Waverley Woollen Mills calls for help to 'future-proof' and secure icon's history

History: Waverley Mills has been part of Launceston's history for nearly 150 years, and its owners are calling for community support to 'future-proof' the factory. Picture: Paul Scambler
History: Waverley Mills has been part of Launceston's history for nearly 150 years, and its owners are calling for community support to 'future-proof' the factory. Picture: Paul Scambler

It’s the only woollen mill in Australia still in full operation, and it’s on Launceston’s doorstep.

Waverley Mills was the first mill in Tasmania, and is now the only Australian textiles mill that creates a product from start to finish: carding, dyeing, spinning, weaving and finishing.

The consortium of Tasmanian business owners that operates Waverley Mills is calling for help to preserve the iconic piece of national history, with a fundraising campaign designed to restore the mill to former glory.

The mill employs about 20 workers – experts in a disappearing field – who create the finest Tasmanian woollen products from start to finish.

Campaign manager Susan West said the $90,000 fundraising goal would provide the mill with 3.5 tonnes of wool, securing four months of employment for the mill’s workers and enabling the business to extend into bespoke requests for garments and products.

“Our country’s economy was built on the backs of sheep, and Waverley was the first mill in Tasmania and now it’s the last mill that does everything,” she said.

“It’s like stepping back in time, this giant factory with all this incredible machines, and this unbelievable staff that has all this knowledge and expertise and technique.”

Ms West said raising funds would “future-proof” the mill.

“A crowdfunding campaign is a great way to get the word out about the mill and what it does and why it’s worth reviving,” she said.

Waverley Mills was built in 1874 and became an icon of Launceston’s industrial era, at its peak employing hundreds of staff to create the finest woollen blankets and products.

In recent years Waverley Mills has faced some troubled times – it was placed in receivership in 2005 but had a recovery that led to the further cutting of staff in 2008, with more staff leaving in 2010.

Despite those challenges, the mill has a remarkable legacy, from being commissioned by the federal government to create a blanket for Princess Charlotte to producing blankets for Qantas.

The mill also has contracts with David Jones and other smaller businesses.

Ms West said crowdfunding would help the owners tap into the archives of patterns still stored at the mill, enabling the purchase of a samples loom to craft bespoke, on-demand garments.

“Waverley has archives going back decades of everything they’ve produced – so if we have enough money we’re going to reproduce some of the old designs,” she said.

“Wouldn’t that be fun? A travel rug that was first on somebody’s knees in the 1950s.”