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Local history . . . An aerial view of the Geraldine Linen Flax Mill, which closed in 1981. It was the last linen flax mill in New Zealand. PHOTO: SUPPLIED/GERALDINE HISTORICAL MUSEUM

by Greta Yeoman

Geraldine’s history manufacturing flax linen has been recalled in a new book set for release this weekend.

Staff at the Geraldine Historical Museum have been working on the publication for several years, secretary Margaret Chapman said.

The book – which will be released on Sunday afternoon – traces the history of the town’s flax linen mill, which opened in 1942 to support the war effort.

It was one of 17 flax linen factories – all based in the South Island – that were opened for producing items to aid allied forces in World War 2.

Margaret Chapman

The mill produced flax fibre which was shipped to Scotland for spinning and weaving into light canvas, which was used to cover the wings and fuselages of Spitfires and other fighter and bomber planes.

The fibre was also used for ropes in the navy, and firehoses.

However, by the time the war was over in 1946, the Geraldine company was just one of six linen flax mills still open in New Zealand.

Less than a decade later, in 1955, the Geraldine mill was the only flax mill left in country.

The factory was sold to the Linen Textiles company in the late 1970s, and in November 1981, it went under the auctioneer’s hammer and out of business.

Mrs Chapman said while the book had been produced by staff at the Geraldine Historical Museum, there had also been a number of contributions from community members, including former staff.

“[It is] all completely local.”

There was no particular reason for the timing of the release, she said.

However, several residents and other interested people who had known the book was in the works had queried when it was going to be released, Mrs Chapman said.

Because of this, and because the publication was complete, the museum staff had decided it was time to release the book.

The Geraldine Linen Flax Mill book will be launched at the Geraldine Historical Museum, 5 Cox St, at 2pm on Sunday, April 28. The book will be available for purchase on the day, or interested people can pop into the museum or call staff to get a copy at another time.