Manildra on the Map

Manildra on the Map | The Cultivator Autumn 2022

Manildra on the Map

On the banks of Mandagery Creek, surrounded by fields of golden wheat and yellow canola, stands Manildra Flour Mill — Australia’s largest and the heart of the Honan family business since 1952.

The birthplace of Manildra Group, the quaint rural township half-way between Orange and Parkes, in central west New South Wales, is home to the region’s rich agricultural industries. The name Manildra represents the traditional Wiradjuri term for “winding river”, visible in the serpentine course of Mandagery Creek around the eastern side of the township. Alongside the wheat, canola, lambs and cattle that thrive in the warm conditions and excellent rainfall of a temperate climate, Manildra Flour Mill remains a pillar of employment and economic stability in the town, and a visual point of community pride, in celebrating 70 years of growth.

 

MAKING OF MILL FROM FOUNDATIONS THROUGH FIRE

When the Worrall brothers moved their small flour mill from Cargo to the historical town of Manildra in 1906 due to gold mining decline, they could make use of the rail facilities to obtain grain and distribute surplus flour.

Nestled among a picturesque patchwork of green-and-gold landscapes during canola cropping season, the brothers dismantled and relocated their mill — renamed Worrall Bros. Gem of the West Roller Flour Mills, Manildra — alongside the western railway line.

Their relatively modern roller mill (made by Henry Simons of England) ran on charcoal gas instead of old gristing stones, to handle three sacks of flour (each weighing 200 pounds) per hour.

With increasing demand for Gem of the West Flour, expansion to five sacks an hour by 1910 included installation of an electric generator to enable shift work. From there, the mill’s productivity and size grew with the town — the Worrall brothers even became pioneers of motion picture shows in Manildra, charging one shilling and children sixpence to see films in their wheat sheds on weekends.

With the mill’s sale in 1920 to Mr Hamilton, came Hamilton’s Gem of the West Flour. Then, on 28 February in 1936, Hamilton’s mill was razed by fire — the engine and boiler the only machinery saved. Reconstruction began in September.

Recommencing operations on 20 April in 1938, the new flour mill’s modern machinery enabled hourly production of 10 sacks weighing 150 pounds each — with the flour’s exceptional quality prized at the 1940 London Exhibition — and then, in 1942, electric power was supplied to the mill.

 

MID-CENTURY SHIFT TO MODERNISED MILL

In 1952 the Honan family purchased the mill on Mandagery Creek – with its electricity supplied just a decade earlier and an 800kg hourly grain-milling capacity — to trade as Manildra Flour Milling Company, Gem of the West Flour.

The change in management made headlines in the local press:

“Manildra Flour Mill has changed hands after being under the same management since 1921. The mill commenced operations some 50 years ago under the management of

Worrall Bros. It was sold to Hamilton Bros in 1921. A city company has purchased the mill from Mr Hamilton and in future the mill which is known far and wide as ‘Gem of the West’ will be known as Manildra Flour Proprietary Ltd.

A spokesperson for the company said recently that the company had a big order for export and it was expected that a satisfactory trade would be built up. He said that two shifts are being worked now and that it is likely there will be three in operation shortly. Subsidiary products such as poultry mashes and pig and dairy meals would be available later on, he added”

– Molong Express and Western District Advertiser, 11 July 1952

Within two years, the mill’s hourly capacity had increased to 14 sacks of flour weighing 150 pounds each, with further establishment of a laboratory and increase in office staff.

The Honan family quickly realised a limiting factor of flour mills was the unprofitable disposal of byproducts such as bran and pollard. In response to this challenge, a large stockfeed mill was built in 1958 to manufacture highly nutritious animal feed pellets for a range of livestock.

With export demand for flour surpassing the demand for the stockfeed, the Honan’s went on to establish one of the country’s most modern piggeries through Gem of the West Farms, at Manildra.

 

MASTER MILLERS HONE CRAFT OVER 70 YEARS

Combining technology with tradition passed down through three generations, the Honan family has been milling quality flour in Manildra, New South Wales, for seven decades.

Sourcing locally grown wheat since 1952, the Honans have partnered with generations of family farmers to mill quality Australian grain into award-winning flours and mixes that make every bake exceptional.

Drawing on time-honoured techniques to produce a distinctive range of specialty flours and mixes, our Australian-grown and made products are destined for kitchens across the nation, as well as the world’s biggest brands.

With the support of on-site staff in areas ranging from flour milling and baking to engineering, chemistry, sales, transport and exports, administration and human resources, safety maintenance, cleaning and packing, Manildra Group has established a reputation for quality, reliability, service and innovation by investing hundreds of millions of dollars into the mill — which employs about 350 people in the town, population 500.

