J Burow.

The Members for 1943 were;

G White - Woolsthorpe. Percy Huf - Croxton East. B Schultz - Penshurst. E Tischler - Caramut. E E Huf - Tabor. T Tischler - Caramut.                E Koenig - Penshurst. J Koenig - Penshurst. J Huf - Croxton East. L Burger - Penshurst. B Burger - Caramut. C Gellert - Tabor.                            W Kiewoldt - Minhamite. A Burow - Penshurst. J Burow - Penshurst. A Mirtschin - Penshurst. Edmund Rentsch - Tabor. A Mirtschin - Penshurst.  P Linke - Penshurst. P Fry - Penshurst. E Nagorka - Yatchaw. P E Menzel - Yatchaw. McIntyre - Hamilton.

The Growers Committee was involved with looking after the interests of its members and lobbying the various Government Departments for better outcomes for the growers.

Continued page 3

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