Creswick Woolen Mills is a significant asset to the local community after 75 years

75 years ago a man came to Australia with a vision to build Australia’s first wool mill to recycle old clothes.

The late Paul Ryzowy arrived in Victoria in 1947 and transformed a former thatched factory into the still ‘swanky’ Creswick Woolen Mills.

Siblings Boaz and Sharon Herszfeld have grown up with the changes the mills have undergone over the years and now run the business.

“My grandfather came after the Second World War. Before that, factories were virgin wool factories [using raw wool] and he came to Australia with a technology called shoddy,” said Mr. Herszfeld.

“They would collect 1,000 sweaters from charities and sort them by color removing zips, buttons and tags.

“Then 100 sweaters were put through a rag tearing machine and you got 100 kilograms of colored wool.”

innovation and employment

Creswick’s factory was also one of the first in the US to process alpaca wool.

“In the ’80s we started developing yarns made from alpaca fibers, which were very difficult to manufacture, and that was a major innovation at the time,” he said.

The animal farms are part of the tourist attraction.(Supplied: Creswick Woolen Mills)

“We still offer everything from alpaca socks and blankets to a possum hat.

“And last year we developed mattresses made of wool.”

Mr. Herszfeld said that in the mid-1900s, when it was at its peak of production, the plant employed 80 people in the small town, which also opened up job opportunities in other parts of the region.

“My grandfather spun and woven some of the yarn here in Creswick, but he also sent some to Daylesford and kept a factory running in Daylesford,” he said.

“Constant trading with other textile manufacturers was what the industry was about.

wool spinner
In recent years, the economics of manufacturing and spinning wool at the mill have become unprofitable.(ABC Rural: Jane McNaughton)

In 2019, spinning at the site was discontinued as an increasingly globalized supply chain made it economically unviable to process wool locally.

“As our industry got smaller, our tourism got bigger, so we could replace manufacturing jobs with tourism-related jobs,” Mr. Herszfeld said.

“Now we have an amazing museum here that puts an image back in time.

“There are still great spinning and carting machines to learn about the history of textiles and wool.”

A wool mill
Although the Creswick Woolen Mills are no longer active, the machines are shown to the public.(ABC Rural: Jane McNaughton)

part of the family

Blankets are still made on site by Susan Antonio and Sheree Gervasoni, both of whom have worked at the factory for more than 20 years.

“The factory is very different than it was then, but there are a lot of good memories and we’ve had a lot of fun here over the years,” said Ms. Antonio.

Two woman holding a blanket smiling
Susan Antonio (left) and Sheree Gervasoni have both been ceiling makers at the site for 20 years.(ABC Rural: Jane McNaughton)

“When we used to recycle sweaters, you would find brooches, money, and sometimes people’s jocks. It wasn’t the prettiest thing you could find.

“Lots of little treasures we found earlier.”

Though the supply chain has changed over the years, the two said the mills’ focus on natural fibers has remained strong.

A blanket is sewn
Blankets are still made by hand in the mills.(ABC Rural: Jane McNaughton)

“The mills have created many jobs for the local people here over the years. There used to be six of us in the ceiling room,” Ms. Antonio said.

“And when people come into town, they support the cafes and they eat. It’s really good for the community.”

“We feel like part of the family here because we’ve been here for so long,” said Ms. Gervasoni.

Two women sew blankets
The women sew each blanket by hand.(ABC Rural: Jane McNaughton)

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