Launceston is home to Australia’s oldest textile mill, still operating on its original site.

Story Andrew Bain 

Less than five kilometres from the centre of Tasmania’s northern city of Launceston, there’s a surprisingly rural feel around the 145-year-old walls of Waverley Woollen Mills. The wooded banks of Distillery Creek curl behind the mill, and open fields stretch away to low hills.

Penny Rundle remembers childhood picnics on the mill’s lawns with her grandmother, surrounded by other Launceston families. For the past 10 years, Penny has been even more deeply connected to Launceston’s original, and now sole remaining woollen mill. She has been manager of Waverley’s retail store in Launceston since it opened a decade ago, but even after all these years she still looks down the mill’s main laneway and sees something out of a novel.

“I keep thinking that it’s like a scene out of Dickens,” she says. “It’s as though there are going to be small children running out into the laneway. People from Launceston are really quite proud that this mill is still here. They’re proud that it’s part of their heritage.”

Waverley Woollen Mills has been operating on this spot beside Distillery Creek on Launceston’s eastern outskirts since 1874, when Scotsman Peter Bulman took up a £1000 incentive from the Tasmanian Government to establish the state’s first woollen mill. It’s Australia’s oldest textile mill still operating on its original site.

It’s a business that was commandeered during World War II to produce blankets for the war effort, and that boomed through the 1990s, when it was making blankets for Qantas. A cot blanket from the mill was Australia’s gift to the newborn Princess Charlotte in 2015, but it has also twice been placed in receivership. 

Waverley’s story as the last mill standing is one of endurance, and it continues to adapt and survive, especially now under the watchful eye of CEO Andrew Cuccurullo who, with three partners, purchased the mill almost three years ago. “It was in a pretty bad state when we got it,” Andrew says. “It’s had a bit of a chequered history in the past 30 years of different ownership, but I think the mill has been able to adapt to changing times, and whatever’s happening in the marketplace. Waverley was really set up as blanket manufacturing business, but now we’re doing more small runs of more contemporary and designer-based products.”

The mill’s biggest-selling products are now throws and scarves, using 18-micron Merino wool sourced from Tasmania and around Australia.

This story excerpt is from Issue #128

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2020