Collection Stories

The Collection Stories are a series of significant historical items attached with a personal story.

Wax and Waste

Geelong was once home to many industries involved in wool processing. There are many parts of the process to turn fleece into fabric. The first is scouring.

The scour on display at the Museum was from, what is today known as, the Robinson’s factory in South Geelong. The original factory was open for about 10 years but had to close because of the fees for discharging water. Most scours in Australia have closed because the fees for discharging water were too high. There are only three operating in Australia – Robinson’s is one of them.

The effluent caused by scouring was a major problem for the industry and community. It was one of the issues that researchers at the CSIRO Division of Wool Technology in Belmont (now closed) were trying to address. 

One of our National Wool Museum volunteers and Loomsmen, Dave, recalls from his time at CSIRO:

Wool wax is the most highly polluting component in the effluent stream discharged by wool scouring plants. Without treatment, the pollution load from a single scouring line is equivalent to a town of 30,000 people. All wool scours would use centrifuges to recover as much wax as they could from the main scouring bowls on a continuous basis. On average a scour could recover about 30% of the wool wax removed from the fleece. This recovered wax is then sold to refining companies who would purify the raw wax turning it into lanolin which is used in many skin care products. For many scours the revenue from the sale of the wool wax was very important for their profit margins. When I was working at CSIRO we used to operate a small wool scouring plant and were often asked if we had any wool wax by horse owners. Apparently, it is very good for horses' hoofs.

One of my responsibilities at CSIRO was to oversee and often operate the wool scouring plant. When not being used for research purposes we used to provide a commission scouring facility for craft fibre processors. Their lot sizes and fibre types were usually not suited to the larger wool scours. 

You can see photos from the scouring process in our collection online at Victorian Collections.

Wheels and Yarns

The Museum has several spinning wheels, including a collection from Wlodzimierz Zakrzewski, a Polish mechanical engineer who immigrated to Australia after World War 2. He started making spinning wheels to support his wife Sonya Carrington’s career as a tapestry weaver and teacher, in the end making 400 wheels over 30 years! The designs became known as Carrington Wheels.

The Museum is fortunate to have a number of skilled spinners in our volunteer group who run demonstrations for visitors. Many are enthralled by the quiet and beautiful rhythm. One of our volunteers Kate, tells us what it’s like to bring this ‘lost art’ to life…

I volunteer at the Wool Museum mostly doing spinning. I sit at my wheel and people stop to watch and chat.

‘My mother used to spin back in the old country’ older people might say that their mother used a spindle and not a wheel. A lot of women say that they have a wheel at home but never use it, either they are busy working, or their hands aren't up to it anymore.

With children I ask, ‘what am I doing?’ or ‘what is this?’ and I get answers ranging from ‘that is a sewing machine’ to ‘you are making wool’. Parents ask which part of the wheel pricked the finger in the fairy tale.

So, this is a spinning wheel, I am making yarn (not string or wool) and I am spinning fibre from sheep, alpaca, silk, or a mix of any or all of those. I never prick my finger unless there is grass seed or thorn in a fleece when I am spinning unwashed fibre.

Why do I spin? Because almost everything we wear is spun. Spinning twists the fibres together and makes them stronger. Plus it keeps my hands out of the fridge and the pantry!!

I really spin because I enjoy the feel of the fibre and being able to make something from scratch. I enjoy the crafts that use the yarn I make so I can use it to knit and weave, to dye and design and to express my creativity.

Have you met one of our spinning volunteers? Do you know how to spin yourself or have you been keeping another lost art alive?

Wool School

Since it opened in 1887, The Gordon has played a key role in Geelong’s wool story. Many involved in the wool industry completed training at the Gordon and they were recognised around the world for education they provided.

Our volunteer, Ken, recalls his own time at the Gordon:

My uncle was the manager of a mill in Geelong and he encouraged me into the Wool industry. I went to the Gordon from school in my teens. It was a vibrant place. They had a lot of overseas students coming in doing the wool classing course.

It was a great bit of education for me. The wool classing course was 2.5 years long. The sample books were a key feature of the training. They came down very hard on students who didn’t keep their sample books up to date!

Following my time at the Gordon, I was posted to a number of properties, and I got to see the operations in different shearing sheds. I got to know the growers in the various districts. Afterwards I was given the opportunity to go into a woolstore, Dalgety’s.

Then there was an opportunity for me to move into the teaching field – up in the Wangaratta region. In the secondary school where I was teaching, there was a large section of the curriculum devoted to apprenticeships, including for work in the wool industry. It was a very enjoyable time in my life.

In all the years I’ve been in various parts of the industry, I will never forget those times at the Wool School. Nowadays, I love to pass on what I’ve learnt to our visitors to the Museum and learn from them too. 

Did you attend the Gordon? Do you have a copy of your sample book?

Mill Girls

Janina - National Wool Museum Volunteer:

I am very proud to be a mill girl. Some people looked down on us because we worked in the mills. But I loved my job. I started as a mender at the age of 16. I moved between mills and roles over the years, including as a warper and weaver in mills throughout Geelong.

