Collection: The Old Flax Mill Collection

For hundreds of years before the arrival of European settlers, Māori — the indigenous people of New Zealand — utilised native New Zealand flax as a raw material for clothing, food gathering, hunting, fishing, homeware and medicine. Māori communities cultivated plantations, or pa harakeke, of the flax varieties that had the best leaf and fibre qualities for their needs.

Starting in the 1870's, flax began to be harvested by European settlers and was an early export product for the young country, being sent to Australian and English rope manufacturers. Later, with the invention of the flax stripping machine, large-scale commercial processing became possible in New Zealand. Flax rope-making was a major industry for almost a century, with hundreds of flax mills operating during the boom years. 

Working in a flax mill

Flax milling was hard work. First the flax leaves (usually Phormium tenax) were cut, tied in bundles and taken to the mill. Then the leaves were fed through the stripping machine, which made a loud shrieking noise. A worker sat underneath the machine in the so-called ‘glory hole’ to catch the slimy fibre and bunch it. Hanks of fibre were then washed in running water and hung out to dry and bleach in paddocks. About ten days later, the dry fibre was put through a scutching machine, which refined it further. Finally the fibre was packed into bales. Although most was exported, some was processed locally into ropes and cordage. [Source: teara.govt.nz]

During the depression in the 1930s the industry diversified into flax woolpacks but the advent of cheaper synthetic fibres in the 1970s finally spelt the end of the flax milling industry in New Zealand. [Source: alibrown.co.nz]

This collection celebrates the use of recycled Rimu framing timber from an old flax mill that was built on the side of the Waikato River, near Port Waikato, sometime around 1895 -1902. The age of the wood is unknown but conservatively estimated to be at least 180 years old.

Accent woods of Kauri, Totara and Macrocarpa are sometimes employed to add contrast and further interest to an already storied history of the primary wood.