the manufacture, production and distribution of goods
Although always predominantly an agricultural district, the Williams River Valley has had a variety of industries over time. Some were for local consumption, such as brick making, blacksmiths and tinsmiths, and others were the by-products of agricultural, forestry and pastoral production such as tobacco factories, saw mills, tanneries and butter production. In addition to these, three industries stand out in particular, namely the shipbuilding industry once centred on Clarence Town, cornflour manufacturing undertaken at a major mill erected at Dungog town, and a clothing factory also located at Dungog for many years.
Local Consumption – brick making, blacksmiths, tinsmiths
Early homes and buildings were made from either slabs or mortared river stone. Later, brick making was done at a local site specifically for a building’s needs, this occurred when the Anglican Church at Dungog was built. As the demand for bricks grew, a more permanent site would be established such as that by Mr McWilliam at Calton Hill near Dungog in 1885. Blacksmiths were common, and in addition to making horseshoes and horse related material, would have also made tools and ploughshares. In 1878, a saddle and harness factory was also reported in Dungog district. Tinsmiths made such material as water tanks, bullnoses for verandahs and honey tins and milk cans. Some businesses also styled themselves ‘carriage makers’, though whether their level of production could be described as ‘industry’ or if they were simply repair shops is unclear. More recently, cordial was produced locally for many years in the mid-20th century before declining to competition from mass produced drinks.
All these local industries faded as mass production of bricks or metalware, or the rise of the motor car and large-scale production, either out priced them or eliminated demand for their product.
Agricultural by-products – tobacco factories, tanneries and butter production
Tobacco growing was carried on in conjunction with tobacco factories set up by larger landowners or storekeepers with some capital. Such factories existed at Bandon Grove, Dungog and on the Allyn River at Gresford. Termed ‘factories’ they cut, rolled and pressed the tobacco leaf for shipping to Sydney and other markets.
With cattle plentiful and the demand for leather in harnesses, saddles, and in boots and shoes high, tanneries operated at many locations. Tanneries required not only leather but also tannin derived from wattle bark. While the NSW leather industry was required to import much of its wattle bark from Victoria and Tasmania, there is no evidence that this was necessary within the Dungog Shire district, and this local supply of wattle bark may explain the relatively high number of tanneries.6 In 1878, four tanneries were reported to exist in the district of Dungog at that time.7 Known tanneries include one at Dingadee, another was at the northern end of Dungog town, and one at Brookfield owned by the Carlton family.8 With the large amount of bark stored, fire was always a danger as when the Dungog tannery of Mr Hayman burned in 1880.9
Both early butter and cured tobacco required cooperage to pack and ship the tobacco and butter, though this appears to have been done by skilled workers working directly for landowners rather than setting up to supply these goods to all comers as did the later tinsmiths.10 As dairying developed in the late 19th century many butter and dairy factories were set up to process the milk of local producers.11
Shipbuilding and Shipping
The earliest major industry established within Dungog Shire was shipbuilding, mainly established at the head of the navigable section of the Williams at Clarence Town where some of the first steamers in Australia were built. The first, at Clarence Town Deptford shipyard in 1831, was the William IV, an 80 foot by 15 foot paddle-wheel steamer.12 Many other ships were built here and at Raymond Terrace. Additionally a number of steamers were also built on the Paterson River by Daniel Peattie at Brisbane Grove.13 This industry reached its peak in the 1870s, and in 1872 it was reported that a 180 ton schooner was launched at Clarence Town, another of 600 tons was nearly ready on the Paterson River, and a third of 150 tons was also being built on the Williams River.14
Not only the building of such ships, but the existence of a number of shipping companies was also due of the proximity to navigable rivers that much of the Dungog Shire area enjoys.15 However, the coming of the railway through Paterson and Dungog destroyed both the shipping and the shipbuilding industry of Clarence Town and Paterson. This occurred quite rapidly. In 1906, when the Cooreei was destroyed by fire, and despite the imminent arrival of a new rail line to Dungog, it was replaced by the Erringhi. With the railway line put through to Dungog in 1911, the Erringhi was sold the following year to operators on the Hawkesbury River. Subsequently the WRSN Co (Williams River Steam Navigation Company) was liquidated by 1913. Another ship, the Favourite was sold to the Lower Hunter Co-operative Steamship Co, which continued to operate for some time, as did various ‘creamers’ transporting the produce of dairy farms.16 The demand for new ships, however, was gone.
