In 2014, Somerset Regional Council engaged PHAB Architects to convert the rundown remains of a factory site into a contemporary regional art gallery. The architects aimed to preserve the building’s heritage, leaving the interior of the exposed roofing iron, original roof beams, stained concrete floors and bomb shelter largely unchanged, while introducing a complex palette of pinks, reds and browns that connected to the visual history of the site.
Australia’s first condensed milk factory opened in 1898 on the banks of Cressbrook creek. An initiative of the McConnel and Munro families, the factory was first known as the Cressbrook Condensed Milk Factory. The village of Cressbrook grew around the factory and with the arrival of the railway linking the town to Ipswich in 1904, the town expanded and was renamed Toogoolawah.
The prosperous factory was sold in 1907 to the Nestlé and Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company of Australasia Limited and investments continued with the construction of the packing shed in 1920 and an engine room in 1927, enabling the factory to provide electricity to nearby towns.
By late 1929, the Great Depression had arrived and factories everywhere faced closure. Production of condensed milk ceased on 22 November 1929 with small scale production of unsweetened milk continuing in Toogoolawah until 1938, when the factory closed for good. Nestlé continued to use the site, particularly the bomb shelter built for document storage during the Second World War.
After a large fire destroyed the factory on 15 September 1951, the remaining buildings were sold to the local Somerville family who ran their commercial plumbing business until 2013 when Somerset Regional Council purchased the site, with assistance from the Federal Government’s Regional Development Australia fund.
TOOGOOLAWAH RAILWAY STATION. THE NESTLÉ CONDENSED MILK FACTORY AND PACKING FACILITY C.1910 & SOMERVILLE PLUMBING C. 1990.
THE RED DEER IN SOMERSET
Visitors to The Condensery are greeted by a hand-sculpted bronze, red deer statue by Somerset artist, the late Bodo Muche. The sculpture represents an important part of Toogoolawah’s heritage – a gift of red deer from Queen Victoria in 1873.
Queen Victoria gifted the herd of red deer to the Queensland Acclimatisation Society in celebration of the state of Queensland being named in her honour. The deer arrived on 19 September 1873 at the McConnel family property, Cressbrook, where they were first released.
Two stags, Norman and Bolingbroke and four hinds, Atlas, Alma, Ada and Martha arrived from the Windsor Castle gardens aboard the ship, the Great Queensland. Media at the time reported “the six splendid red deer, a present from Her Majesty the Queen to the Colony of Queensland, are located on deck in three boxes of 5 feet square each.
For their sustenance during the voyage four tons of food, consisting of beans, carrot, onions, mangolds, swedes, oilcake and hay have been provided, of which I understand the animals will consume about a bushel a day in addition to the fodder. The allowance of water is a gallon a day each deer.”
Releases of deer continued on Cressbrook until 1878 and you may still see their descendants roaming the land today.