In 1922 five main buildings, built of local red brick with white trim and typical sawtooth roofline, were erected on a 4.4 ha site located in South Geelong. At its peak the mill had around 500 staff on the payroll however in 1973 a controversial merge with the British company, John Foster and Sons, signalled the start of a decline. The mill, along with much of Australia’s textile industry, found it difficult to compete with overseas operations and in 1984 it ceased operating.
A period of various other uses for the buildings followed, including the Mill Vintage Markets and a vehicle trim manufacturing operation, but these did not have long term success. For a several years the site sat empty and seemingly forgotten.
In the late 2000s, Little Creatures, a Fremantle based brewing company, began a search for a new home that would enable them to expand their business further to the east coast. The ideal location they envisaged was an existing building that needed some love. The Valley Worsted Mills fitted the bill perfectly.
Following the acquisition of the site in 2011, Little Creatures engaged Robert Simeoni Architects and Kane Constructions to undertake the ambitious plan of converting the buildings into a new brewery and hospitality venue. Substantial building works, upgrades, repairs, modifications and installation of brewing equipment took place before the venue was able to begin brewing in 2013.
Despite maintaining the original 1922 look and feel, $10 million was spent on the project.
The visitors’ first experience of the Little Creatures Brewery, which is publicly accessible, begins in The Canteen, a hospitality space full of natural light, timber, concrete, bricks, extensive piping, exposed steel structure and pallets. Lots of pallets. All the packaging material in which the brewery equipment arrived, including the shipping container itself, have been cleverly converted into tables, shelving, a bar area and other furniture pieces. The result is a space with a very rustic, industrial feel.
Brewery tours are offered twice a day, for which participants are required to don a hard hat, safety glasses and steel capped boots. The first brewing building on the tour features the history of the brewery and site in a space surrounded by the original material from 92 years ago. The large stainless steel brewing tanks provide a striking but attractive contrast to the original bricks and floorboards. In parts of the factory a third level mezzanine has been removed, highlighting the sheer volume of the space.
Throughout the site there are newly added walls for specialised equipment, various brewing tanks and seemingly endless piping. Larger brewery tanks appear to be located outdoors but are surrounded by a skeleton steel frame, a reminder of the former mill complex. Sections of the existing buildings had to be removed to accommodate the larger tanks but the new arrangement provides a completely different view of the building, in the beautiful shadows cast by the steel frames.
The bottling room is located within the only building to maintain its original roof due to the presence of asbestos. The building is full of machinery that can bottle and package a six pack in seconds. With a ceiling height much lower compared to the other spaces, and with the noise of the machines, the bottling room offers a different atmosphere to the rest of the site.
There can be no arguing that Little Creatures has succeeded in retaining the charm of the Valley Worsted Mill buildings while giving the site a whole new life and purpose. Now, countless new stories are being added to the fabric of the buildings by the brewers sharing tales of their weekend adventures, friends laughing over a meal and a beer, or families enjoying the regular Sunday craft market.
Little Creatures Brewing market and brew a wide range of beers and brands, including White Rabbit. Later in 2015 White Rabbit Brewery will move from their current home in Healesville into their own space within the Geelong site. This space will include room for 400 barrels that will enable them to explore the unique brewing process of barrel-aged beer. White Rabbit are the Official Beer Provider of the Victorian Chapter in 2015. Keep an eye out for White Rabbit Belgian Style Pale Ale served at Institute events throughout the year.