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Brief history of Australian Shoes

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Historic outline of the shoe industry in Australia from the 18th century

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Brief history of Australian Shoes

  1. 1. Brief History of Australian Shoes Cameron Kippen toeslayer@yahoo.com.au
  2. 2. Indigenous Australians The Traditional Owners seldom ever wore shoes. Most tribes were reported to go unshod but some from the Northern Territory of Australia did wear a primitive sandal made from tree bark. These were retained by thongs to the first and fifth toes. Ceremonial shoes were worn by aboriginal shaman and these included emu feather slippers tied together with a marsupial fur string. The emu slippers left no footprints.
  3. 3. New Arrivals Early settlers to the colonies were met with a stare because they sported the latest fashions from Europe. Top boots may have been all the fashion in London but had little practical use in rural Australia. New arrivals immediately acquired the bush dress of rough clothes and equivalent manners.
  4. 4. Snobs Convict shoemakers had rareky committed any crime and were deported because they were active unionists or Chartists. In the 18th/19th century England, trade unions were viewed suspiciously by authorities and regarded as either secret societies or groups seeking to overthrow the government. In the prisons, trade unionists spread their beliefs on unionism which helped fuel the strikes that would come in the goldfields (1854). In the harsh conditions of the penal colony boots wore out quickly Problems of mass production were further hampered with lack of raw materials and inferior local hides. Convict shoes were straight lasted and part of their penance was having to break them in. Many snobs continued their trade on release to town and bush and quickly established themselves as saddlers and leather tradesmen. In the 1828 census the outback had one shoemaker for every 236 inhabitants. Convict shoe makers or “Snobs” were in great demand to make shoes for fellow in- mates and for private commission.
  5. 5. Going Barefoot Bare footedness was a common practice among the early Scots and Irish immigrants; this was by choice and not borne through adversity. It was only after the 1830s, going barefoot became a mark of deprivation for New Australians. In 19th century Perth, complaints were recorded in letters back to Blighty, " many respectable females with their children are going barefoot, not a shoe maker can be got to work."
  6. 6. Shoemaking in Perth Western Australia became a penal colony much later and received a small number of juvenile offenders from 1842. It was not formally constituted as a penal colony until 1849 (ceased in 1868) with the main purpose to provide labour and skills; and secondly swell the population. Unlike other penal colonies shoemaking was taught to the prisoners and mirroring elsewhere, the West Australian snobs on release set up shop as bespoke shoe makers. Western Australia had at one time more shoemakers per head of population than any other state.
  7. 7. The beginning of Australian Shoe manufacture By the mid-19th century outback bookmakers were beginning to make better quality boots but these were expensive. Local manufactures claimed their bootslasted longer than English imports. In truth, Ocker boots lasted on average one calendar month whereas the English slops were worn by two to three weeks. By the end of the 1850s women's British made boots cost between 3/6 to 7/- ; whereas colonial boots cost 12/6 By the 1840s, New South Wales and South Australia were self sufficient for shoe and bootmakers for their populations. Adelaide had four tanneries in full production in 1843.
  8. 8. The Gold Rush Between 1850 & 1860, tradesmen’s wages doubled due to the gold rush and the NSW footwear industry went into decline. British manufacturers increased their efforts to flood the market with low cost footwear. By 1870, Sydney bootmakers were back producing 15,000 pairs of boots a week (Melbourne, 1890s). Mechanisation meant Australian bootmakers could cater for the neglected market of children's shoes. Shoes were made for men and children rather than women.
  9. 9. John Lobb John Lobb was a London trained bootmaker who came to Australia to try his luck in the goldfields. There he came up with the idea of making hollow heeled boots for prospectors to hide their gold nuggets. The idea caught on suffice Lobb funded a new business in Sydney in 1858. When the Great Exhibition came along in 1862 he sent a pair of his boots along and won a gold medal for their quality. Twelve months later he sent a pair of his riding boots to the Prince of Wales and was awarded a Royal Warrant
