Flour Milling

Colonisation to Federation

By 1841 there were 10,000 acres (4,000ha) of wheat being grown and whilst some was hand ground, flour was being imported from interstate with a large duty payable. Disagreement between government and private merchants encouraged self sufficiency in flour and the challenge to erect flour mills was laid down.

Names such as Ridley, Kent, Hallett and Finniss were early pioneers in assembling and erecting flour mills with imported machinery. The honour of establishing the first mill probably goes to Ridley with a mill located In Hindmarsh in 1840 with Kent (Kent Town) soon following.

These early mills used stone rollers (mill-stones), imported mainly from France, with a barrel type sieving which only sieved off the bran. Steam power was mainly used, but there were some wind powered and water powered mills constructed with an isolated horse powered or bullock powered plant.

The early mills were all located within the metropolitan area Hindmarsh, Kent Town, Thebarton and Hackney to name a few. By the mid 1840’s mill construction was being extended to the country areas and initially in the Adelaide Hills, eg Echunga, and Mount Barker, followed by Gawler then Hawker, Quorn and Port Augusta in the north; Tanunda and Angaston in the Barossa and Noarlunga, Aldinga, Willunga and Second Valley in the south.

By 1856, 60 mills were operating with a capacity such that the entire SA wheat crop could be processed in less than three months. Flour production was now exceeding local demand so that exports were being explored. At this point in time, interstate sales were considered exports and the main outlet.
Expansion of mills continued throughout the State in the 1850’s with new mills at Strathalbyn,(1849), Bridgewater(1852), Stockwell(1854); Birdwood(1854) and Salisbury(1855). Every settlement of any size Had its own mill with towns such as Murray Bridge, Balaklava, and Port Lincoln soon added to those already mentioned.

Remodeling and expansion of established mills was occurring all the time and changes of ownership common. Wheat production was also expanding very rapidly from 10,000 acres (4000ha) in 1841 to 90,000 acres (36,000 ha) by 1855 and 900,000 acres (364,000ha) by 1875. Exports of flour rose from 23,000 tons in 1868 to 85,000 tons in 1884, much of this tonnage going to Queensland and New South Wales.

There had been a phenomenal expansion of flour mills in 40 years with numbers peaking at 117 in 1880. The larger and more modern mills had been built at Leadenhall Street, Port Adelaide(1868); Eudunda (1872) Jamestown(1873); Greenock (1873)  and Mannum (1876). The rapid rise in mill construction was followed by an equally rapid fall. In I881 alone no less than 33 mills ceased to operate. These were mainly in country areas servicing small communities and with no export markets. The 1880-81 season was a poor one – production 8.2 million bushels (223000 tonnes) compared with 14 million bushels (380,000 tonnes) in 1879-80. wheat prices where high for that time, so these small mills became nonviable. SA’s population at this time was 270,000 and 3.0 million bushels (82,000 tonnes) of wheat provided enough flour to meet local demand.

Flour is highly flammable and with mills mainly of timber construction, fires occurred damaging mills and sometimes completely destroying them which added further to the decline in numbers. However, there were two notable developments during this era (1880’s) which had a bearing on milling and transportation.

Stone Mills were converted to Roller Mills.
Roller Mills consist of several break rolls (usually 3 or 4 numbered I, II, III, IV each consisting of two fluted steel rollers (flutes decreasing in size but increasing in number from I to IV) running close together with the top roller running faster than the lower one. The output is sieved (using horizontal vibrating sieves) after passage through each break roll with through put collected and that left on the sieve passing to break roll II and so on. Finally the material remaining on the sieves after break roll IV is collected as bran and the remainder now passes to a series of smooth rolls or Reduction Rolls (usually 8 labelled A,B,C,D,E etc) again two steel rollers, smooth, running close together with the top one running faster than the bottom one. Again sieving occurs after passage through each reduction roll with the product passing through the sieves taken off as flour and that retained on this sieve passing to the next reduction roll. What is finally retained after sieving from the final reduction roll is taken off as pollard.

The product known as semolina may be taken from what is retained on the sieves after the product has passed through reduction roles A and B.

The sieves were originally made of silk but have now been replaced by nylon. Yield of flour is about 80%.

Railways were expanding rapidly in SA providing a new form of transportation for wheat and flour.

Federation 1901

Federation ushered in further change. SA became part of the Commonwealth of Australia and with it a well established milling industry and a stable export trade developed. Exports now refer strictly to overseas sales. Mill numbers operating in SA had continued to fall – 65 at Federation.

Post Federation Period 1901 - 1940

These 40 years saw subtle but significant changes in flour milling. Mill numbers continued to fall (36 in 1940) but the tonnage of wheat being milled was increasing. Steam power was decreasing. Gas and oil engines played a role for a period, but by the 1930’s electricity became the main source of power. World War I affected milling industries as governments took over control of national food supplies. For SA exports to Europe increased.

Period 1940 - 1985

World War Two saw an increase in flour demand especially to the United Kingdom. Locally there were labour and fuel shortages but wheat supplies and shipping were not a problem. Flour production rose by 30% from 1940 to 1945 and flour exports rose by 60% in the same period.

A significant development during this time was the formation of the Australian Wheat Board (AWB) in 1939. The Board had representatives from government, growers, merchants and the bulk handling authority with a miller’s representative added later.  Initially all wheat was acquired by the Commonwealth and the AWB acted as an agent for the Commonwealth. In 1948, Wheat Industry Stabilisation Legislation was introduced with ownership now vested in the AWB.

For some five years after the war the milling industry boomed with considerable demand from war ravaged Europe, but from about 1950 demand for flour declined as European mills began operations again. Flour exports totalled 92,000 tons in 1950 but had dropped to 60,000 tons by 1960, and mill numbers dropped to 22.

