Park History – Pipemakers Park

Board 5: Export to World and Refrigeration Pioneer

From Maribyrnong to the world: Meat canning and freezing

Canning and refrigeration are technologies which can bridge time and space. In the 1860’s, for the first time, the surplus food of Australia – a place of plenty – was transferred across the world to places of want, especially Britain. Australia could eat only one fifth of its output of meat.

The meatworks at Maribyrnong played a leading part in this export of food. In 1868, the works began production, on a large order for the French Government. In 1870, half the Australian canned meat imported by Britain was from the Maribyrnong works – 1800 tons. The factory was the largest meat preserving plant in Australia at that time, and for a few years the largest in the world.

Pioneer in Refrigeration

Australia was the first country in the world to develop mechanical refrigeration, beginning with James Harrison in 1851, when he set up the world’s first ice making plant at Geelong.

Experiments in the 1870’s led to Australia’s first successful shipment of frozen meat in 1879 and Australia’s first frozen meat export company, based at the meat cannery in Maribyrnong 1880-82. The first shipment from Maribyrnong to London included 4000 carcases of mutton and lamb and sold well.

But there were difficulties. The company moved to Newport and closed in 1886. It was an important venture and paved the way for the development of Australia’s frozen meat export trade in the 1890’s.