Celebrating 30 years

THE Bendigo Woollen Mills is spinning its way into central Victoria's rich history.

The factory first opened its doors in Kangaroo Flat in 1984 before moving to a larger site in Lansell Street, East Bendigo, in 1988.

The Bendigo Woollen Mills celebrated its 30th birthday on Tuesday and marked the occasion with a cake and balloons in its busy sales area.

Product development team members Kris Taylor and Kai Crosson led the Bendigo Advertiser on a tour of the the factory, dispatch and sales areas.

The factory encompasses everything from a spinning room, twisting room, through to dye house where large vats are used to add colour to the wool.

The wool is then put into a big washing-machine type device and then dried.

Ms Crosson said the Bendigo Woollen Mills employed about 30 people.

"We have a day shift and an afternoon shift they run over in the factory so they keep it going fairly regularly," she said.

"When it gets really busy, occasionally they'll consider doing three shifts so them machines are going 24 hours.

"But that hasn't happened for a few years, maybe this year."

Ms Taylor said things would ramp up in April or May.

"That's when it starts to get busy - through to August, that's our busiest time of the year," she said.

"That's the coldest time of the year when everyone wants to get their winter woollies knitted.

"And also in July we have the wool and sheep show here so it goes crazy.

"It's a really great time for all the fibre artists and everyone to come to Bendigo - it's a wonderful time of the year."

The Bendigo Woollen Mills is Australia's largest hand knitting and crafting yarn mail order manufacturer and boasts a huge variety of different yarns and colours.

"There are smaller woollen mills in Victoria and Australia but we're the largest that spin our own yarn now," Ms Taylor said.

There are smaller woollen mills in Victoria and Australia but we're the largest that spin our own yarn now. - Kris Taylor

"So we try and keep it all in Australia, as much as we can which is really good for the sheep industry and hand-knitting, yarn industry."

Most of the wool is sourced from the NSW Highlands region.

The mill also produces yarns with other fibres including Alpaca, Mohair, Angora, Silk and Cotton.

"We have a wool broker who goes to the auctions and he picks the wool to meet our specifications," Ms Crosson said.

"So it comes from a range of different farms and we get a report that tells us where it's come from so we can trace it back to the farm if we want to."

Ms Taylor said the technology used in the factory had not changed much over the years.

"Most of the machines are fairly low maintenance, they're not run by electronics, so they're more easily maintained and kept going," she said.

"There have been newer machines that have been bought over the years, but they're not necessarily more technologically advanced."

Ms Taylor said celebrating 30 years of operation was a significant achievement.

"It's a pretty big achievement in this day and age with all the manufacturing closing down in Victoria," she said.

"In 1984 the factory first opened in Kangaroo Flat and there were two families involved and it just grew from there.

"It was predominately mail order and it just grew and grew until they had to find a bigger premises."

The historic buildings occupied by the Woollen Mills were built in 1901 by the Bendigo Electric Supply Company and were part of the Bendigo power generating and tramways complex. 

"We get a lot of people from all over Australia visiting here, especially older people who are travelling around Australia," Ms Taylor said.

"Most of the wives will stop in here and most of the husbands want to go next door to the tram museum so it works out pretty well for both parties.

"But there are thousands and thousands of people who come through every year.

"There are a lot of locals but it would be nice if there were more locals because there are a lot of people who don't even know we're here."

Jen Harrison, who is in her 60s, was the Bendigo Woollen Mills first customer when it opened it 1984.

"I can remember being there after seeing the ad in the Bendigo Advertiser," she said.

"We rushed down there really quick and I had a ball in there.

"I do knit for charity as well as my family but in those days it was for school children's personal clothing and their school jumpers and cardigans.

"The range was just mind-blowing and the quality was absolutely excellent - it hasn't changed to this day."

Reporter HANNAH KNIGHT took a tour of the Bendigo Wool Mills this week...

Mrs Harrison described the Bendigo Woollen Mills as a "very, very good service".

"I just love it," she said.

"I don't use any other brand of wool apart from what comes out of the Bendigo Woollen Mills.

"I still have garments here that I'm still wearing today from the very first lot I ever knitted up from the Bendigo Woollen Mills.

"They've stayed pristine.

"Of course you must do the right thing in your care for garments, you must wash them the right way with the right type of washing detergent.

"I always hand wash my things even if they say machine wash and I dry them on a rack in the shade and give them a light press and then they're just like brand new.

"I've given that much away and directed that many people to the Bendigo Woollen Mills - hundreds and hundreds, I've lost count.

"I've even made garments and sent them off overseas to various countries."

Mrs Harrison wished the Bendigo Woollen Mills a happy 30th birthday.

"It really is just a wonderful place, I can't recommend it highly enough," she said.

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