The sight and sound of a working wind-driven flour mill is a natural experience, much like encountering waves on a beach or a breeze in the trees. In the village of Oatlands, in the heart of the island of Tasmania, an old mill has been authentically restored and once again produces flour to the rhythm of the seasons and the weather. And it sounds great!
Built in 1837 the Callington Mill operated until 1892. The demise of the mill was hastened by the opening of a railway line between the island's two largest cites, Hobart and Launceston, which meant that it became more cost effective to freight flour from the then modern, city-based flour mills rather than to produce it locally.
In its early days Callington Mill produced 20 to 30 bushels of flour an hour and the later addition of a steam engine would have increased overall production—but it wasn't enough for a growing population and the demands of industrialism.
After its closure the mill’s sails were blown off and later the structure was gutted by fire, although the tower remained intact, a keen reminder of the way things were, and perhaps could be again.
Over the years various attempts were made at restoration but it wasn’t until a significant amount of money and support was forthcoming from Australian federal, state and local governments that restoration became a reality.
There are only a handful of traditional millwrights in the word and one of these, Englishman Neil Medcalf, was bought to Tasmania and entrusted with the restoration. Local builders were heavily involved with the project and locals were also trained as millers with traditional skills.
Apart from the tower the most visible element of the mill is four giant sails, made up of 44 canvas shades, stitched and stretched over a wire frame. The cap of the mill rotates according to the direction of the wind so that the sails are always optimally positioned in relation to the breeze!
Callington Mill reopened in October 2010 and now runs partly as a tourist attraction but most importantly as a working mill that pays its way. Local farmers are growing organic and chemical free grain which is then stone ground into flour for not only the local Companion Bakery, but also to supply chefs, bakers and individuals who appreciate a naturally grown and produced product.
The restoration of the Callington Mill is so authentic that if a miller from the 1800’s were transported to today’s mill the machinery and process would be instantly recognizable. They'd be able to resume their craft without missing a beat.
Could Callington Mill be a signpost on the way to a post petroleum world? Possibly. Many countries still have a few operating wind and water driven mills and getting others restored or built from scratch is conceivable.
As we see the demise of long distance transport, locally grown and milled flour could once again be the norm. Of course, the cost of flour and therefore bread will increase. But then, it’s going to anyway.
--Steven French, Transition Voice