Cooreei Cornflour Mill
Situated ‘just across the river from Dungog, on a slight eminence in full sight from the town’ was the Cooreei Mill (named after the prominent hill below which it stood).17 The mill was considered by 1880 to ‘have conferred somewhat of a reputation upon the town of Dungog’.18 Built on an eight acre site, the mill measured 120 feet by 40 feet, had three floors above and one below ground (90 feet in length), and was built on hardwood (ironbark) piles with weatherboard cladding that was oiled not painted. It also had brick drying rooms, a 3,000 gallon tank that was 16 feet by 6 feet by 5 feet, a reservoir with filters, and was powered by a 24 hp steam engine imported from Scotland, with grinding stones imported from France. The below ground floor was excavated after the erection of the above ground ones and was lined in a mixture of cement and asphalt. The entire mill was 18 months in building, cost between £6,000 to £7,000 and commenced operations in mid-1878.19 The owner of this mill was John Wade & Co., and Wade & Co. was owned by two people, John Wade and R L Alison. The mill’s manager was Kenneth McDonald from Scotland and it employed from 8 to 16 men plus 40 to 45 packing girls.
Wheat growing in the Williams Valley was restricted by the development of rust and many farmers grew corn. This corn was taken by bullock dray to Clarence Town for shipment by steamers. John Wade was a Dungog storekeeper who saw the difficulties local farmers had in getting their produce to market and began to investigate the possibilities of a corn mill.20 Corn at that time was being imported with a 1d per lb duty and sold at 8d per lb. In 1866, a corn mill was established at Dungog and paid local farmers between 1/3 and 1/6 per bushel. A bushel of corn was 60lb and yielded some 20 lbs of corn flour.21 But the real value of corn came not from a simple grinding into corn meal but through a more complex refining that produced what was then called ‘maizena’ or what is today known as cornflour.22
A major boost to the local economy was made therefore when John Wade and local landowner Robert Alison of the 2,000 acre East Bank Estate established a cornflour mill able to effect this refining on the edge of Dungog in 1878.23 Together the two invested £8,000 in what was considered a significant enterprise even on a colony level, especially considering that most processed corn at this time was being imported.24 Equipment and experienced people were also imported in 1877 and by June of 1878, the Cooreei Corn Mill began operations, named after the hill that sits prominently just to the east of Dungog on the property of Robert Alison.25 By 1888, in addition to Munn’s on the south coast, a least one other cornflour mill was operating in Sydney, on the Lane Cover River at Chatswood, but that in Dungog was reported to be the largest.
For the local economy, the mill meant much employment and steady sales for local farmers who increasingly grew corn until it was reported 70% of the crops grown in the district were corn.26 Another local bonus was that the fish feeding on the mill waste downstream grew greatly in size – to the delight of local fishermen.27 That this mill was seen to be significant on a colony level is shown by the fact that when the NSW Governor visited Dungog in 1892 to lay the foundation stone for the Dungog Cottage Hospital, he first visited the cornflour mill.28
Although the mill was reliant on imported technology, the local level of technology was not to be despised. At one point a broken cog halted production and it needed six months to send to England for a replacement. A local worker, Samuel Redman, was able to make a replacement in three months using only a cold chisel. This worked so well that it was left in place after the new part arrived.29
John Wade became involved in politics, running at the elections in 1887 (losing by 162) and 1889 (626 to 482), against the sitting member H H Brown.30 Wade ran on a protectionist agenda – ‘If the protective duties were taken off it would strangle two-thirds of our Colonial Industries: we must foster them’.31 He was also an energetic businessman, having begun as a shopkeeper but after 1882 devoting himself solely to manufacturing.32 At one point he travelled to America to learn about a new technique called ‘dry grinding’.33
It was soon after his return from this American trip in 1901 that the owners announced they ‘intend to remove their maizena mills from Dungog to Newtown’.34 They stated that ‘carriage of maizena to the metropolis, where they do the packing, is a big item, and that in order to cope with the increase of trade consequent upon the abolition of border duties between the various States, they are compelled to remove their factory to the centre of distribution, Sydney.’ The Federal government was also intending a 1d per lb duty on imported cornflour at this time.35
The removal of the mill not only impacted on the corn growing farmers, but timber getters who had supplied fuel for the boilers, as well as the various teamsters and carriers as well as the many mill workers were all affected.36 Today nothing is left to show the presence of this mill but an empty field.
A clothing factory was established in the Victoria Hall at Dungog during WWII. At the end of the war this Steven’s Knitting Mill was closed. However, during the 1950s with unemployment high the local council purchased the former Grierson’s store in Dowling Street in 1966 and negotiated with the company to return to Dungog at a subsidised rent. Steven’s Knitting Mill employed many local women for a number of years before closing in 1980.37
While local entrepreneurship will often begin a successful business, the very success and subsequent expansion of such a business will see it move to a more central location, as happened with Wade’s Cornflour Mill.
A more recent, but also locally grown industry, was the 1986 established Drovers Ay-One. This Dungog-based company specialised in livestock tags and identification systems which it distributed throughout Australia. In 2011 it was taken over by a multinational company that, within a year, closed the Dungog operations and transferred all manufacturing to a more urban location.
Clarence Town shipbuilding docks
Cornflour Mill site (Dungog)
Brick kilns (Dungog)
Cordial factory (Dungog)