South Australia’s wool clip was channelled through Port Adelaide on its way to the looms of Europe. The colony’s most powerful graziers formed Elder Stirling and Company in 1856 and built their grand stone store near the riverbank. By the late 1870s Port Adelaide was the hub of the trade, the place where fleeces were graded and sold for shipment.
A light but bulky cargo, the stores were also responsible for ‘dumping’ the wool—compacting it with hydraulic pressers to reduce the space it consumed in the ship’s hold. Once a sufficient volume of fleeces of a certain quality had filled a grading bin, the wool was compressed in the original bale to about one third of the size and then fastened with metal bands.
The boom continued through the 1880s. More lumbering brick and stone stores were constructed to the south of New Port, robust enough to withstand the weight of wool presses and thousands of bales from the expanding clip. Other companies shifted in: the company’s successor Elder Smith and Co, Goldsbrough Mort, Bagot Shakes and Lewis, Dalgety, Luxmoore, and the South Australian Farmers Co-op.
A demand for woollen uniforms during the Korean War in the 1950s saw the last boom. Synthetic supplanted natural fibres, and the market collapsed completely in 1990. Many of the Port’s sprawling wool stores have since lain vacant. There are plans for residential warehouse conversions.
"Some years ago I chanced upon access to one of the woolstores for the first time, I had one hour to play with and just two rolls of film with me. I had to make the most of those 24 available frames, some of these images here are from that first encounter. Loved the light, the texture, the grit, the rawness and the expanse, I feel totally privileged to have had the opportunity to record these sublime interiors over the ensuing years." Tony Kearney