England sent out 400 tons of flax seed to Australia and the Victoria Department of Agriculture approved 14,000 acres of land as suitable for flax growing. In the Koo-Wee-Rup area 1,374 acres were approved for planting.
The Flax Mill opened in the former Gippsland and Northern Produce shed at the Railway yards in December 1940 and the opening was celebrated with a ‘sumptuous repast’ at the Royal Hotel on New Year’s Eve 1940. The Manager, Mr H.E Clark, had previously been employed at the Drouin Mill. The Koo-Wee-Rup Sun of March 6, 1941 reported on a meeting of the Koo-Wee-Rup and District Branch of the Victorian Flax Growers Association. In spite of over seventy growers being notified there was only a ‘meagre turn up the meeting’. The President was Cr Dan Kinsella and the Koo-Wee-Rup Branch included growers from Berwick and Pakenham. The report goes on to say that the district had 73 growers, growing 1,560 acres, with an average cultivation of twenty one acres. In August 1941, two railway truck loads of flax fibre were being sent each week to the City.
Flax Mill at Koo-Wee-Rup
Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp Historical Society photo
In March 1943, thirty Land Army women arrived to work at the Flax Mill. They were housed in fifteen, newly built fibrolite huts in Station Street. The complex also had a shower room, mess room, kitchen and dining room. The arrival of the women was reported in the Koo-Wee-Rup Sun of March 18, 1943 (article reproduced below). The Australian Women's Land Army (AWLA) was formed in 1942 to provide labour to farming areas to replace the men who had gone off to war. The women had to be aged between 18 and 55 and be ‘strong and intelligent’ to carry out the ‘essential national work connected with Victorian Flax centres’ Conditions included a five day week at award rates, plus overtime.
Koo-Wee-Rup Sun March 18, 1943
In September 1944, the Mill was destroyed by fire and the thirteen AWLA women on night shift were lucky to escape unharmed though about £800 worth of fibre was destroyed. At the time of the fire the Mill employed forty six males and thirty four females. The Mill re-opened in temporary premises a month later. The closure of the Mill was announced in the Koo-Wee-Rup Sun in November 1946 and by March the following year the buildings were disposed of. The amenities building of the Flax Mill was purchased and used as a Scout Hall. Another building, an army hut, was erected on land adjoining St Johns Catholic School. At its peak the Mill employed up to 70 men and 40 Land Army women.