The Mill at Moreton BayHistory of the Petrie Mill site

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Construction of the Mill buildings

From planning to inauguration, Petrie Mill attracted comparisons that reflected the magnitude of the project. The Construction Engineer told of the main building rivalling the size of the Queen Mary - 57 feet (18 Metres) high and 1,000 feet (305 Metres) long. The 1957 inauguration speech of Mr (later Sir) Robert Menzies labelled the project "the largest industrial undertaking in southern Queensland".

One would expect that to build such an endeavour would have required sophisticated equipment and advanced technology. Those who were part of Petrie mills construction crew tell a different story.

Lacking deadlines or a projected completion date, construction of the Mill commenced in 1951. The 400 strong workforce had been warned that working on the Mill project would be a "different" experience as modern equipment would not be readily available. With such a large number of men and a site that for all intents and purposes was a dairy farm, the first task was to construct "convenience" buildings for the workers.

The buildings where the men changed, bathed and ate their meals were constructed on the higher ground, together with the essential thunder boxes. The lower, flat land was retained as the site for the mill.

For two years workers were without modern heavy equipment. Many stories avail as to how they improvised during these early days of construction. The best crane available was a beautiful large Iron Bark tree coupled with chain block and a bomb trolley. When the load was too large for the trolley there was no other option but to call in the troops and apply brute force.

Moving the roof trusses proved to be an example of this. They were constructed some 200 metres from where they were to be used. Each weighed 1.5 tons and required 60 men to relocate them. It was not unusual for the men to sing while carrying the trusses. When the team came to an uneven section of ground those positioned towards the centre of the load would take the full weight, this was evident by their raised and much higher pitched voices.

Apart from brute force and ingenuity the workers required the following to construct the main mill buildings:

  • A floor plan covering over 278,000 square feet (6.33 acres or 25,854 sq mts) - the plan was drawn up in Germany and unfortunately, for those at Petrie, was also written in German.
  • 1,880 tons (1,898 tonnes) of structural steel - much of the steel was also brought from Germany.
  • 3,300 tons (3,649 tonnes) of cement
  • 26,000 tons (28,756 tonnes) of concrete - gravel was extracted from beds alongside the river.
  • 10,000 yards (9,145 sq Mtrs) were excavated
  • 20,000 tons (22,120 tonnes) of filling used
  • 2,250,000 bricks
  • 67,000 super feet of roof purlins

Construction History - Main Mill Buildings

Construction timeline
Year/Date Milestone
1951 Construction of the Mill buildings commenced.
1951 - October

Mill roads had been graveled and channeling and kerbing was under construction.

The drainage was near completion and construction of the Administration Block, Engineer Workshop and Store were all in progress.

1952

Foundations for the main building were prepared and later completed.

Major Steelwork was in place to carry the 134 metre long and 3.5 metre wide paperboard machine.

1952 - 2 weeks before Christmas A major economic recession had hit Australia and APM was forced to halt the Petrie Project. Two weeks before Christmas approximately 250 workers were laid off. 50 men were retained to maintain the site and manage any deliveries that arrived from overseas. The men were also kept busy “tropic-proofing” equipment that was being housed in the open. This treatment was aimed at minimising rust.
1955 Work on construction of the Mill recommenced. Many of the workers, previously laid off, returned to finish the job they had started in 1951. This time the deal included modern equipment.
1955 - October

Bricking in of the main mill building commenced as did laying of the steel reinforcing for the main machine room floor.

Turbine house was near completion.

1957 Buildings and installations completed
1957 - August At 9.00pm on 21 August 1957 the first board was produced by the Petrie main machine.

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