Not many can deny an unmistakable attraction to a decaying structure that still standing today in various degrees of disrepair and rot. And an added bonus when such said structure, location or building is within fairly easy access for one to visit and photograph.
Today’s excursion is the 30 year old abandoned Tooheys Factory, a.k.a Mittagong Matlings, a.k.a Tooth & Co, a.k.a Tooheys Brewery a.k.a The Maltings. Located in the very heart of the Southern Highlands in Mittagong. About an hour and a half south-west of Sutherland/Sydney.
Before I continue, for those who know me, will know I always include history of the abandoned locations I visit. I feel strongly about this as it gives the images meaning and life. It symbolizes an era passed, a way to make a connection with history or a town one lives in, to understand how these structures arrived in their current state and also to appreciate the beauty of derelict. And hopefully enables the reader to deeply appreciate history of what has come to pass.
Granted this is not everyone’s cup of tea. So if connecting with the past is not your thing, and you’d rather just skim through the images, please enjoy as they are absolute beauties, if I do say so myself. Although as is synonymous, sometimes an image sadly can never truly convey the emotion and beauty of physically being present in a particular surrounding, but I have tried to convey the exquisiteness of this location as much as is feasible and hope you enjoy.
So without further ado, let’s delve into the history (noted in Italics in this post) of The Maltings, its people, its buildings, it successes and sadly its demise, shall we. Grab a cuppa or whatever liquid delight takes your fancy and read on. I’ll keep this as brief as I can and break it up with some visual delights.
We’ll start with branding. For most companies, the very measure of consumer recognition. The face of Tooth & Co, its logo and trademark is based on the Battle Standard of two Saxon Chiefs, Hengist (stallion) and Horsa (horse), who, more than 1400 years ago invaded Britain. Upon the crowning of Hengist’s son, Eric, the first king of Kent, a white horse symbolic of the standard of the ancient Saxons and therefore became the emblem of Kent.
John Tooth, born in Kent, made the White Horse Rampant his company’s trademark and in the early 1970’s, in an attempt to modernize the image, it was secretly gelded. However it seems far too observant staff noticed this change and foresaw it as an omen of things to come. Clearly not a positive thing. And so the it was changed yet again to a stylized horse head.
This is the trademark currently standing proud on Malthouse 1 and 2
And of course, we’ve had some artistic folks, put their own little spin on the Tooth & Co iconic horse image.
And how did Kent Brewery become Tooth & Co …
- In the early 1830’s, John Kent emigrated to Australia and in 1835 together with his brother-in-law John Newnham, opened Kent Brewery in Sydney, New South Wales.
- In 1888 it was incorporated as a company.
- Historically it was one of Australia’s oldest companies and major brewery in New South Wales (NSW).
- It was listed on the stock exchange in July 1961.
- The tooth family it seems had a penchant for success as they had interests in banking, agriculture and real estate as well. It was due to the successes of these ventures that enabled them to ride out the tide of the brewing operations through turbulent times in the late 19th Century and Kent Brewery became one of their major assets.
- They also owned Blue Bow Cordials, in 1905, acquired The Maltings in Mittagong (the phenomenon I write about in this entire post), Maltings in Carlton Street Sydney, the Reschs Waverley Brewery in 1921, numerous hotels and land. They owned the NSW Hungry Jacks franchise, the d’Albora Marina and Courage Brewer in Victoria, a brewery at Tuncester, near Lismore NSW, Penfold Wines and subsidiary Koala Motel Chain. Yes, clearly the Tooth family were hugely successful.
- In 1900, the Kent Brewery was damaged in a fire where in their dire straits, needed a base to brew beer, they took over Reschs Ltd and their ‘Waverley’ brewer on South Dowling Street in Redfern. A caveat to this takeover was that Tooth would not change the original recipe for Reschs Beer.
- The Tooth family in later years attempted to acquire the Millers Brewery, unsuccessfully so and in 1967, Millers Brewery was sold to rivals, Tooheys Ltd.
And there you have it thus far. We have the Tooth family owning the Kent Brewery and their rivals owning Tooheys Ltd.
