04 September, 2011


Sunnyside Wool Scour sheds (left) and the chimney of
Dan Fowler's scouring works
Nothing typifies 19th century industry more than chimneys.  They were - and still are - built to disperse the byproducts of combustion, lifting them above ground level so as to spread them across a wider area, thereby reducing the effective concentration of pollutants in the atmosphere. Chimneys also assist the combustion process with the lower pressure of the hot gasses at the bottom of the chimney, drawing air into the chamber and forcing the exhaust gasses up and out of the chimney by a process known as "natural draught". This process was crucial to the industrial revolution of the 18th century and was no less important to the 19th century industries established along the Barwon River.Several of these chimneys still rise above the landscape of the river making their presence felt in a solid visual display. They may no longer spew their smoke across the landscape, but they still stand as reminders of a bygone era, in some cases, alone, removed from the buildings whose industry they supported but heritage listed in recognition of their important contribution to Geelong's development.
Chimney at Valley Worsted Mills,
Swanston Street
Some of them I have described in previous posts – the heritage-listed chimney of Dan Fowler’s scouring works which stands alone at Breakwater in the back yard of a local factory complex and a little upstream, the chimney belonging to Sunnyside Wool Scour, owned originally by the Haworth family and bearing the initials of its maker: J H – John Haworth. Both are square, brick structures, Fowler’s somewhat shorter than Haworth's and unadorned.
Back upstream and set at a distance of a few hundred metres from the river is the chimney of the Valley Worsted Mill, built in the mid-1920s to meet the demand for Australian woollen products and also the subject of a previous blog. This chimney is larger and somewhat more elaborate than those downstream, featuring the "brick strapping" typical of chimneys in this era.
Another set of chimneys which dominated the skyline of the Barwon during the latter part of the 20th century were the triple smoke stacks of the cement works at Fyansford. Much more utilitarian in their appearance, they none-the-less captured the eye for a considerable distance around. As a kid, driving into town along the Geringhap-Fyansford Road, I would watch for a particular point where only two of the chimneys were visible and the conveyor belt which ran up the hillside was positioned in such a way as to make it look as if the third chimney had fallen and was lying up the side of the hill. Unfortunately, it is no longer possible to play this particular game as, on 6th June, 2004 amidst much local fanfare, the tallest chimneys in the state were demolished.
Paper mill at Buckley Falls with small chimney and
Fyansford cement work silos without chimneys, 2011
A little further upriver at Buckley Falls, even the paper mill boasts its own brick chimney, although it is somewhat dwarfed by the mill buildings themselves and the housing for the waterwheel which powered the plant.
I have looked at each of the companies associated with these chimneys in past blogs, however there are two chimneys which I see regularly but know nothing about, so perhaps it is time to take a look.
Remains of the Phoenix Wool Scour Works
The first is situated beside the river just near Balyang Sanctuary in the part of Newtown originally known a Marnock Vale. This chimney and an associated building stand near the corner of Riversdale and Marnock Roads. As far as I can tell, they originally formed part of a wool scour - the Phoenix Wool Scour Works. Phoenix was one of several scours and woollen mills to operate in the area, others being located slightly back from the river in Bridge and Gregory Streets. Together they formed part of an industry which dated from the 1850s. The company was associated with the decorated Australian soldier Brigadier General Robert Smith, a veteran of Gallipoli and the son of a tanner and wool merchant from Melbourne. Smith established Phoenix in 1919 and also took over the nearby Austral Wool Scouring Works. He offered employment to returned soldiers and was an avid supporter of the Geelong Football Club, serving for a time as president.
The other noticeable chimney on the banks of the Barwon is not far away, between Riversdale Road and the River, near the end of Gregory Street in Newtown. It stands in the grounds of what is now an excavating company near a timber shed and not too far distant from a large brick building. I eventually discovered that this complex was originally the Austral Paper Mill, set up by William Daniel Hughes, a Lancashire man and previous manager of the Barwon Paper Mill. He also purchased Barwon Bank with the intention of living there, but the paper mill was never to see production. Hughes could not get the venture off the ground so the equipment and buildings were sold. The former to a Sydney company, the latter to Australian Paper Mills Co. Pty. Ltd. who on-sold the buildings in 1905 on condition they not be used as a paper mill.
Austral Wool Scouring Works
In the event, the premises was converted for use as a wool scour and became known as the Austral Wool Scouring Works which were acquired by Brigadier General Smith who established the Phoenix Wool Scouring Works.
These few chimneys and a variety of mostly red brick buildings are all that remains of the once thriving 19th and 20th century woollen industry in the area. Other notable companies included E H Robinson Scour located slightly back from the river in Bridge Street - established in 1920 and still in operation, Redpath's Woollen Mill (adjoining Astral Wool Scour), the Albion Woollen and Worsted Mill (established c1869, located either side of La Trobe Tce), the Collins Union Woollen Mill (established 1874 at 510 La Trobe Tce), the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Woollen Mill (cnr Pakington and Rutland Streets) and the Union Mills (adjacent to the Albion Mill and now demolished). In addition to these notable companies, there were the associated industries of tanning, carbonising and soap and candle making - the latter taking place at a site near the Phoenix Wool Scour under the name of the Victoria Soap and Candle Co. The company - established in 1886 by John McLeod - was known for its "magic soap" brand.

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