Flax mill opens its doors

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Peter O'Connell at the historic Templeton Flax Mill Heritage Museum, which will be holding an open day on Sunday.

THOSE interested in seeing how a working flax mill operates will have the opportunity on Sunday.

As part of Southland Heritage Month, an open day will be held at the Templeton Flax Mill Heritage Museum with live flax fibre demonstrations at 1pm, 1.45pm, 2.30pm and 3.15pm.

Flax harvesting and the transformation of the fibrous plant into a workable product was once a major industry, especially in the south, with many flax mills scattered throughout the region.

Templeton Flax Mill Heritage Museum patron Janice Templeton said the restored flax mill at Otaitai Bush was opened in 2004 and was nationally recognised as New Zealand’s only authentic working flax mill.

“It incorporates machinery from the former Otanomomo Flax Mill, South Otago, including a rare scutcher machine donated by Ray Girvan, which was in recognition of Andrew Templeton’s long-time association in running the Otanomomo Mill up to 1972 when it closed along with the Riverton [Otaitai Bush] mill.”

The mill at Otaitai Bush was a category one heritage building under Heritage New Zealand (formerly known as the New Zealand Historic Places Trust), she said.

“The machinery is over 100 years old.”

The annual event attracted about 350 people each year and the day was an opportunity for people to visit the working museum without having to make an appointment, Mrs Templeton said.

As well as having the opportunity to see a working demonstration of the flax milling process, visitors will also be able to talk to some of the volunteers who continue to help with the mill’s preservation. A heritage farm walk will also be available.

Mrs Templeton said renowned weaver Winnie Solomon, and some of her students, from the Southern Institute of Technology, would also be giving flax weaving demonstrations, and there would be an opportunity to purchase some of the processed flax fibre.

Another part of Mrs Templeton’s role at the mill was as the sales and marketing manager and she said she had noticed an increase in sales of the processed flax fibre to various groups and individuals.

“We sell more than we process through demonstrations, so we have a big run twice a year to make up a big bale.”

Once a year the mill also received a big order from a film company, with other people wanting the fibre for weaving or to make traditional garments and items, she said.

“We have just sold a big order to a film company, Cricket Hop Productions, in Auckland.”

A $5 donation per adult for the open day would be appreciated, Mrs Templeton said.

People were asked to bring cash as there would be no eftpos on-site.

To find the mill, situated about 3km from Riverton, take the Riverton-Wallacetown highway (follow the mill signs), turn off at Otaitai Bush Rd, then turn on to Templeton Rd.

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