02 July, 2011

From Rags to Riches or Just Milling Around?

Nor was wheat-milling the only industry to spring up along the banks of the Barwon. In 1876 as I mentioned in my previous post, a paper mill was in the process of construction on the north bank of the river at Buckley Falls.
Barwon Paper Mill at Buckley Falls during flooding
16th January, 2011
On the opposite side of the river from the old wheat mill, this new enterprise - the Barwon Paper Mill - drew its power from a channel running along the northern bank from Baum's Weir to the mill buildings below the Bunyip Pool at Buckley Falls. Unlike the wheat mill on the south bank, the paper mill and the complex of buildings which were associated with it, are still remarkably intact and as such are one of the most significant surviving examples of 19th century industry in the country. It is also one of the earliest and longest running examples of paper-milling in Australia and was operational until 1923.
At the time of its opening, the complex was at the forefront of paper-making technology and its backers included such notable Geelong names as Silas Harding, James and Andrew Volum and William Francis Ducker. A more detailed discussion of the technology involved can be found here.
The mill buildings themselves were constructed from bricks and locally quarried bluestone with corrugated iron and the equipment was powered by a water turbine wheel whose performance was enhanced by an impeller housed in a tower which can still be seen facing onto the river. Likewise, the water race is clearly visible carrying water from the weir along its full length until it reaches the mill where in times of adequate supply, it tumbles down to the rocks below and back into the river.
Water race running to the Barwon Paper Mill during drought
January, 2010
These mill buildings and their associated machinery were designed and built by the engineer Andrew Millar. The six workers' cottages and manager's house which also form part of the complex were designed by the Geelong architect Joseph Watts a couple of years after the original buildings in 1878. The cottages are the earliest example of company housing to be built in this state. They are still occupied as private residences and if the noises I heard last week are anything to go by, at least one is currently being renovated.
Originally, they were used to house some of the 200 men whom it is estimated, worked in the mill, making over 40 different types of paper.
Unlike today, paper-making processes in the Victorian era - and for 2000 years beforehand - relied on the pulping of old rags, rather than that of wood fibres and the Barwon Paper Mill was no different in this respect. The rags went through a number of treatments designed to break the fibres into small enough pieces to be formed into paper.
A curious side effect of using rags, was the need to first remove any old buttons or fastenings which may still be attached to the cloth. This task was undertaken by women whose job it was to sit and remove the unwanted attachments. Once removed, the buttons were simply dumped in a pile near the mill site. It was this practise which gave rise to the name Button Hill for the land which rises to the east of the mill. According to descriptions by the Victorian Heritage Database, there are hundreds of thousands of buttons, beads and other clips and fastenings on the hill made from bone, ceramic, glass, metal and other substances. The site is located partially on private property which does not belong to the mill and currently still awaits comprehensive archaeological examination.
Mill cottages built in 1878
 In 1888, upon the death of Captain James Volum, one of the principal proprietors, the partnership dissolved and the complex was sold to the Victorian Paper Manufacturing Co Pty Ltd who in turn on-sold it in 1895 to the owners of two other paper mills in Melbourne and Broadford. The three mills were then run jointly under the name of the Australian Paper Mills Co. Ltd.
After paper production ceased, the complex was taken over for the manufacturing of ice before being commandeered in 1941 for use by the navy during World War II. Nowadays, the mill is privately owned and whilst no longer used for its original purpose, the buildings are utilised by a number of small businesses which operate out of the site. Unfortunately for those of us who are interested, this has the disadvantage of excluding access by the general public to the mill complex. So, for the present we will have to continue as I have done for several decades now, to view the mill from the south bank of the river.
Well, that was, until today (6th June, 2015). See this post.


  1. Hi, I am doing my studio arts project on the paper mill and I was wondering if you knew who owns it so I might contact them and enquire about taking some photos in there?

  2. Hi Jo, Kat and fellow interested parties,

    My name is Alex Robins and I own the Barwon Paper Mills. Currently I am restoring the grounds of the site and have had many interested parties and members of the local community enquire about this process. So far I have made strong ties with several locals and the Friends of the Buckly's Falls.

    I believe that this is a restoration project that requires community support and involvement for the Barwon Paper Mills to have a strong future. I am very happy to have anybody who is interested contact my personal number on 0409430772. I enjoy showing people around the site and welcome arts projects about the site. Feel free to contact me to set up a meeting.

    - Alex

  3. hi alex just looking at a few places to get ideas for a wedding ceremony just wondering if you would be interested in letting people look around at a possible destination. thanks for taking the time to read this comment.
    cheers tiffaney
    please feel free to e-mail me

  4. Hi
    My dad's father (my Grandpa) was the manager of the Paper Mill and he and his family lived in the manager's house. My father was born in the house in 1926 and lived there for 3 years until the Mill was closed. My dad is now 87 and has many stories of the mill and a few photos.

  5. The Mill is open to the general public tomorrow thanks to the wonderful owner, Alex Robins (Saturday, June 6, 2015 from 10 am - 3 pm) Reference http://m.geelongadvertiser.com.au/news/geelong/arts-precinct-push-for-fyansfords-old-paper-mills/story-fnjuhovy-1227380192462

  6. The Mill is open to the general public tomorrow thanks to the wonderful owner, Alex Robins (Saturday, June 6, 2015 from 10 am - 3 pm) Reference http://m.geelongadvertiser.com.au/news/geelong/arts-precinct-push-for-fyansfords-old-paper-mills/story-fnjuhovy-1227380192462