Battle for mill
Woollen mill machinery would be too costly and would take too long to procure.
There were other difficulties, including inexperience of local labour in working in such an industry.
However, the greatest difficulty was the lack of enthusiasm of the shire president and council.
Instead, council and its committee suggested the establishment of a freezing works. It would suit Benalla better.
It would also take advantage of local fat sheep production to add value for export sales.
By August 1922, three things had happened.
Benalla Freezing Works Co-operative had been formed and the project abandoned through lack of support.
Beginning in 1919, Wangaratta had raised $60 000 by means of a share float.
William Callander helped promote the share float by having his daughters, Alma and Lena, scatter fundraising leaflets across the north east from an open biplane.
A grant was obtained from the Commonwealth, thanks to representations of a local Member of Parliament, Mr Cook.
Within two months of Benalla’s rejection of a woollen mill in 1922, Wangaratta had a fully functioning woollen mill up and running.
Additionally, the mill’s powerhouse supplied electricity for the entire town.
The mill was formally opened in September 1923 by the Victorian Premier.
It would become the largest woollen mill on the Australian mainland.
In an editorial dated August 15, 1922, the editor of the Benalla Standard called for reconsideration of building a woollen mill in Benalla.
As the objective of both mills would be export sales, Wangaratta’s mill would not compete with another built in Benalla.
The newspaper assured its readers that Mr Cook had offered his services to help the project succeed.
The editor estimated that the sum of $100 000 would be enough to build the mill.
Perhaps $100 000 would have been enough. We shall never know. A mill was never built in Benalla.
Many years later, Geoffrey Hirst carpet and rug factory would open in Benalla.
However, it was never a major employer like Wangaratta’s woollen mill.
The carpet and rug factory was never big enough to drive Benalla’s population growth or stop its children drifting to Melbourne.
— John Barry, ANZAC Commemorative Working Party, Coo-ee — Honouring