Down but not out – The former Geldmacher mill in Nimmitabel reopens

Le Vieux Moulin de Nimmitabel has existed for about 150 years. Photo: Pierre Quinton.

In a move that left the populace of cold Nimmitabel sweating, the fate of one of the city’s most important structures hung in the balance as its safety was assessed.

Standing among the heritage buildings for which the small town is famous, the stunning Geldmacher Mill was one of only two remaining heritage windmills in New South Wales.

But public access to the structure was blocked from April 1 when the Snowy Monaro Regional Council fenced and closed it, citing visible structural flaws that could make the 150-year-old building unsafe.

But, as a testament to the foundation and restoration work it has undergone over time, the fences have recently come down and restrictions on access to the site have been lifted.

This followed inspections by a structural engineer to determine the extent of the damage.

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The windmill tower was built from 1865 to 1872 – in the early years of Monaro settlement – almost single-handedly by German settler John Geldmacher. Its purpose was to carry sails to power machinery to grind grain into flour.

Historians say its location close to the main road prompted criticism at the time that the moving sails would frighten passing horses, leaving the mill machinery to be powered instead – and ironically – by horses.

Geldmacher’s mill ground flour from 1872 until 1885, when it was unsuccessfully converted into a sawmill.

A black and white photo of the Old Nimmitabel Mill

A photo of the old mill when Nimmitabell was known as Nimmitybelle. Photo: Tyrrell Collection of the Powerhouse Museum.

The mill closed that year, abandoned until the local council restored it in 1961. It represented a historical and cultural testimony to the first constructions and manufacturing in the region.

Always a tourist attraction, in recent years its distinct shape has proved an Insta blessing alongside ‘George’ the elephant, the local pub and sausage rolls from the Nimmitabel Bakery.

Located at the corner of Boyd and Clarke streets, the Old Mill Reserve is on Crown land but falls under the auspices of the council.

Nimmitabel Advancement Group (NAG), for many years, provided much appreciated general care and access coordination on site.

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Fortunately for the plant, the recent safety assessment concluded that the lime mortar degradation affecting the integrity of the masonry in one section was contained and the entire building remained intact.

Specialized mortar repointing in the cracked area will be administered. Changes will also be made to the positioning of the vegetation at the base of the mill to facilitate water drainage.

The council says it will continue to monitor the situation and seek funding to enable the structural restoration and continued preservation of the plant – but for now it is safe to reopen.

John Geldmacher was involved in a number of buildings which to this day remain cornerstones of the town’s tourism industry.

Yet, by the way, he remains anonymous in the Monaro Pioneers Register.