There is a saying I’ve heard that sums up comparisons between the United States and Europe: Years in Europe are like miles in the United States. That is, they have vastly more centuries of history; we have vastly more space. The same comparison could be made to Australia—another big place where “ancient history” is 200 years ago.
The Old Mill, just off of Mill Point Road in South Perth, was built in 1835 to grind wheat for local settlers. Built by a young engineer named William Kernot Shenton, it was the colony’s first successful wind-powered flour mill—and it is the oldest industrial site in Western Australia.
The area that is today known as South Perth was originally used primarily for farming and growing fruit. It was one of the earliest areas to be developed after the Swan River Colony was settled in 1829. When he built his flourmill and its attendant cottage, Shenton became the first permanent resident of South Perth. Shenton’s mill went on to play an important role in the survival of the young, struggling colony.
The site for the mill seemed perfect—right on the Swan River, for easy transportation to settlers, and in a breezy spot that supplied enough wind to keep the sails turning. At its peak of productivity, the mill produce more than 1,000 pounds of flour a day. However, as additional mills were built and roads were improved, making proximity to the river less of an advantage, the mill became less profitable, and it stopped production in 1859.
The mill was a solid, handsome structure created from heavy stones. It was built to last, but in the 1950s, its continued existence was threatened by a proposed freeway project. But local residents and the Western Australia Historical Society united to save the mill. In 1957, Shenton’s mill was restored and became a museum of local history. Then, in 1992, care and protection of the Old Mill was passed on to the National Trust. It still houses artifacts of the area’s fascinating and sometimes difficult history, and it is one of Perth’s most popular landmarks.