The 1970’s were a fairly stable period with flour exports declining and by the 1980’s export demand had fallen to near zero.

Sole owners of mills retired and their sons saw no future in the industry. Hence there were further closures of mills with Hamley Bridge, Mannum, Loxton and Sedan being examples. Whilst local demand was being maintained, mill numbers fell to about ten by the mid 1980’s but they coped adequately with local demand.

Period 1986 – 2009

Discussions with Mark Laucke, a flour miller at Strathalbyn, have assisted in developing the information below.(http://www.laucke.com.au/)

1. Developments and changes in flours produced and bread baked

With only four flour mills operating in South Australia – Strathalbyn, Port Adelaide, Mile End, and Cummins (Eyre Peninsula); and the export of flour insignificant attention has focussed on local needs with refinements to meet baker’s requirements.

There has been a considerable increase in the establishment of small bakeries eg “Baker’s Delight” franchise and with it a large increase in the range of breads produced. Similarly there has been an increase in home baking using automated bread makers. Each have prompted extensive use of premix flours in which Laucke’s have specialised. They alone produce 30-50 different flours and 200 different products. This requires not only milling wheats of different types (eg hard, soft etc) but other grains as well with oats, rye and triticale.

There has also been somewhat of a change in using wheats from regions as a guide to quality eg wheats grown in the drier areas were expected to be higher in protein and better of baking quality than that grown grow in higher rainfall areas, to greater emphasis on the influence of the variety characteristics and includes contract growing of selected varieties in certain areas to meet specific requirements. The flours required for certain breads, pastries, cakes and biscuits etc are now defined and described with much greater detail and accuracy.

2. Milling and Sifting

Whilst the milling process using roller mills has basically not changed, the materials used in the horizontal or plan sifters have changed to prolong their useful life. Bran is quite an abrasive so that the original silk sifters was replaced by metallic wire followed by nylon and now magnetic stainless steel – the latter to remove any trace of metallic impurities.

3. Conveyancing of Products

The original bucket type elevators which served the industry for many decades, have largely been replaced by pneumatic conveyancing. This is both cleaner (less dust) and safer hence reducing the risk of fire and explosives which were of common occurrence in the early mills.

4. Power Sources

Whilst electricity has been the basic source of power since the 1950’s, the automation of process control has been an enormous change from manual controls. The use of electronics for computer control in monitoring various processes has reduced labour requirements. Nevertheless, the wisdom and skill of an experienced miller remains invaluable in judging grist quality and producing a consistent product. It takes 10 years to train a miller.

Stock Feed

A feature of South Australian cereal industries has been the demand by livestock for feed be it hay and chaff or grain and its by-products.

Prior to mechanisation horses and bullocks consumed large volumes of cereal hay and grain but most of this was grown locally and supplemented by by-products (such as bran and pollard) from the mills in local towns.

Up to the 1960’s most pigs and poultry were run on mixed cereal farms or associated with dairies. The regional nature of flour mills meant that there was ample “by products” including bran and pollard available to supplement stock feed; in fact stock feed provided an outlet for flour mill by-products. Most grain used on farms was fed whole or mixed and hammer milled using small machines driven by power-take-offs on farm tractors or electric motors.

Expansion of specialist intensive pig and poultry farms and the increased use of grain by expanding dairy farms commenced in the late 1950’s. With it came scientifically balanced rations and a need for large volumes of feed resulting from the increase in scale of the farms. Specialist commercial mills met this need with feed mills including Murray Bridge, Daveyston and Adelaide being established.

Beef and sheep (lamb) feedlotting to “finish” cattle and lambs to the desired weights for slaughter, as well as dairies, pig and poultry farms all use significant volumes of processed grain, both cereals and other grains such as peas, lupins, and other legumes. This ensures efficient production through balanced rations.

Feedmills employ nutritionists who calculate the balanced nutritional requirements of the various livestock for meat, milk or egg production as the case may be, and the many ingredients are then computer formulated for the various feed mixes taking grain costs into account.

All products may be mixed pre or post grinding, usually the former, and then pelleted which is the usual form in which the mix is sold and used. Pellets are produced by a steaming and pressing process which results in a product easier to handle and there is less wastage when feeding out.

The expansion of the stock feed sector has continued to 2009 with South Australia now a large player in the chicken meat and pig industries nationally. Large specialist mills in regional centres and some mills on farms utilize some 740,000 tonnes of grain annually which is moving towards 25% of the grain produced in South Australia.


Harrison Lindsay “Flour Mills in South Australia” Dept. of Architecture, University of Adelaide, 1979 (working paper).

Davis Elizabeth “Flour Milling in SA – A History”, Adelaide, SA, Millers Produce Company of South Australia.

Dunn John “A Millers Tale: The memoirs of John Dunn of Mt Barker” ed. Anthony Stuart, Kingswood SA Waterwheel Books 1991.

Moritz LA “Grain Mills and Flour in Classical Antiquity” Oxford and Clarendon (1958).

Fielding J, (1985), “The Golden Grain – a History of Edwn Davey & Sons pioneer flour millers and grain merchants of SA at Penrice, Angaston, Eudunda, Salisbury, Adelaide, Melbourne, & Sydney 1865-1985”, Hyland House.

South Australian Education Department “The Blumberg & Peerless roller mills: study program” Adelaide Ed. Dept. 1977.

Jones LJ (1981-1982) “Wind, Water and Muscle-Powered Flour-mills in Early South Australia, Newcomen Soc Transactions Vol 53, p97.

Jones LJ (1984) Historical Sowers for South Australian Flour Milling: A Review. Australian Historical Bibliography Bulletin 9, p1.

Flour Industry Brochure C.1980 “From Wheat to Flour”

Page Last Reviewed: 20 Nov 2017
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