The last woolscour of its kind in Australia has been recognised as a heritage site for its demonstration of the ingenuity of early 20th century engineering.

The Blackall Woolscour first opened in 1908 in the central west of Queensland. It was a steam-powered facility for the cleaning of the copious amounts of wool produced by the state’s stalwart pastoral industry.

A manually operated woolscour was first built in Blackall in 1893, which was considered an ideal site for such a facility due to the an abundance of water in the ground and convenient rail access.

The labour-intensive nature of the process soon ceded way to a stream-driven mechanical facility, however, which was funded by a consortium of Blackall’s leading business figures.

Wool scouring refers the removal of natural grease and debris found on shorn fleeces, which can comprise up to 40 per cent of their total weight and significantly reduce their price on the market.

The Blackall Woolscour used mechanically agitated forks to push fleeces through a trough full of hot, soapy water, stirring and cleaning them along the way. The motion of the forks was induced via a shaft attached to a series of levers and cranks, deriving its power from a single-cylinder steam engine.

Blackall Woolscour

The scoured wool would then pass through rollers which would squeeze much of the water from it, before passing through a drier which operated by running air across a heat exchanger powered by boilers.

While the woolscour ceased to operate in the late 1970s, it has been preserved ever since due to its significance to the history of engineering in Australia. This significance has now achieved official recognition, with Queensland Governor Penelope Wensley unveiling an Engineering Heritage National Marker at the site.

Brian McGrath from Engineering Heritage Australia said that the facility was a superbly preserved site which attested to the capabilities of Australian engineers at the turn of the 20th century.

“The purpose of the recognition is to ensure present-day generations become aware of the quality of engineering that was done in those early days,” he said. “[The Blackall Woolscour] was in its era, which was the earliest part of the 20th century, a quite up-to-date example of mechanical, electrical and chemical engineering technology and it is the only woolscour of its type remaining in Australia today.”