Makers: Tumut Broom Factory

The Tumut Broom Factory has been sweeping the floor with its competition since 1946. Operated by Geoff Wortes and Robert Richards, its now the last of the original millet broom factories. Robin Powell asked some questions.
What’s changed since brooms started being made in the Tumut Broom Factory in 1946?
Not much. Our sewing machines were made in the‘40s and‘50s. There are newer machines, with computers and air rams – but just like new cars,there’s more to go wrong and they’re harder to fix. The old ones work better for us. The big change is the output. When my dad was working here the factory was turning out 500 brooms a day. Now it’s just Rob and me and we make about 50 a day.
What is your main market?
Most of our brooms are sold through stock and station agents in NSW and Victoria. It’s a quality thing. You can’t have an unreliable imported broom in a shearing shed that breaks in the middle of the day and the missus has to drive 80km to go get a new broom.
In its heyday Tumut grew 70 per cent of Australia’s millet. Can you still source your millet locally?
There are one or two growers left. Back then the local dairy farmers would put in a cash crop of broom millet over the summer and teams would go around in the autumn for the harvest. It’s
hard physical work though, harvesting the millet by hand, and you can’t get the workers now. So we source what we can locally, and import Mexican millet via the US.

How long does it take to hand make a millet broom?
If you’re any good at it, and the phone doesn’t ring, it takes about 20 minutes, half an hour. You need good eye, hand and foot co-ordination.
Apprentices used to train by making whisk and toy brooms, so they didn’t waste the boss’ good millet, and then when they could make 10-12 brooms an hour of the same grade, they could move on to the larger brooms. Some have it, others never get it.
It’s pretty cold in Tumut in winter, how do you keep your hands warm?
We’re a pretty hardy mob here in the Snowy Mountains – but it would have been good if they’d put insulation in the corrugated iron!
What’s the best thing about making brooms?
My Dad’s old mate, Wal, used to say he liked the smell and feel. I do too. You come in here the factory smells good. And I’m proud of the fact we make a good quality
product for the Australian market.
You can drop in at the factory and see the process for yourself.   Check www.tumutbroomfactory.com for details.  And you can buy a Tumut Broom Factory broom here.

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