The Queensland Woollen Manufacturing Company

2018 marks the tenth anniversary of the Queensland Woollen Manufacturing Company woollen mill being listed on the Queensland Heritage Register because of its significance in the history of manufacturing in Queensland.

When asked “are you aware of any circumstances … which would render it expedient to place the ship and people in quarantine?” the Health Officer on board the Wansfell answered “No”.

The ship arrived without incident in Moreton Bay on Sunday 10 November 1861 and the HO’s reply was just as well because after the passengers disembarked, raw wool (along with other cargo) was loaded for the return voyage to supply British mills.

IID 435595 Woollen Factory Ipswich Queensland IM0034
DID 25331: Woollen factory, Ipswich. No 231, c.1897

The Queensland Woollen Manufacturing Company, built in 1875, was the first woollen mill built in Queensland and was the largest single employer of female labour in Ipswich. By 1891 the factory employed a total of 226 people, 152 of whom were women. This disproportionate number of females to males employed was beneficial for the Company because during the First World War there were few staffing reductions. As the mill worked virtually around the clock, the Labour Department disregarded “unavoidable breaches” of the Factories and Shops Acts 1900 to 1908 in the insatiable quest for cloth for military purposes. Breaches of the Acts were documented in the report by Inspector for Factories and Shops, Margaret Dempsey. The most significant breaches were the safety issue of young women travelling home unaccompanied, and overtime/night work not being fairly remunerated.

Again, in the Second World War of 1939–1945, blankets and cloth for the armed services was a top national priority which kept the mill working long hours. However, union activity brought the Company into conflict with its employees in April-May 1942. The April-May 1942 industrial dispute centred on employee demands for improved payment rates for Christmas, Boxing and New Year’s Day work.  Other “matters in dispute” included the cleanliness of the lavatories and abusive language used towards employees by management. Arbitration was sought; and the strike ended mid-May with the resumption of work following an AWU resolution that an application for a re-hearing about payment of wages for the three statutory holidays was pending.

 

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For more information about Queensland State Archives visit www.archives.qld.gov.au.

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