2nd January 2021

The story of the clothing and textile industry in Australia: part 2


Leather was being produced in the colonies from 1803. Kangaroo skin made a light and durable leather, but there was initially a dearth of supply of the stronger cattle hides needed to make sole leather.

Hobart Town Gazette, 9th June 1827 page 4.

Bairnsdale Advertiser and Tambo and Omeo Chronicle (Vic), 20th January 1898 page 2.

The leather industry  was significant from the early 19th century onwards, but declined in the mid 20th century as synthetic leather became popular and cheaper. Kangaroo leather is still being produced and exported. It is in high demand in the footwear industry.



Hyde Park Barracks , Sydney Living Museum: image of convict shoe.

This advertising shows that this industry started early.

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW), 12th June 1803 page 1.

Convict’s shoes wore out quickly due to the harsh conditions. As well as producing convicts’ shoes, convict shoe-makers were able to accept private commissions and could continue in the trade upon release. The gentleman of the above advertisment could have been an example of this. However, most shoes were imported until the 1830s. Reportedly, locally made shoes were more expensive, but better quality. First the British, and then the Americans, exported mass produced, machine produced footwear, which, until tariffs were introduced, could be imported cheaper than locally made product.

Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney), 22nd April 1899. Dennis Gillespie started a boot factory in Goulburn in 1842. In 1851 his son Charles took over. In 1899 he employed 200 people. To compete with American imports he had to buy expensive new machinery.

As supply of good quality leather became reliable by the beginning of the 20th century, footwear was produced across Australia. As with so much else, the War saw production swing over to military requirements, with an increase in employment.

Daily Post (Hobart), 15th June 1916 page 7.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 20th February 1920 page 6.

The Herald (Melbourne), 14th January 1930 page 8.

The Great Depression saw many firms fail, although some companies survived and thrived as our population grew.

Daily Standard (Brisbane), 11th May 1931 page 12.

The Age (Melbourne), 1st January 1935 page 10.

The Age (Melbourne), 1st January 1935 page 10.

The West Australian (Perth), 2nd June 1941 page 4.

The Mercury (Hobart), 2nd June 1951 page 12. Note the patronising “men and girls”.

This growth continued until the reduction in tariffs in the 1980-90s. Only about 12% of footwear sold now is locally made.

Tribune (Sydney), 3rd December 1986 page 5.

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