  10. 10. John Lobb Lobb returned to London in 1866 and established a business " John Lobb, Bootmaker" which continues to trade as the world's most famous bespoke shoemaking establishment. Later in 1902 he opened a second branch in Paris which was patronized by the rich and famous, including Katharine Hepburn and Edward VII. Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle and Alfred Hitchcock all owned John Lobb footwear.
  11. 11. Australia: Early Fashion Shoe Industry Towards the end of the 19th century, Australian (middle class) women became preoccupied with European fashion. The bourgeois shopped at the new stores and all the large shops in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Clarks of England exported children’s shoes to Australia since 1842. Working class people bought shoes from slop shops which catered for the cheap and cheerful.
  12. 12. American Imports The American shoe industry was early to embrace new technology (1858). At first mass produced shoes were poor quality and scarcely lasted more than 12 days. Companies over produced for the domestic market and soon America became a major exporter. During the Australian Gold Rush the population quadrupled just as the Americans flooded the market. Australian manufacturers found it difficult to compete until tariffs were introduced then they started producing their own footwear.
  13. 13. American sales American styles on colonial woman's fashion was profound and by 1894 the American shoes had replaced British footwear for preference. There was an American Shoe Company in George Street Sydney selling modish forms of footwear. By the time Melbourne manufacturers had converted to a modern system of mechanisation in the mid 1890s the US had captured the Australian market. The US mail order catalogues (Sear 1886) had a wide array of styles and leathers which brought cheaper shoes to ordinary people. A Melbourne firm responded by producing shoes made from kangaroo skins. The Kangaratta was popular partly because kangaroo skin looked like superior glace kid.
  14. 14. Resurgence of Australian Footwear Manufacture By the beginning of the 20th century good quality leather was abundant and many new Australian companies started making quality boots for farmers. The onset of World War, meant Australian boot makers went into war production mode, manufacturing footwear for the Australian military. Many of these companies have survived producing quality footwear for mountaineering and industrial needs. The First World War saw a massive demand for Australian footwear and by the 20s there were large Australian footwear companies with many hundreds of employees.
  15. 15. Mixed fortunes of the Australian Industry During the Depression most shoe firms went to the wall but in their wake came smaller boutique companies who thrived due to demand of the Second World War an increasing population. By the 60s, improved economy with technical and scientific innovations, and increased availability of raw materials saw an expansion of the home footwear industry. By the 80s and 90s there was a marked decline in Australian produced footwear as more dependency on imports from Asia became apparent. Currently local manufacturers produce about 12% of the footwear purchased in Australia with much of the production now done off shore.
  16. 16. RM Williams Distance alone meant horsemen (bushman) by necessity became skilled leather workers including boot makers. Reg Williams (1908 - 2003), was in his early teens when he left home in South Australia to work in the bush. There he met, Dollar Mick, a gifted saddler who passed on his craft skills to young Reg. During the Great Depression, Reg made and sold his boots by mail order. The secret of the boot was its simplicity, the upper and quarters of the riding boot were shaped from one piece of leather. This meant only one seam at the back, which improved the boots, waterproof properties. The footwear was further strengthened by the absence of side seems. With no protruding seems to catch in the stirrups the boot was ideal for horsemen.
  17. 17. Foot Note : Shoe Polish Kiwi boot polish was first made in Melbourne Australia in 1906. The polish was developed by Scotsman, William Ramsay and his partner Hamilton McKellan and named after the flightless bird because Ramsay’s wife was from New Zealand. The shoe polish was a fine blend of quality waxes which protected and nourished leather as well as giving the shoes a longer lasting glossy shine. Initially it was sold to local farmers but eventually caught on in the towns and cities. Shoe polish gave both a shoe shine as well as preserving shoe leather. Later in 1908 the product incorporated agents that added suppleness and water resistance to the leather. By the mid-twenties Kiwi polish became a must have accessory for the prevalent English style and sold in over 50 countries

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