Trouble at mill? Not with these chaps on hand

The wheels came off the machinery at Clark’s Mill the other day – along with a segment of its conveyor belt and other associated pieces of century-old technology. 

Two volunteers working among the rafters at Clarks Mill.
Clark’s Mill volunteers. Photo: HNZPTexpand/collapse

But it was all in the name of repairs and maintenance for the intrepid group of expert volunteers who keep Clark’s Mill – a site cared for by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga a few minutes south of Oamaru – up and running. For them ensuring one of the oldest original water wheel-powered flour mills in the country still works today is a labour of love.

The team recently repaired a problematic segment of canvas conveyor belt which lies at the heart of the incredibly intricate mill machinery. 

Encased within beautifully constructed rimu ducts and conduits the network of conveyor belts, complete with ingenious metal scoops attached to the belts, lift the raw wheat to the top of the four-storey mill building where it begins its journey of refinement through a number of physical processes that eventually transform the unpromising looking raw material into fine flour.

“The conveyor belts are central to moving the raw material around the mill. And recently the volunteers had to isolate and fix what had become the equivalent of a very complex, and potentially disastrous paper jam,” says Marise Martin, the Property Lead of Clark’s Mill and Totara Estate.

“The repair was never in doubt – though it only served to highlight once again our volunteers’ expertise and importance in keeping things running.”

Clark’s Mill provides one of the most extraordinary live heritage experiences in the country according to Marise.

“What we have is a beautifully crafted, ingenious working factory designed to mill flour on a truly industrial scale,” she says.

“The machinery associated with it – some of which dates back to the beginnings of the mill in the 1860s – is complex. Very complex. And yet this remarkable network of technology from another era continues to function and fascinate visitors even today.”

Keeping the wheels turning and the conveyor belts moving requires commitment and expertise; something the team have in abundance.

“There is no instruction manual for maintaining and repairing a series of belt-driven machines and other plant dating back to the earliest years of the 20th Century, and even earlier in some instances,” she says.

“We are in awe of the technical skills of our volunteers – and thankful that once again, they’ve been able to keep the mill going.”

Clark’s Mill is always looking for people who might be interested in joining the volunteers according to Marise.

“There are a lot of people with a lot of skills out there – and so we always like to encourage those who might be interested in joining our volunteer team and ‘learning the ropes’ to get in touch,” she says.

John O'Hare