Flour to oats; 150 years of milling

Harraway and Sons plant in Green Island, Dunedin. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Harraway and Sons plant in Green Island, Dunedin. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Jim Sullivan reviews Going for Grain, a history of the last 150 years of the iconic Dunedin company Harraway and Sons Ltd, written by Rebecca Reid. 

Harraways was 150 in 2017 and asked for my thoughts on a company history. Of course, I suggested a big, fat and detailed history of grain growing in the South interspersed with the minutely recorded story of the company. They indicated that, like many companies pondering such a project, they preferred to see any book as a promotional item overseen by the marketing people. Now, having read Going for Grain, I can admit that Harraways was right. The book is brightly written, often in true advertising copywriter style and the layout and illustration owes much to the art of display advertising, but the history is there and extremely well told.

Long-lived family firms have become a rarity and the Harraway and Hudson families who dominate the story can be delighted that the firm has survived long enough for such a fascinating mix of family and business history to be produced.

Much of the early part is taken up with flour milling and its vital role in the new settlements. Dunedin's flour mills supplying the miners had a crucial role in Otago's golden era and the ins and outs of later years as companies were bought or closed provide an ever-changing environment in which Harraways grew, adjusted and simply kept the mills turning. The later takeover by Hudsons ensured survival and the gradual abandonment of flour milling in favour of oats-based products is told in the words of those who were there.

Every enterprise faces challenges and for Harraways, floods, fires, government regulations and the de-regulation of the industry have all provided drama. The success of the Harraways cricket XI (father and 10 sons) adds an amusing sidebar. Interviews with past and present staff supply a wealth of Green Island social history. Both sides of the arguments which arose during the strike of 1992 are given.

We learn much about how a Dunedin firm grew in spite of competition from larger (now overseas-owned) firms and the tenacity needed to get into retail markets where price was crucial.

Harraways "rescue" of the southern oat-growing industry after Australian owners closed the Flemings mill in Gore is stirring stuff. There is no shortage of information about the milling processes or of recipes from Helen Leach's cooking history archive.

Harraways emerges in a very positive light and the text is not constrained by modesty. Local firms have scanned illustrations superbly and printed the book handsomely.

Going for Grain has succeeded both as a history and as a promotional item, so much so that this winter it will be breakfasts of rolled oats for at least one reviewer.

Get a copy 

Going for Grain is available from odtshop.co.nz

 - Jim Sullivan is a Patearoa writer.

 

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