Equipped with world-class Buhler equipment, Manildra’s family-owned flagship mill is today Australia’s largest, operating year-round non-stop to guarantee customers consistency of supply.

The installation of advanced technology and substantial infrastructure has both increased and diversified the mill’s production of flours and mixes, with our state-of-the-art packaging facility enabling delivery of the finest quality products to more than 5,000 locations a week.

To ensure complete customer service at the highest level, our 100 per cent Australian-made industrial bags for the retail and industrial sectors are produced at the Manildra site. Manufacturing self-opening satchels for popular baking, meat, flour and sugar brands and Australian grocery food service and retail markets.

Further boasting one of the most advanced test bakeries in the country, our on-site team of highly skilled food technologists and bakers support delivery of our premium products — ranging from low-protein biscuit and protein-enriched flours to our specialty, household and bakers blends.

As the region’s largest employer, the Manildra mill further engages a range of tradespeople and thousands of indirect workers across industries not limited to agriculture, baking and distribution logistics.

 

THE MILL HOUSE

Built in 1911 by Manildra flour mill owner James Worrall, a home named ‘Levonie’ facing the creek on the road to the recreational ground, was constructed from compressed cement (concrete) bricks, timber and iron sourced from nearby Cargo.

Now known simply as the Mill House, its characteristic wide hallways and 10 large rooms boasted (of the time) a kitchen and pantry, main-floor bathroom and four basement rooms, with a grand fireplace in each bedroom.

With its majestic pressed metal ceilings from Wundderlich steel at imperial heights of 12-15 feet, the iron-roofed home is surrounded by fruit trees planted after the sale of the mill properties to the Hamilton brothers in 1920.

Renaming the house ‘Bristol’ in honour of their mother’s birthplace in England, the keen gardeners surrounded the home with peppercorn trees, a vineyard and orchard, a small paddock and a tennis court. The Hamiltons’ magnificent garden by the Mill House entrance, with flowers planted in the ‘Gem’ shape of their popular brand of flour, remains to this day.

The historical house located beside Manildra Flour Mill has been home to generations of millers (and their families), whose close proximity ensures the mill’s smooth operation at full capacity, any hour of the day or night.

Former mill manager, the late Neville Yeatman — who started with Manildra Group at its inception, lumping bags of wheat and working his way up — said it was an “honour to reside and take care of such a beautiful old house and magnificent gardens” with his wife Dorothy.

Mr Yeatman was well-known for being on-call round-the-clock — answering the front door to mill workers in his underwear (and making a quick retreat on the odd occasion a local civilian came knocking), or dashing to the mill clad in his dressing gown to sort out problems at all hours of the night.

 

RAILHEAD SPURS WESTERN GROWTH

The 1893 opening of Manildra Railway Station inaugurated an era of growth and prosperity for the township, proclaimed just seven years earlier, and its gradual shift from the eastern side of Mandagery Creek with the westward expansion of rail opening up inland New South Wales.

Following the politically charged extension of the railhead to Parkes, from the Orange-Molong link opened in 1885, construction of a flour mill a few years later consolidated the town’s position, according to the Cabonne Council’s Central West Libraries ‘Manildra Memories’.

Alongside the mill sprang up residences and stores, a blacksmith and the Royal Hotel, signalling a thriving future for the town. Not to be outdone, the enterprising wife of a
bush carpenter named Price boldly petitioned a visiting passenger — one Sir Henry Parkes, as recounted in the historical record — to build the station’s Railway Refreshment Room.

Station records from 1984 show 418 passenger tickets sold by sole employee Henry Green in the first year of operation, with 618 tonnes of goods dispatched from Manildra and 115 tonnes railed in. Today, two trains a day exclusively deliver grain grown in the heart of the New South Wales wheatbelt to what is the country’s largest flour mill. Outbound services transfer Manildra-made products to other manufacturing sites, and ports for shipping around the world.

Manildra Group has grown to become the largest single rail freight user on the New South Wales regional network, supported by Manildra Group’s team of more than 50 regionally based rail safety workers, locomotive operators, shunters and forklift operators operating privately-owned railyards and rolling stock including shunting locomotives, flour wagons and container wagons.

 

EUREKA! STRIKING OIL IN FIELDS OF GOLD

The golden oil of canola has played a pivotal role in the New South Wales town of Manildra’s growth and prosperity, since the establishment of a fully integrated oilseed crushing, refining and packaging operation by MSM Milling nearly two decades ago.

