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.
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.
This advertising shows that this industry started early.
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.
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.
The Great Depression saw many firms fail, although some companies survived and thrived as our population grew.
The West Australian (Perth), 2nd June 1941 page 4.
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.