Federal Woollen Mills
Hubcaps to Creative Hubs. Part Two: Federal Woollen Mills
Made by Nicholas Searle and Dr Cristina Garduño Freeman
for Deakin University, University of Melbourne and Creative Geelong, Short Film, 2018
University of Melbourne
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Shortly after its establishment, Geelong earned the nickname “the pivot” for its strategic location at a railway junction and for its early growth as an industrial city. Today, few places embody this idea of the Pivot City like the former Federal Woollen Mills.
Built on a 28000m2 site just north of the city centre, the mills mark a remarkable chapter and a turning point in Australia’s industrial and military history. On the cusp of World War One, the Commonwealth Government decided Australia’s military involvement should be as self-sufficient as possible, supported by a burst of local manufacturing. Following a nation-wide search, Geelong was chosen as the site for a fabric mill to manufacture cloth for new military uniforms.
What resulted was one of the most progressive and technologically advanced mills in the world; a facility that became known for its innovative work processes, ventilation and natural light.
Today, the mills retain an imposing presence as a hive of activity, defined by their free classical style in red brick, a material characteristic of much of Geelong, as well as the large windows that dominate its façade. While the mill was sold into private hands in 1923, it continued operating until the 1970s before it fell into disrepair.
The recent reinvention of the mill into a tech and creative start-up hub marked another turning point, paralleling Geelong’s 21st century pivot from industrial decline to rising creative city. The mills’ character has become a magnet for an unexpected array of creative and start-up enterprises from app developers to artists and web designers; all inspired by the place’s link to Geelong’s rich history. These operators are not only weaving their own stories into the fabric of the city, they are helping to reinstate the mill’s life as a centre of innovative making.
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