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Seventy-five years ago a man arrived in Australia with a vision to build Australia’s first woollen mill to re-manufacture old clothing.

The late Paul Ryzowy arrived in Victoria in 1947 and turned what was a straw thatch factory into the still “chipping along” Creswick Woollen Mills.

Siblings Boaz and Sharon Herszfeld grew up observing the changes to the mills over the years and now run the business.

“My grandfather came after WWII. Before that mills were virgin woollen mills [using raw wool] and he came to Australia with a technology called ‘shoddy’,” Mr Herszfeld said.

“You would collect 1,000 jumpers from charities and sort them into colours, take off the zippers, buttons and tags.

“Then 100 jumpers were put through a rag tearing machine and you’d get 100 kilograms of coloured wool.”

Innovation and employment
Creswick’s factory was also one of the first in the nation to process alpaca wool.

“In the 80s we began to develop yarns out of alpaca fibre, which were very difficult to manufacture and at the time that was significant innovation,” he said.

“We still offer alpaca socks and blankets, all the way to a possum beanie.

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

Mr Herszfeld said at the mill’s peak era of manufacturing in the mid-1900s it employed 80 people in the small town, which also opened up employment opportunities in other parts of the region.

“My grandfather would spin and weave some of the yarn here in Creswick but he would also send some to Daylesford and keep a factory in Daylesford going,” he said.

“The constant trading with other textile manufacturers was what the industry was all about. So as they started closing the fabric of that industry started to diminish.”

In 2019 spinning at the site ceased, as it became economically unviable to process wool locally due to an increasingly globalised supply chain.

“As our industry became smaller our tourism became bigger, so we were able to replace manufacturing jobs with tourism-related jobs,” Mr Herszfeld said.

“Now we have an amazing museum here which is a picture into the past.

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

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

“The factory is a lot different to way back then, but lots of good memories and we’ve had some fun here over the years,” Ms Antonio said.

“When we used to recycle jumpers you’d find broaches, money and sometimes people’s jocks. That wasn’t the nicest thing to find.

“Lots of little treasures we used to find.”

Although the supply chain has changed over the years, the pair said the mills’ focus on natural fibres had remained strong.

“The mills have created a lot of jobs over the years for locals here. There used to be about six of us in the blanket room,” Ms Antonio said.

“And when people come to the town they support the coffee shops and have meals. It’s really good for the community.”

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