But let’s get back to my location, the Maltings in Mittagong.
- This site or rather The Maltings Company of NSW Ltd formed in September 1898. This particular site is located adjacent to the main southern railway line, hence why is was chosen; the convenience of rail transport facilities and good water supply from the Nattai River. The main entrance is from the north, off the old Hume Highway and boasts an amazing 6.6ha of land and straddles the Nattai Creek as mentioned before.
- Here a single Malt-house was erected and commenced operation in August 1899. The building comprised of two concrete floors with all necessary additions with a fair amount of success despite supply issues with barley at the time.
- In addition to the malthouse buildings, the site also originally comprised of several ancillary/out buildings, including a large barley store, sheds, a service building complex (engine rooms and pumps) and a company cottage (another stunning structure, that is deserving of its own separate post HERE).
- In 1905, due to the success of the Sydney brewery, they were able to purchase the Mittagong Works and commenced with expanding its operations in the form of various additions and the No 2 Malthouse was completed in 1907.
- Malthouse No 3 was also built and opened in 1916. This coincided with Tooth’s buying and closing down many of its smaller country breweries.
Images below taken from the Office of Environment & Heritage showing the various Malthouse’s and a brief summary of their history.
- In the early 1940’s the output of malt was approx. 200,000 bushells annually. Sadly this was severely affected in 1942 with the outbreak of a large fire in August of 1942 that completely gutted No 2 Malthouse and damaged No 1.
- In early 1943, Malthouse No 1 was returned to operations, by constructing a temporary shell of timber and fibro inside the original brick walls while more extensive repairs were slowly made over the coming years.
- While Malthouse No 2 took three years to be completely rebuilt, and recommenced active operations in 1953 until sadly another fire gutted No 3 Malthouse in 1969.
Makes you wonder about this site. Doomed to endure years of success followed by reoccurring fires. Surely that’s an omen. But you gotta hand it to the Tooth family for persevering with a still successful venture. Operations continued until 1980, when the site was eventually closed down and sold to local business men who had intentions of using the building as a commercial Arts Crafts and Museum Complex.
Mmmmm, clearly the prospectus failed to include the penchant for this site being prone to major fires. And low and behold, this project did in fact lapse and in 1989, another proposal was put forward to develop the site in a hotel. And low and behold, this one also did not materialize. Lucky for us, as what remains behind is the history of Tooth & Co in a beautiful state of rot and decay. So in essence the Mittagong Maltings was in existence from 1899 – 1980.
- When Tooth & Co was closed down, the Tooth family removed some of their equipment and transferred it to their Kent Brewery which was turned into a museum and later donated to the Powerhouse Museum where some items are currently on display.
And now we get to the next lot of good stuff. The ‘hear and now’ stuff. My discoveries while spending several hours roaming every conceivable nook and cranny in the two Malthouses (Maltings 1 + 3) that remain and the Manager’s Residence – or Cottage as I like to call it, as that is what it feels like to me. A beautiful perfect size homely cottage. Find images in a separate post called Abandoned Manager’s Residence @ Mittagong Maltings.
As you exit off Hume Hightway and onto Ferguson Crescent on to a beaten track, hidden from the main road, you enter the site through a stunning weathered gate, already a good sign and get your first view of the front of Maltings Building 1. Still looking beautiful as ever and not really that weathered, which for a brief moment, I’m somewhat disappointed.
But as I drive further into the property. I’m infinity glad that we’re actually able to park the car right next to the first building and later discover that you’re actually able to drive over the bridge and cross over to Maltings Building No 3.
And arriving at Malthouse No 1 & 2. This is what you’re greeted with. As I’m parking the car, I can barely contain my excitement. I literally want to jump out and run around inspecting. But I patiently get out, and start assembling the gear I’d need. I’m thankful that we were even able to park the car this close and not have to walk km’s through bushland to get to our destination, which is what I was expecting, but this has already far surpassed my expectations and it’s going to be a good day.
