Penshurst Flax Mill to close

Free Press (Penshurst Vic) 23rd July 1952

FLAX MILL TO CLOSE NEXT WEEK


Employees of the Commonwealth Flax Mill at Penshurst have received notices of dismissal as from Friday, August 3rd, the Mill to close that day.

Established as a war-time necessity, the Mill has functioned for 10 years and provided the only large-scale labour demand in the history of the township. In full production at the end of the war, between 50 and 60 persons were on full-time employment at the mill. Dwindling as the years have since passed staff at present totals 16. Of these, five are girls. Decision of the Flax Production Committee to close the Penshurst and several other mills and concentrate production of flax fibre at a few mills has been known for some time. That Penshurst has to be one of the mills to go by the board in favour of nearby Strathkellar is regretted by all with the welfare of the district at heart.

The mill is the most modern of its kind in Victoria, with the one thing lacking—water retting tanks. The new mill was only completed at the end of the war and is well-equipped for scutching, de-seeding and administration.

Ability of the local staff has never been open to question and when the necessity has arisen, through illness, local manager ship has acted in an apparently capable manner.

Two of the dismissed men are employees over 60 years of age who have over eight years of service. These two receive long service leave, which it is understood, consists of three months leave on full pay.

The five girls simply lose employment.

Remaining men are practically in the same position. Four positions are available at Strathkellar mill—if they find their own transport.

To what use the large buildings will be put has not been indicated except for a statement by Mr Weigall when addressing a meeting of flax growers at Penshurst some time ago. As representative of the Flax Production Committee, he then said that the buildings and plant would be retained intact in case again required for flax. He also stated at the same meeting that all staff would be retained and transported daily to and from Strathkellar mill. As the latter statement has apparently come under review in recent months as a result of changing economic conditions, it seems feasible to assume that a changed verdict will be arrived at in regard to buildings.


Free Press (Penshurst Vic) 6th August 1952

FINAL DAYS OF FLAX MILL OPERATIONS

The Commonwealth Flax Mill at Penshurst is in the closing stages lease of operations having been extended three or four days by trucking operations to clear production of fibre chaff etc.

Seven of the men on the staff are transferring to the Strathkellar Mill and will probably start there on Monday next. These include Mr E. Mirtschin who has the longest period of service at the Penshurst Mill. He has been with the Mill since its inception 10 years ago and takes a fortnight's holiday before going to Strathkellar. Present intentions are that the Mill remains intact with a caretaker in charge.

WEIGHBRIDGE ONLY ONE IN AREA

Apart from the loss of the industry to the township, the closing of the Mill is going to mean the loss of the only recognised official weighbridge in the district unless some arrangements can be made to have the caretaker operate it or alternatively that the Shire Council lease it. The bridge has come in for considerable use, particularly in harvest time by farmers trucking produce by rail or selling about the township to say nothing of the convenience to smaller users who would otherwise have to go to Hamilton to even have a car weighed. Charges have been 1/- to two ton with 6d for each additional ton.

Negotiations for its continued operation would probably only be entertained by an approach from the Shire.

Mobirise

Free Press (Penshurst Vic.) 10 September 1952

FLAX MILL WEIGHBRIDGE

LIKELY TO BE AVAILABLE FOR USE UNDER SHIRE DIRECTION


Recognising the need of weighbridge facilities in the district, the Mount Rouse Shire Council has contacted the Flax Production Committee with a view to having the weighbridge at the Commonwealth Flax Mill made available for public use. Cr. E. Schramm supplies the information that the Flax Production Committee would be prepared to hire the weighbridge to the Council on the understanding that the Council would be responsible for the conduct of the bridge and would provide a weighbridge attendant. No objection would be raised to the caretaker, who is on part time duty with the Committee, being engaged as attendant during his off hours; this being a matter for negotiation between the Council and Mr McGregor. A reasonable rental to cover cost of maintenance of the bridge was suggested. Further steps will be taken at the Shire Council meeting to get the weighbridge operating and Cr. Schramm does not see any obstacles in the way. He considers the Flax Production Committee's attitude to be one of co-operation.

Border Watch (Mount Gambier) Thursday 9 December 1954.

Flax Mill Sold For £8000


After being closed for the past two years, the Penshurst flax mill was sold by auction in numerous lots last week for approximately £8,000. The principal lot, the 20 acres of mill property, was purchased by a district grazier for £100 an
acre. The mill was closed about two years ago, after having been in production for 10 years. Some flax is still grown in the Penshurst district, but crops are taken to the Strathkellar mill for processing.

Finish

Sadly for the people of Penshurst the Flax Mill closed and with it a major source of income for the town. Who was to blame? Obviously WW2 had ended and the British Empire was trying to pay its enormous debt legacy. The beginning of the Korean War, (also known as a “Police Action”) put a spark of hope into the Flax Industry but it was only a relative small war. After two years and 17 days of fighting the UN and North Korea had finally negotiated an agreement to suspend hostilities on 27 July 1953. Out of 17,000 Australians who served in Korea, casualties numbered more than 1,500, of whom 339 were killed.

We have seen the letter from Mr M C Limb and his scathing attack on the Flax Production Committee. It would appear at face value that the Committee was responsible for its own downfall.

Mistakes were made, and the question has to be asked why did they build a Flax Mill at Penshurst so late in the war? Modern as it was the Flax Production Committee knew that water retting techniques were the most profitable. The final straw was the Water Commission stating there was not enough water for the Flax Mill. With a little bit of initiative surely use could have been made of another spring in the area.

One could draw the conclusion that politics played a major part in the downfall.

Extract From a letter sent by Eunice Landwehr to the Penshurst Historical Society in 2002.

Dear Secretary,

I read about the letter you had in the Penshurst paper a few weeks back about the Flax Mill. As Eunice Mirtschin, I worked there when it opened.

He went to Strathkellar to learn the ropes, somehow to feed the scutching machine. I learnt to grade the fibre. Also there were two working in the office. Essie Nicolson (Casey) then when she left to get married, Doris Starling got the job. Then I went into the office one day a week to help Doris prepare for pay day. Then when Doris left to marry, I took over on my own and worked as Mill Clerk for about 2 1/2 years until I resigned to get married. My father Ernst (Kelly) Mirtschin was Supervisor, and Charles Clark Manager. He came out from Hamilton each day. My sister Roma also worked there.

I keep in touch with Lorna and George Cook. They both worked there, Lorna as Lorna Leith, and I believe George's father also worked there.

It was 50 years this year since I left Penshurst but have very fond memories of my life there. I used to love pay day at the Mill, when the Manager and myself would go up the street and collect the Policeman and then go to the bank, and he'd come to the Mill with it, when the gong would go, and they'd all come to the office and sign for their pay. Any absent workers, their pays would be locked in the safe and then the Manager would take Senior Constable Jenkins back to the Police Station.

I remain yours sincerely

Eunice Landwehr

Acknowledgements:

We would like to thank Ilma Underwood for letting us use some of the photos from her mother’s (Ellen Frances Mogford) collection.

National Library of Australia, Trove Newspapers

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