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Bendigo Pottery is Australia's oldest working pottery and make the ceramic components of our Honey lighting collection. We spoke with owner Rod Thomson about what happens behind-the-scenes and his commitment to continuing the local legacy. 

Bendigo Pottery

Hi Rod, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us! Bendigo Pottery was established in 1858 and is Australia's oldest working pottery. I’m curious to know how and when you and Sally came to be the custodians of this business?

We took over the business in November 1999. I had been working in the ceramics industry when the previous owners were looking for someone to manage the business for them. We had a meeting about the job where they advised they would like whoever managed the business to buy the business. We looked at business plans and decided this was a challenge we would like to take on.

Bendigo PotteryWhen I visited Bendigo Pottery I was blown away by the beauty of the factory and processes. The machinery and tools are so fascinating and there’s a huge variety of processes. What does a typical day in the Bendigo Pottery factory look like?

The day typically starts with the production manager opening up at 6.00am and most factory employees starting at 6.30am. Clay slip mixes are prepared and filter presses started. In the shaping area we are usually running a jolley, press and flatware machines. The slip casting track is run one day a week. Product made the day before is trimmed and sponged before being wheeled into the drying room. The glazers will be glazing the bisque-ware ready for the next kiln firing which is generally once a week. Product from the previous firing is being inspected and order packed for despatch.

Another team will be producing bagged clay that we make for Walker Ceramics and Northcote Pottery Supplies. Bendigo Pottery

It sounds like there is never a dull moment! What is it about clay as a material that excites you?

Clay is such a versatile material that can be shaped in so many ways and constantly reformed until fired when it becomes an extremely strong and durable material that will last forever. There are so many variables with clays and glazes and the different processing techniques that provide challenges in making uniform consistent products. Working with clay involves a mix of science, creativity and magic. Bendigo Pottery

I love that! Can you tell us a bit about how you source and process the clay that you use?

We source bulk clay from several Central Victorian clay pits which each have different properties. We mix raw clay with several other pre-processed materials and water to create a liquid slip. The slip is then pumped into a filter press to remove the water from the mix resulting in flat cakes of clay which are stacked on a pallet.  The filter cakes are then fed into a pug mill which removes any air from the clay and forms it into a column of various diameters that are then cut into pieces to be used on the machines to shape the products. Bendigo Pottery

What a fascinating process. What are you most looking forward to this year, both personally and professionally?

I am looking forward to returning to a more consistent year following the uncertainty and business fluctuations that Covid-19 caused in 2020. There is currently a lot of interest in Australian-made product so I am looking forward to working with our customers to develop new products and product ranges.  Personally I am hoping to free up weekends to spend at home and taking short holiday breaks touring around the country.

Bendigo Pottery

How do you love to spend your weekends and time off? What keeps you inspired?

My passion outside work is working on, driving and racing early Datsun sports cars. I have several 1968 Datsun 2000 roadsters that I get a lot of pleasure driving with other enthusiasts and also racing in a sprint series throughout the year. Phillip Island race track is my favourite, and there is nothing better than a day of racing where you set a new personal best time. 

I keep inspired working and associating with people who are constantly pushing the boundaries in lots of different avenues whether it is designing and developing new products or improving a car engine to make more power. New technologies provide plenty of inspiration in the opportunities to further develop and improve what we do and how we do it.

Bendigo Pottery

Photography by Jill Haapaniemi

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