As we make our way toward the entrance of the first building, we pass so many little treasures scattered on the floor, which immediately keeps me occupied for the next 40 minutes or so, while Susan and Keiko patiently wait while I marvel in my joy that is barley containable – a burnt out bicycle, the inner springs coils of a mattress (not something one sees everyday), so much rust and texture.
It never fails to amazing me how elements of mother nature bearing down on the structure and scattered objects has taken its toll, and added to the mystery and exquisite texture and state of decay. Next is a burnt out structure, a wooden skeleton of a frame barely held together. Not sure what this small building would have housed, but it’s fascinating, how a frame still stands tall and proud, granted missing a few large chucks here and there, but again really great to see the inner framework that encapsulates what once was a solid possible double brick structure.
And so our explorations begin. Again, let me pre warn, this is a long post and duly so. As we spent hours investigating every room, every nook, every cranny, you realise how many individual rooms there are within each building and each room has a different feel, a different arachitectural structure, different treasures, different decay, different chaos and so there is no short way to portray the complexity and beauty that is The Maltings.
And enter Malthouse No 1 through a small corner archway. The brickwork is lovely and make even more appealing by the graffiti. Upon entering, initially there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot to see, except metal beams sandwiched by cages.
However as you venture further into the ‘cave’, right at the very end are some lovely treasures to behold. Yes, just a bunch of old canteen style red leather upholstered chairs, what looks like a bar stool, absolutely charcoaled to smithereens. Just a whole mess really. But fascinating mess.
One room down, many to go, I suspect at this point. But nothing could have prepared me for the wonders we discovered in each room. In order to get to each room within each building you had to exit the building you were currently in, walk outside and then on to the next entry, doorway, arch you can see and step inside to see what awaits you.
The next room turned out to be a large rectangular area laden with parallel metal beams toward the front of the room. It was a two-storey room, with a massive square chunk of the floor missing above, essentially creating a large window in which you could peer to the next level above. Lying on the floor, a heavy solid rusting door on rails.
Looking toward the far end of this room, I’m instantly drawn to the vibrant green moss I see latched onto the brick walls and everything else in front of me now becomes a blur. I head straight to the far left corner and there it is. Everywhere. On the walls, within the door frame. As you step closer, you really get to see the life of the moss. I particularly loved the section where a few nails are embedded within the wall and surrounded by lush, soft vegetation. Such a contrast of textures and materials. Of course, I loved the black heart as well scattered by a thinner layer of moss. Loved the engravings. Loved, loved, loved it all.
Second room down. Well downstairs in this building anyway. Now we head toward a lovely doorway on the opposite end of the room, sold, heavy as I see a staircase that looks fairly stable from a distance, and yes please. I definitely want to head upstairs and see what lurks there.
On closer inspection, once you step onto the first three stairs, you realise they’re not that stable after all, but I haven’t come this far to turn back now. And so slowly I tread, one at a time. You hear the wood creak beneath your shoes. One hand clutching onto the banister, as if that is any more stable than the actual stairs and the other grips your tripod and camera and up I go. Inspecting the graffiti on the walls as I climb. So much detail to absorb. I can hear Susan and Keiko already up on the landing above talking away and I almost want to run up the flight of stairs to get there, I’m that excited and eager to see what they’re seeing. But patience shall have to persist this time.
This rickety narrow staircase turns out to be such a fascinating climb. On the first level is where Keiko and Susan stopped and I walk into the room I was just looking at from below, with the large square section missing, allowing you to see the beam formation above. It’s a large empty room with a fair amount of graffiti and beams only in the centre. I think this is probably the only room where all four walls were covered in graffiti and it allowed plenty of natural light in from this level. It had a great feeling of space and air. Made me wonder what this floor was used for back in the day.
Once I’d had my sufficient it of graffiti and visuals, it’s time to head out and back onto this fabulous staircase and venture up. Here the floors are now missing, which leaves you no comfortable or safe room to climb further up and get into the next room – actually that’s not entirely true. It is possible with a little bit of effort and difficulty and maybe stupidity with no regard for once safety.