Spring and summer in this region, celebrated globally for yielding exceptional quality oils, transform the farming landscape into mesmerising seas of bursting yellow canola blooms.

Fifth-generation canola growers and entrepreneurs Bob and Peter Mac Smith — after selling out of their locally grown and made Australian Country Canola retail oils, established in 1991, at the first Orange food markets — realised the potential of their premium product to expand their oil-crushing plant, on the brothers’ family property at Little Boree, Cudal, in New South Wales central west canola heartland.

In 2005, shortly after Manildra Group Chairman Dick Honan visited the Mac Smiths’ farm to discuss a shared interest in the local canola industry, a complementary partnership between the two families established MSM Milling.

By 2006, construction of the world-class seed-crushing and oil-refining plant at Manildra was underway and, in 2007, MSM Milling began producing the finest quality Australian canola oil for domestic and export markets; with subsequent expansions including an innovative packaging facility.

Today, MSM Milling proudly partners with more than 1000 local canola farming families to supply 100 per cent of seed and grain requirements; with 85 employees supporting production of a full range of oils, meal and stockfeed products — all made from 100 per cent Australian canola seeds — for national and global markets.

 

RARE CINEMATIC RECORD A TRIBUTE TO A PICTURE SHOW PIONEER

Allen Tom OAM’s lifetime love of cinema started a century ago, when he started taking one of Australia’s pioneering travelling picture shows to central western and goldfields New South Wales, between the First and Second World Wars.

With a silent film projector assembled on the back of a flatbed truck, Mr Tom made his way in all kinds of weather from marquees to halls, showing movies in a tent during the Great Depression to provide desperately needed support and entertainment in remote areas.

Celebrating Mr Tom’s life and work — right up until showing his final film in 1995, a week before his death aged 93 — the Amusu Theatre built in 1936 next door to the Tom brothers’ old garage in Derowie Street, Manildra, was listed on the State Heritage Register in 1999.

As a rare example of a purpose-built theatre and “living icon of the importance of film and cinema in the course and pattern of New South Wales cultural history”, the art deco theatre’s “small but slightly pretentious facade is an important and recognised part of the streetscape of its small community”, according to the State Heritage Register.

The heritage listing further chronicles Mr Tom’s showing of silent films around Manildra from 1923; and his 1926 modification of an Oldsmobile car into a mobile projection room alongside a Chevrolet truck to cart tents and seats. Mr Tom transitioned to the new ‘talkies’ by adapting an arc-lamp projector for sound, which remains in situ at the distinctly art deco-era theatre — where he also installed Manildra’s first street light, notes the State Heritage Register listing.

The neighbouring Tom family garage rebuilt in 1940 — noted as one of Cabonne Shire’s earliest family-run mechanical businesses — operated as a garage from 1914 to 1999 before being converted into the Manildra Movie Poster Museum. Open weekends from 11am-3pm, the museum is home to more than 30,000 uniquely Australian vintage movie posters, with the largely contributor-based collection featuring thousands of pieces from former projectionist Alan Strachan of more than three decades in New South Wales cinemas.

 

MAGIC OF MOVIES IN CINEMA’S GOLDEN AGE

For almost a century, moviegoers far and wide have flocked to the rural New South Wales town of Manildra for a big-screen experience in an art deco theatre evoking the golden age of cinema.

For about 500 residents of the New South Wales central west town, the local Amusu (pronounced ‘amuse you’) Theatre – Australia’s longest continuously operating, purpose-built picture theatre — is a cherished icon tracing back to origins in 1923 as a travelling picture show; the result of one man’s vision to bring the magic of cinema to remote communities.

Formally opening its doors in 1936, Manildra’s magnificent art deco theatre retains original carbon projectors, curtains, flooring and seating (including the so-called ‘Love Seat’). Enhancing the authenticity, yesteryear film posters adorn the walls.

Despite the advance of cinema into the digital age, Manildra theatre-goers appreciate the 1930’s architecture and experience of the flicks in a bygone era while enjoying the latest releases monthly. The auditorium’s tiered seating flanking the projection room remains most popular with patrons, served supper or afternoon tea after the closing credits.

With gardens and outdoor seating areas also kept in pristine condition under the stewardship of local volunteers — headed by Joan and Alan Stevenson, Lyn Woodhart (daughter of the venue’s founder Allan Tom), and Kevin Penson keeping alive Manildra’s long-loved tradition of art deco cinema — sponsorship from Manildra Group and MSM Milling helps to support the hard work and passion that go into operation of the heritage-listed theatre, for continued enjoyment of an iconic cinema experience by generations to come.