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A Brief History of the Old Mill





The oldest surviving physical link with the pioneering days of the Colony of Western Australia is the Old Mill in South Perth. It remains a memorial to the courage of those few British people who, taking all they had with them, sailed half way around the world to claim for Great Britain a new land in an unfamiliar hemisphere.

Governor James Stirling established the Swan River Colony in 1829. Grain and flour were vital for the new colony as bread was the staple food. Many of the early settlers grew their own wheat and hand milled it using a quern. William Shenton recognized the need for a more efficient method of milling. He was an engineer from Winchester in England where his family already owned a mill. He arrived at Fremantle in 1829 bringing machinery for a saw mill.

Shenton built a windmill in Fremantle and Point Belches (now Mill Point) before building in 1835 a second mill at Point Belches that remains today. In many ways the mill at Point Belches seemed ideally placed along the river. The first horse drawn ferry crossing from Mount Eliza to Point Belches was in 1833 and Shenton’s mill became a popular meeting place. In addition the people of Perth would travel on the ferry to the south bank to collect timber.

Unfortunately the mill was not a profitable concern. It was not well located in relation to the major markets and erratic winds meant that it was often unable to grind wheat. There were also rival mills.

Tragically William Shenton was drowned at sea on his way from Perth to Bunbury in 1842.


1897



No photo description available.



Swan Keeper tending swan adjacent now-defunct Millers Pool, near the Old Mill, South Perth, c1900.
Perth can be seen in the background.



One of the more significant characters associated with the mill was a lessee. Thomas Brown known as ‘Satan Browne’, was an architect and convicted forger, who arrived in the Colony in 1865. In 1879 he took out a lease on the mill. He added a balcony and viewing platform and named it the Alta Gardens Hotel. However, by 1881 Browne was in debt and being sued. His case was to be heard in the Criminal Court but before his sentence was passed Browne committed suicide by taking strychnine.

The property deteriorated and despite being resumed by the government in 1929 little effort was made to conserve it until 1957. In that year H L Brisbane and Wunderlich (later Bristile) agreed to take up a long lease for the site from the State Government, and restored and repaired the mill and miller’s cottage, creating a folk museum and brick and tile display to advertise their products.







In 1973 the Old Mill was classified by the National Trust. The Old Mill has cultural heritage significance for the following reasons:
The mill and cottage are of architectural interest and have aesthetic appeal
It survives as a remnant of a wind driven mill dating from the first decade of European settlement in Western Australia
It has historic value as evidence of one element in the history of milling in Western Australia.

The Old Mill was vested to the National Trust in 1992, after the running costs of the site became too large for Bristile, and volunteers continued to open the mill to the public.

Restoration work was carried out on the mill in the early 1990s and today the Old Mill comes under the auspices of the City of South Perth. It is no longer a national Trust property.

The Old Mill has social value through its potential to contribute significantly to the understanding of early milling. It is also an educational resource providing insight into the early commercial endeavours in the colony and information about the people associated with the property since 1835.

The Old Mill contributes to a sense of place for the community of the City of South Perth as a historic place with aesthetic appeal and has considerable community and educational significance. The mill provides evidence of the commercial endeavour of the early pioneers of the Swan River Colony. It also provides evidence and information about the history and people associated with the mill.

Further information about the Old Mill and it's place in today's society can be found in the Things to See and Do section.References



National Trust of Australia (WA) The Old Mill South Perth - information booklet

National Trust of Australia (WA) Visitors Guide - The Old Mill information pamphlet

General Printing Division, West Australian Newspapers The Old Mill Museum: Perth, Western Australia, Perth, WA 1968

Crowley, F.K. The History of South Perth, Perth, WA 1962.


















Archives 






The Old Mill was the Colony's first successful wind powered flour mill. Even though it is now nearly 150 years since it last ground flour, it still manages to make dough out of tourists.


The Old Mill is in fact the second mill built by Mr William Shenton, on the promontory of Point Belches, in South Perth. His first effort was completed in 1833, and was destroyed the following year by the local indigenous people. Perth's first major industrial site, had rather unexpectedly become our first major demolition site. Not to be deterred by this minor setback, a second mill was constructed in 1835. To discourage any further attacks, the mill was strengthened with thick stone walls, and now resembled a fortress. Being located on a promontory, the Old Mill was ideally situated to take advantage of water transport along the Swan River, between Fremantle and Guildford. Another advantage was it's closeness to Perth, and good exposure to windy conditions.









The Old Mill.

With the cut wheat arriving, and ground flour leaving via the Swan River, the wind driven mill was soon producing up to 680kg of flour each day. This all sounded good, but unfortunately it was unprofitable when compared to other forms of milling. Production ceased in 1859, as other mills were now being built closer to the farms, roads improved, and eventually in 1881, the Fremantle to Guildford railway was completed. With an effective railway system in use, the Swan River was no longer heavily relied upon for transportation.





View of Point Belches in South Perth where the Old Mill is located. The area is now more commonly referred to as the Mill Point Peninsular. The Narrows Bridge spans the Swan River at this point.


In 1880 an architect named Mr Thomas Brown leased the Mill, and converted the grounds into a hotel and picnic site called the "Alta Gardens". He even added a verandah, and altered the roof, as the wind sails had a nasty habit of chopping off guests during conversation. Just like Mr Shenton, he too was forced to close the project, as it became unprofitable. Other ideas to make a dollar out of the Old Mill have included a timber mill, printing press, wine saloon, poultry farm, private residence, and a folk museum. Today the Old Mill carves out a fine existence as a Perth Heritage Building, and tourist site. As soon as we get our hands on it, we plan to transform it into a Dalek, as the existing design is just crying out for this low cost modification.


An alternative use for the Old Mill. Exterminate! Exterminate!



A Narrow Escape: It is hard not to notice the Narrows Bridge when visiting the Old Mill. The two structures are extremely close to each other. During the late 1950's the Old Mill was in danger of being demolished for the construction of the Kwinana Freeway and Narrows Bridge. Luckily it was saved, due in main to the intervention of local residents. The freeway route was changed, and takes a gradual turn to avoid the Old Mill.















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