Woollen Yarns Opening

(10.30am 28 August 2012, Customs House)

Thank you, Lisa Murray - City Historian, and hello, everyone, welcome to Customs House. I acknowledge the original custodians of our land, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and pay my respects to their Elders both past and present, and I acknowledge the people of the 200 nations who live in our city.

A special welcome today to Melissa Grace and the directors and staff of Australian Wool Innovation who've been so generous in lending items and supporting this exhibition.

The old adage of Australia as the land that rode on the sheep's back inevitably conjured images of the wide brown land and the sheep stations of western NSW. But the reality - as this exhibition makes clear - was that Sydney, too, played a major role as the warehouse and processing plant, the storehouse and trading port that got that wool out to the world.

In the 19th century, as today, Sydney was Australia's vital link in the global commercial and trading networks. Not only the storage and trading was carried out from here, but much of the processing as well took place in our local government area.

Today, much of that story remains, reflected in the wharves at Darling Harbour, the storehouses around Pyrmont, Ultimo and Miller's Point, the remnants of the old stores and scouring and textile mills in Waterloo and Alexandria whose creeks and waterways supplied abundant water.

Other traces have disappeared, banished as "noxious trades" or built over as the population increased.

Botany was the site of Simeon Lord's water-powered mill, established in 1815 to make woollen cloth. In the 1840s, Thomas Barker began making "colonial tweed" at his steam-mill on Sussex Street, later taken over by John Vicars who continued textile manufacturing there until as late as 1894.

From the 1870s, the international wool buyers began coming to Sydney, rather than buying Australian wool in London and the story of wool is woven into the fabric of our city, with even places like Wentworth Park having a "wool connection", given that it was the site of temporary sheds for wool storage during World War I, when Britain purchased the entire Australian and New Zealand wool clip for uniforms and troop clothing.

This exhibition coincides with History Week, and resonates with the 2012 theme of Threads. It also links with our promotion of Sydney as a fashion centre and it draws on the really amazing resources of our City archives.

I would like to thank our archives, history and curatorial staff for preparing a truly fascinating exhibition. I've said before, in other contexts, that it's not a question of "Sydney or the Bush" but "Sydney and the Bush" since, in a globalised economy, we are the vital nexus for trade and exchange.

Woollen Yarns shows us how that nexus has always mattered. Thanks once again to Australian Wool Innovation and the Woolmark Company for their support, and to all our City staff.

I'm delighted to declare the exhibition open.