I remember on Fridays we (the mill girls) would put curlers in our hair and then at the end of our shift we'd go to the bathroom, brush our hair and then head out shopping. When I had children I worked the twilight shift, 6-11pm, while my husband looked after the girls.

Do you have a story about working in a mill? Have you held any of these roles? Please share your story!

Lest we forget

In honour of ANZAC Day today we share this badge from the Museum Collection. Created as part of the 1919 Peace Celebrations in Geelong, it is now featured in the newly launched Geelong Heritage Collections – a digital exhibition of 50 items from the City of Greater Geelong’s Heritage Collection.

We acknowledge the impact war and service has had on families throughout our region and that many have personal stories of how war has touched their lives.

Our own National Wool Museum Volunteer Bob, recalls:

When I was 18/19 years old, I joined the CMF (Citizens Military Forces) which was like a club and along with all my mates we went on weekend bivouacs camping and sleeping under your truck etc, we also had a two hour parade every Thursday night. In those days our employer only granted us two weeks annual leave and the whole two weeks was taken up at a camp, sometimes in Puckapunyal and other times at Moe, Jamieson, Forrest etc.

The highlight of the year was when five of us would take a truck from the Army Depot at Stawell to Lake Bolac where we stood on each corner of the ANZAC statue and presented arms. I can remember as the four soldiers had to slowly lower their rifles, the four had to be in perfect timing and the butt of the rifle had to hit the ground at exactly the same time. There was always a big crowd at the little township and after presenting arms we would go into the hall to hear the guest speaker. As I was Corporal I got to ride in the front and the other soldiers rode in the back under the tarped tray!

ANZAC Day was always a solemn occasion, and in my mind it still is.

In 2014-2015 the Geelong community, including many of our volunteers, worked with the Museum to contribute 5000 knitted poppies to the 1918+ Poppies project. In 2016 our volunteers made the poppies into banners as a lasting commemoration of ANZAC.

How has the ANZAC story touched your life? Do you have special memorial pieces you keep at home?

These walls talk

The building that holds the Museum is more than a venue to keep and share our Collection. It is part of our Collection too. The oldest part of the building dates back to 1872 and operated as a Wool Store and Auction House for over a century, under various evolutions of the Dennys Lascelles Company.

This Stock Department sign, hidden from public view inside the offices of the City of Greater Geelong’s Arts and Culture department, is evidence of the building’s active role in the wool business circles of Geelong.

One of our volunteers Pam, worked in the building when it was still Dennys Lascelles, she recalls:

It was my first job. I started work as a teenager in the Stock Department. At that time, in the 50s, everything was in full swing – very busy wool and stock sales. There were different departments for each section: land sales, wool department, stock department, insurance and shipping. The office I worked in overlooked Moorabool St. When the Gala Parade was on, I could see the sideshows from the window, that was a highlight.

On wool sale day, it was an extraordinary time, many wool buyers came down. There was a bar where they would serve drinks and lunch to the buyers and clients. The wool department salesmen would take the buyers to the show floor on the top level to show them the clips for sale. It was a very busy day.

After a few years working there, the girls from the different offices decided to make a basketball team. We used to practice on the show floor after hours and then we played our games at Kardinia Park. One year I also joined the committee for the organisation of the Wool Brokers Ball. It was an annual ball where all the different wool companies came together for a celebration, held at the Palais.

At the time when I left, in 1965, they were just introducing the IBM computer system. We worked on typewriters and ledger machines prior to that.

In 1907, Dennys Lascelles produced a commemorative booklet celebrating the first 50 years of the business. This booklet is an important part of our collection but has signs of damage and therefore is difficult to access and display. Fortunately for us, our colleagues at the State Library Victoria have fully digitised a copy they hold in their collection.

Explore many items relating to Dennys Lascelles in our collection at Victorian Collections.

Do you have any stories about the wool sales in Geelong? Did you attend a Wool Brokers Ball?

Weaving day in and day out

In the centre of our Museum sits a working 1910 Axminster Carpet Loom. This centrepiece of the Museum is only one of its kind still working in Australia. It is maintained by our skilled Loom Operators.

Senior Loomsman Michael, worked on similar machines throughout his career. He recalls:

I started working with looms in September 1960 as a factory help at Brintons Carpets Geelong. I went on to clearing, then weaving. Eventually I was working the larger loom that was 3.66m (12 feet) wide. I worked at Brintons at for 12.5 years.

There were about 35 machines in the room – 10 large ones and 25 small ones. Everyone looked after their own machine – one each for the large ones – just checking the quality and correcting it if there were any mistakes. If anything went wrong, we needed to call the tuners to repair and fix the machine and make it go again. We had to work 12 hour shifts for a while, weaving day in and day out.

Recently the Museum’s loom had to undertake a changeover of one of the main spools. A major task requiring three sets of hands!

Our Loom is featured on the new Geelong Heritage Collections website.

Did you work in one of Geelong’s textile factories?

Do you own a Brintons carpet?

Tell us your stories!


Page last updated: Monday, 16 October 2023