Just prior to jumping into the room on my right, I’m able to look across the landing into another room in front of me with beams across the width of the floor which would have served as the framework for the floor once upon a time and wooden beams making up the ceiling. This is the room I was standing below looking up into. So rather nice to see it from a horizontal perspective. Loving the contrast of cold metal beams in perfect parallel formation against the cross hatch of splintered beams rotting and decaying.
And so I convince Susan to stand still and hold my equipment while I take advantage of having two hands to support me and somehow figure out a way to do a hop, skip and a jump across a floorless landing, so I can twist around the corner and into a room that I just must take a peep in. And here is where I am loathe to admit, the adrenaline is pumping and kicks up a notch as I step into this room.
I’m firstly blown away by the sight before me. Not quite sure words can do this justice, but I felt like I’d literally stepped into heaven.
You’re almost blinded by all the light that filters in through a roof that is mostly missing and the entire room has row upon row up row of beams and right at the end two openings where the bright light of day gushes into the room almost blinding you and naturally overexposing your shot if you’re trying to get the remainder room correctly exposed. And so I thought I would give you a little bit of a true indication to what the room really felt like, which is overexposed.
At this point though, I might point out to anyone considering taking a trip out to the Mittangong Maltings. This particular room was probably the most unstable of all I walked in and throughout the entire 25 minutes or so I was in here, my heart wouldn’t stop racing. Adrenaline and fear pumped through my veins. The reason being. The floors in some parts naturally had holes in them, but it was more the state of the rotten floor boards which was somewhat alarming. One would expect an intensely thick floor with metal beams for support or a cement floor. Not this room. Here the entire covering were literally about 15cm thick floor boards left exposed to the weather for years to slowly rot away and grow weak with dampness. As you tread slowly, you could actually feel the softness of the wood give way beneath your feet. Sadly I didn’t even venture to the front of the room, which I dearly would have loved to do, but even I, this time knew my limits. But without a doubt, I will say this was the room that made the biggest impact on me. Surprising as it had nothing of substance to look at. No rusting objects, no wow factor graffiti, just a bunch of beams and wide open space, but it was that ethereal wide open space feeling that has some impact on me.
By this time Susan has long since ventured back down and outside, while Keiko is waiting for me at the bottom landing. When I get back into the stairwell, I look down and am astounded at how far up I am and not often one gets to look down three landings where the floors have literally disappeared. Here I’m looking down at Keiko and then zooming in to bring her closer. I particularly love this shot showing the contrast of her vibrant clothing against the rustic decaying wood.
It’s surreal to feel that whilst these rooms and buildings are void of life and mostly furniture, equipment or any other objects, some more so than others. There is still an overwhelming sense of life you feel when you’re standing inside these rooms. Granted, initially you feel the cold vast empty space, the desertion, but that slowly dissipates and is replaced by a different feeling of the life that once used to roam these rooms, the objects that littered them, you can imagine hearing the clunking of machinery, the voices, doors opening and closing. Makes one wish you could turn back the hands of time, be a fly on the wall and be privy to a few moments of life as it was then in this factory.
And we head back outside again and onto the next discovery. Looking for the next doorway or entrance or hole in the wall. And enter a one story room with an exceptionally high ceiling in concave domes. The room is fairly large with a four pillars lined along the center of the room. And a tall mound of sand and rubble stacked toward the entrance. Not too much to discover here, except a lot of graffiti, with a staircase to the left that has totally collapsed.
Not really much space to manoeuvre any closer or beyond it from within this particular room, but there was a lovely sofa you could photograph tucked away behind a staircase which you could view from the outside walking past the entry. I loved the shapes of the steps as they’ve fall in disrepair.
This soft however does come to light in the next building we venture into as it’s now commonly known as the ‘Rape Chair. Yes. Not the greatest name, but you’ll soon see why.
Still in the same room, In the far right corner of this room, there was a fascinating feature that I thought was immensely cute. A ‘Welcome to Hell’ door. You gotta find the humour in this. Here we are in a deserted factory, some distance from any life. Any screams will absolutely go unheard and one’s body would be found days, weeks later should any mishap befall us, and I’m looking at a beautiful door with so much character saying ‘welcome to hell’. Love it.
