Grain was once the livelihood of the Wakatipu district. As early as 1866 the Brunswick Flour Mill was milling wheat near the Kawarau Falls at Frankton. It was established by two early entrepreneurs, Bendix Hallenstein and James Robertson, who encouraged local farmers to grow wheat, even offering them cash advances. In its first years of production the mill could produce 24 tons of flour a week. By 1870 there were 700 acres of wheat being grown on the Frankton Flats alone and the mill had increased its production to 40 tons of flour a week.
1870 also saw Robert Gilmore and his brother set up the Wakatipu Flour Mill in Speargrass Flat Road using water from Mill (Hayes ) Creek to power it and in 1874, Peter and John Butel opened their flour mill at Mill Farm also on Mill stream and now the location of Millbrook Resort. This resulted in the Wakatipu becoming one of the best wheat producing areas in New Zealand. Yields of up to 100 bushels per acre, twice the norm, were common.
Local wheat and barely won prizes overseas and regularly fetched the best world prices on the London market. In 1891, at the height of the grain growing period there were 1761 acres of wheat, 2477 acres of oats for feed, 3249 acres of oats for grain and 1029 acres of barley grown in the district. The milling boom did not last. By 1900 New Zealand’s milling capacity was about three times the country’s requirements. Mills that were great distances from rail heads and ports suffered. This led to the demise of the Butels Mill in 1902 and the Brunswick Mill in 1904. Both were demolished. Only the Wakatipu Mill continued, purchased by William Reid who along with his sons ran it until 1940.
‘Reids Flour Mill, it was a 3 storied place, we used to take wheat there, they also had timber and nails, they had two flour millers.' Bob Jenkins.
‘One of the main connections was between Bluff and Melbourne. They used to enter grain in the Royal Melbourne Show. We used to send away 6000 bags of grain a year, that was about 500 acres of cropping wheat and barley. Perhaps 30000 bags of grain would go out from the district’ Cap Jardine
‘ The quality of the crops grown on the farm is of a superior nature, especially the wheat, which is even, smooth, and plump in the grain and for hardness cannot be beaten. The local millers prefer the wheat from the Crown Terrace to any other in the district for milling purposes. This is chiefly owing to the system of fallowing and the thorough manner in which the ground is worked, allowing no weeds to get hold on the soil, impeding the growth and development of the grain.' Report Otago Witness 15th March 1884
Bakeries in Queenstown
Bakers quickly established premises to ply their trade in early Queenstown. Duncan and Lamb, George Woodrow, and George Barnett. helped to feed the thousands of hungry miners flocking into the region. The best known of the bakers however, was Francois St Omer who ran a bakery and restaurant from 1863 until his death in 1915. Born in Marseilles, France, he came to the goldfields, establishing his first bakery in Moke Creek before setting up shop in Rees Street. He was a well respected citizen who was Queenstown’s mayor for many years. Along with his son Frank, he was also responsible for amenity tree planting around Queenstown and the waterfront park is named after them.
Another well know Queenstown baker was Bobby Robins who started working at the age of nine in 1920, for St Omer’s sons. Starting as a message boy, he began his apprenticeship in 1927 and eventually established his own business which operated until 1969. He was an incredibly busy baker, often working 22 hours a day to service Glenorchy, Arrowtown, Omarama, Wanaka and parts of the West Coast. Like St. Omer, he was a tireless worker for the community and also served as Queenstown’s mayor for a number of years.
By 1969 changes in baking techniques and distribution networks, saw city bakeries delivering bread to the Wakatipu.
Bakeries in Arrowtown
It was a common practise to combine a butchers shop with a bakery .Trades directories and rates books tell us there have been four butcher/ bakeries and one sole bakery within Buckingham Street, Arrowtown’s main street. Earliest record show there was a butchers/bakery operated by a Mr Geer and a Mr Paterson in 1867. This was located near the Arrowtown Hall.