The Guardian October 10, 2001


Book Review

Saving Brunswick's Brickworks
Anea Himbury (Editor)

Reviewed by Peter Mac

A brickmaking history

"As Long as You Could See the Hoffman's Chimneys You Wasn't Lost"

One of the strange things about industrial sites is the way they gain 
affection (especially in retrospect) despite often having been the subject 
of protracted and bitter industrial struggles. Such is the case with the 
former Hoffman's brick yard at the inner Melbourne suburb of Brunswick.

Within recent years this site has been the subject of a campaign to save 
the site's remaining brickmaking structures, a struggle equivalent in 
intensity to any of the industrial disputes that took place during the 
working life of the brickworks.

The history of this site has been documented in the small but intriguing 
publication with the odd title "As Long as You Could See the Hoffman's 
Chimneys You Wasn't Lost: Saving Brunswick's Brickworks", produced by the 
local community with the assistance of the Construction, Forestry, Mining 
and Energy Union.

After the colonial occupation of Victoria, the Brunswick area was used for 
farming and later subdivided for housing. However, the Brunswick, Preston 
and Northcote area, which has rich deposits of clay for earthenware, was 
dominated for much of the 19 and most of the 20 centuries by brick, tile 
and pottery industries.

One of the major sites was the Hoffman brick works and claypit in Dawson 
Street, Brunswick.

Its three enormous chimneys cast a giant shadow (literally and 
symbolically), across much of the suburb, and the products of its giant pit 
and its three elliptical kilns were used in the construction of thousands 
of Victorian buildings, including the Melbourne Shrine and Parliament 
House.

Most of the parks of the Brunswick area are located on former claypits.

The first clay-based industries in the locality were established in 1841, 
and by 1869, 44 pottery and brickmaking firms were operating in the area. 
Early brickmaking technology in the Australian colonies utilised the 
relatively inefficient "Scotch" kilns and produced by hand the beautiful 
but irregular sandstock bricks.

Towards the end of the 19 century scientific and technological developments 
resulted in new brickmaking technology, including new "dry pressed" 
brickmaking equipment and continuous kilns, all of which paved the way for 
mass production of durable and dimensionally-stable bricks in Australia.

In Victoria these innovations coincided with the boom years of the gold 
rush and the construction of an extensive rail network, and all of these 
developments combined to facilitate the building boom of the late 19 
century.

The first firm to utilise the new technology appears to have been the 
Hoffman Patent Brick and Tile company (later renamed the Hoffman Steam and 
Brick Company), which commenced mass production of bricks in Brunswick in 
1870.

The Dawson Street site was established in 1884, and by the turn of the 
century Hoffmans had become the major employer in the area and the largest 
brickmaking and pottery firm in Victoria.

The Hoffman's Brickworks was at various times the scene of intense union 
action, and was at the forefront of the campaign to win an eight-hour day 
for brickmakers throughout the state. In 1873 the firm's manager wrote to 
the brickmakers' union: "Sir, we are prepared to adopt the eight hour 
system in our work as far as it is practicable. ... We agree to this 
conditionally that no stoppage occurs at our works. Trusting that the eight 
hour day will prove to be satisfactory to all concerned ... "

The industry also dominated the day-to-day lives of the local residents. 
Much of the Brunswick area was subdivided and sold to local workers, but 
often with covenants to prevent the use of clay from these sites for 
brickmaking purposes.

The chimneys ceased belching smoke on Mondays, to allow households to do 
their washing without getting it ruined by kiln smuts.

The gutters awash with streams of water pumped from the brickworks, the 
clay dust, the shiftwork whistles, the glare from the kilns and the noise 
of machinery formed a physical backdrop to life in the area.

Local folk and visitors alike would orient themselves by reference to the 
"Hoffers" chimneys. As one long time resident and brickworks employee 
noted: "As long as you could see the Hoffman's chimneys you wasn't lost".

The firm survived the depression of the 1890s by merging with others to 
form what was in effect a monopoly combine, the Co-operative Brick 
Manufacturers Company. It also rode out the depression of the 1930s, but 
with significant losses, and with a reduction in scale of operations.

Its fortunes recovered during WW2, but by then the clay was being worked 
out, and the original Albert Street works were closed down in 1941 and the 
site sold. In 1958 the Dawson Street pit was sold and was used for 
landfill, and the works sold in 1960.

The pit was converted to parkland in 1986 and the works sold again. 
Brickmaking ceased in 1993 and the site of the works was finally sold to 
Sungrove Corporation in 1996.

The Hoffman Brickworks was classified by the National Trust in 1987. The 
site was entered in the Victorian Heritage Register in 1989, and was later 
listed as a historic area in the local planning scheme.

By the 1970s most of the local clay-based industries had ceased operations, 
and the Hoffman brickworks closed in 1993.

Shortly after closure the new owners, the Sungrave Corporation, announced 
their intention to demolish the remaining Hoffman structures and build new 
housing. They were obviously not in the least deterred by the official 
recognition of the heritage status of the site.

The support group Save the Brickworks was subsequently formed with the 
express purpose of saving the Hoffman brickworks structures. It held a 
number of seminars and exhibitions concerning the site, its role in the 
introduction of new industrial technology and its industrial history.

Because of the efforts of this group, the developers were forced to reduce 
the scope of works to minimise the impact on the remaining structures. 
Alas, there was still a concession. The developers succeeded in gaining 
approval for the demolition of one of the kilns. This was the oldest kiln 
on the site, and was the oldest remaining Hoffman kiln in Australia.

For copies of this booklet or further information on the campaign contact:

The convener
Save the Brickworks
C/-21 Pearson st, West Brunswick, Victoria 3055 
Ph: (03) 9380 5554 or 
check community links on
http://www.moreland.vic.gov.au

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