Next we head outside again to get into the adjacent room where the red sofa resides which we could only partially view from the room we’ve just left. As you walk into this space, in what seems like the basement and has an underground dungeon atmosphere. It’s immensely dark. In fact, we’re almost in total darkness. The room is large and long, densely populated with steel beams embedded in massive cement bases. Other than that the only feature in this room is the Rape Chair, a red leather sofa that has strategically being placed right at the end of the room beneath the only beams of light that peer through a missing portion of the roofing structure. So when you stand from afar and gaze at the end toward the sofa, it kinda looks like heaven is shining down her light illuminating this sofa. Never have I ever seen something so out of place in its surroundings, yet look so perfectly at home simultaneously.
And so we have one more building to explore that forms part of Malthouse 1 + 2. This room is different to all the prior ones – on the ground floor at least. From my research, it seems this room was laden with heavy machinery, conveyor belts etc. At present there is very little left but a few heavy duty chains scattered about, an axle.
In the centre of the room, is a steep staircase which leads you to an attic. The floor above looks suspect at best again, but from below it’s difficult to tell what is in fact up there, so I venture up the staircase. Curiosity naturally will always get the better of me. The staircase is surprisingly sturdy. Sadly the floor above is not. Portions of it missing and what floorboards are left are loose and no longer secured into beams beneath. Near the staircase to descend back down is no floor except the beams that once would have supported a solid floor covering and this is what you have left to navigate on. Which turned out to be my demise.
Before we get to my little mishap, in the attic at the end is a door way, and the first thing you see is bright green colour. Upon closer inspection at the door, I look out to what could have been a rooftop tennis court or something similar. It’s beautiful with lovely graffiti adorning both lengths of the wall.
Heading back I slowly do a balancing act along thin beams and as I get to the top of the stairs, I feel the floor start to give way and in the interest of not wishing falling through a floor, I do the only thing one does with a split second to think and that’s grab onto the nearest pillar. Little did I know that said pillar was not smooth but large shards of wood sticking out and so impaled my lovely right index finger. Oh damn. All I can do is protect my camera and make sure I don’t bang it up against anything. Until I realise blood is gushing down my hand and arm. Mmmmm, guess I’ll have to do something about this as it’s now throwing a spanner in my exploration works.
I made my way back down the stairs, ask Susan to take my camera. Definitely don’t want that encased in blood and head to the car for a little first aid. Little did I know, this was a little more than a big cut. Thankful for friends nearby and that I actually decided to venture here with company.
Whilst Susan was insiting we head straight to the nearest hospital. I was insisting ‘absolutely not’ and cut short this spectacular visit. Hell no. We’ll just do a make shift ‘fix her up’ and continue shooting and I’ll head to the hospital tonight when we get back to Sydney. So we manage to put the flesh back together and I get lovingly wrapped up by Susan’s caring hands and we’re good to go. Okay yes, I’ll admit it was somewhat on the painful side and inconvenient at best, being my damn shutter finger. Bugger. Nonetheless, lots more to shoot and a whole separate building still to explore and off we go
And so our explorations of Malthouses 1 + 2 comes to an end. But this journey doesn’t end here. Thankfully. As we still have to head over a little bridge to Malthouse 3.
And here she stands amidst a vast open field. Looking splendid and overwhelming large.
Once inside, you realise what you’re looking at from the exterior is a mere shell. For inside, the 5 floors are essentially all missing their floors, so you’re craning your neck and looking sky high to a great big empty block of space. In the adjacent space, only three storeys high, the staircase has been completed gutted and so you’re only able to balance precariously along the edge and wedge yourself up to basically lift your chin to the floor of the next level and view square beams across the entire floor. And this is where my second visit will be occurring where I bring the ladder with me next time as I want to get to this floor to explore to the end and there’s another floor above.
A few from the outside.
This site clearly has rich heritage, has withstood years of fire abuse and continued to thrive and is a wonder to marvel at even today.
Here’s an overview map of the Malthouses and the Manager’s Residence.
Sources and additional reading: