Nixons Mill and Mills on the Air

Yesterday morning (Saturday 13th May 2017) whilst enjoying my morning cup of coffee, I worked Mick VK3GGG who was operating under the club call sign of VK3BI at Anderson’s Mill at Smeaton in Victoria.  Mick’s activation was part of the Mills on the Air Weekend.

The Mills on the Air Weekend is held each year in May and is a great way to promote the hobby of amateur radio, whilst also highlighting the preservation of these very historic structures.  The Mills on the Air Weekend is timed to coincide with National Mills Weekend.  The event is organised in conjunction with the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB).

The Mills on the Air Weekend commenced about 9 years ago when Jasmine G4KFP, a member of the Denby Dale Amateur Radio Society, submitted an item in the RSGB news asking if any amateur was willing to put on a station at a windmill or watermill.  Jasmine also contacted SPAB and initially agreed for 6 groups of amateurs to establish stations at 6 mills.  The word soon spread, and participants increased to 30.

The Mills on the Air Weekend is NOT a contest.  It is just a great opportunity of promoting the hobby of amateur radio and promoting heritage.


I decided as it was such a beautiful sunny day that I would head out to activate Nixon’s Mill at nearby Hahndorf, just a short drive from my home.  Nixon’s Mill is the oldest surviving windmill structure in South Australia and is listed in State Heritage Places.  I also thought it was a great opportunity of putting the special call of VK5WOW on air.  The 2017 Wireless Institute of Australia AGM & Convention is to be held in Hahndorf, from 19th – 21st May 2017.  VK5WOW is a special call allocated to help celebrate the event.  All contacts with VK5WOW qualify for the special award.  Details of the award can be found at…..


The Mount Barker district developed as a milling centre with the establishment of early flour mills during the 1840s.  This was just a few years after the proclamation of South Australia in December 1836.  In 1842, John Dunn constructed the first wind-powered mill for grinding wheat at Hay Valley near Nairne.  The first steam-powered flour mill outside Adelaide was established in 1844 at Mount Barker, also by John Dunn, which ceased operations in 1894.

Between 1841-1842, construction was undertaken of a wind powered mill at Hahndorf for Frederick Robert Nixon (1817-1860), who was part of Colonel WIlliam Light’s team or surveyors.  The mill was located on a small hill overlooking the road between Hahndorf and Mount Barker, referred to as West Hill, and subsequently known as “Windmill Hill”.  Nixon had purchased the land on the 6th May 1841.  Nixon’s mill opened up an important agricultural area of the State, grinding over half a million bushels of wheat in one season.  It was the second wind driven flour mill in the Mount Barker district.

The tower structure of the mill, which is 9.05 metres high,  is constructed of random coursed stone rubble and is about 75cm thick.  There were four working levels in the mill, with one window at the second level and two windows at the third level.  Two doors existed at ground level, with one of those having been bricked up.  A circular cap structure was located at the top of the tower which sat on a base of two large horizontal beams called sheer tress.  A movable boat shaped cap rested on a track that rotated around the top of the tower on a well greased metal curb.

The sail frames were constructed of hardwood and canvas sheets were furled like a curtain to cover different areas of the frames dependant on wind velocity.  The sails had a sweep of 17 metres in diameter.  The mill contained a large wooden brake wheel which was connected to the wind shaft that was driven by the wind in the sails.  A wallower was fixed to the main shaft and this was driven by wooden teeth on the brake wheel.  The mill stones were rotated as a result of the great spur gear which was connected to the lower end of the main shaft which drove the smaller wooden gears.


During 1844, Walter Paterson, a farmer from Mount Barker purchased the property.  Then in 1853, Johann Friedrich Wittwer purchased the windmill for £320.  He and his son Friedrich Wilhelm Wittwer operated the mill along with other mills in the area.

Milling at Nixon’s site ceased in 1864 as it was no longer able to compete with steam mills.  Friedrich Wittwer closed the mill following the death of his father and moved the millstones and machinery to a steam mill that he had built in Hahndorf.  The mill was subsequently purchased by the Braendler family in 1880.

Since this time the mill has been subjected to bushfires, storm damage and sadly vandalism and neglect.  Various attempts at repair and restoration have been carried out over the years.

During a large bushfire in 1912, the Sheaok timbers and working parts of the windmill were destroyed.  It remained in a derelict state until 1928, when the mill was converted into a lookout tower as a result of the efforts of a group of prominent business men, funded by public subscription.

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Article from The Mount Barker Courier, Fri 11 Jan 1929

At this time A.E. Braendler donated the windmill and some surrounding land to the Mount Barker District Council.   A bushfire destroyed the staircase and the upper portion of the windmill during 1939.


Nixon’s Mill, 1929, as a lookout.  Image courtesy of

Between 1961 and 1966, major restoration was carried out by the Mount Barker Apex Club, which included the installation of a dome roof and four dummy sail-spars.  The Honourable Steele Hall opened the restored windmill to the public on the 20th November 1966.

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Opening ceremony in 1966 of Nixon’s Windmill.

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Nixons Mill, c. 1960’s, prior to storm damage and vandalism attacks.  Image courtesy of

In 1975 a severe storm resulted in one of the sail arms being torn off.  This was followed by a number of vandalism attacks.   In 1980 an $80,000 appeal to restore the mill was officially launched at a fund raising dinner where Mr David Wotton, the Minister for Environment and Planning was guest speaker.  A Windmill Restoration Committee was established at this time, but unfortunately the required funds were not obtained.


The windmill in 1975 showing the sheared off sail arm.  Image courtesy of

During 1983 stabilisation of the windmill structure, masonry repair, water proofing and repairs to the doors and windows were carried out.  In 1988, requests for a grant of $100,000 from the South Australian State Government were sought.  The proposal included the replacement of the mill sails and restoration of the interior of the mill to working order.  Additionally it was suggested that a cottage, shop and historic display centre could be built.  Sadly, funding did not eventuate.

In 2016, painting, signage and major site upgrading was conducted by the Mount Barker District Council in collaboration with the Apex Club of Mount Barker.


Steam cleaning of the tower prior to repainting, 2016.  Image courtesy of

I parked my vehicle at the bottom of the set of stairs leading up to the windmill and commenced to cart the operating equipment up to the cleared area alongside of the windmill.  I made a few trips, taking up the fold up table and deck chair, and Yaesu FT-857d and 20/40/80m linked dipole and squid pole.  The Hahndorf Farm Barn abuts the windmill, and as it was a beautiful day, there were a lot of families at the Farm Barn.  Many of whom I am sure were wondering what I was doing sitting next to the windmill with a squid pole in the air.


It was an absolutely beautiful morning, with the temperature being around mid 20’s C and wall to wall sunshine.  I was set up and ready to go by just after 0125 UTC (10.55 a.m. South Australian local time).  I found 7.110 on 40m clear, and put out a CQ call which was answered by Vin VK3FMOL.  This was followed by QSOs with Gary VK2GAZ, Peter VK3PTE, John VK3HBG, and then Graeme VK3FFSB.  All had good signals, which was a good sign at the start of the activation.  Contact number 8 in the log was with VK5ALM, the Lower Murray Amateur Radio Club, who were activating Dunn Mill at nearby Mount Barker, my home town.  I had considered heading there myself but I thought the noise floor would be a little too high.

I logged a total of 18 stations from VK2, VK3, VK5 and VK7, before my wife and my mother in law arrived to drop off some lunch for me.  This included Robert VK7VZ/p who was portable in the Bay of Fires Conservation Area VKFF-1133 and David VK2JDR/p activating the Royal National Park VKFF-0362.

After a short break I called CQ again on 7.110 and Bill VK5MBD from the Mid North of South Australia replied.  A few QSOs later I logged Ken VK2KYO/3 who was in the Broken-Boosey State Park VKFF-0752.  A good steady flow of callers followed including David VK3BI/p who was activating Anderson’s Mill at Smeaton in Victoria.  I was very pleased to get another Mill in the log.  Shortly afterwards I was called by Ray VK2HJW/p who was operating portable in the Wollemi National Park VKFF-0544.

I logged a total of 53 contacts on 40m and then headed off to 14.312 on the 20m band.  My first contact there was Ray ZL4HSV on the North Island of New Zealand.  This was followed by Mark VK4SMA, Greg VK5GJ, and Cliff VK2NP.  I logged a further 6 stations including Peter ZL1PWD at Whangarei on the North Island of New Zealand.

I then moved off to 3.610 on the 80m band where I logged Adrian VK5FANA on the Yorke Peninsula, followed by Greg VK5GJ and then Colin VK5XY.  Despite it being the middle of the day, the 80m band was working very well, with excellent signals.  I logged a total of 7 stations including my wife Marija VK5FMAZ.

I then headed back to 7.110 on 40m where I logged a further 19 stations from VK1, VK2, VK3, VK5 and VK7.

So with 89 contacts in the log it was time for me to pack up and head off to my next activation of the day, the Kenneth Stirling Conservation Park.

I worked the following stations on 40m SSB:-

  1. VK3FMOL
  2. VK2GAZ
  3. VK3PTE
  4. VK3HBG
  5. VK3FFSB
  6. VK7VZ/p (Bay of Fires Conservation Area VKFF-1133)
  7. VK5BJE
  8. VK5ALM/p (Dunn Mill, Mount Barker)
  9. VK3FOTO/m
  10. VK2JDR/p (Royal National Park VKFF-0362)
  11. VK2IO
  12. VK3TKQ
  13. VK3AMX
  14. VK5KLV
  15. VK7EE
  16. VK1DI
  17. VK3IRM
  18. VK5FANA
  19. VK5MBD
  20. VK2BJ
  21. VK2ZVG
  22. VK2KYO/3 (Broken-Boosey State Park VKFF-0752)
  23. VK3FQSO
  24. VK2PV/m
  25. VK3HJA
  26. VK3ARH
  27. VK2NP
  28. VK3SQ
  29. VK3MCK
  30. VK6FFAR
  31. VK4HNS/p
  32. VK5FMAZ
  33. VK5DX
  34. VK3ZL
  35. VK3VGB
  36. VK3BI/p (Andersons Mill, Smeaton, Victoria)
  37. VK7NWT
  38. VK2HJW/p (Wollemi National Park VKFF-0544)
  39. VK2FADV
  40. VK3FLES
  41. VK3SFG
  42. VK2EMI
  43. VK3KRH
  44. VK3YDN
  45. VK1CR
  46. VK3HKV
  47. VK7EK
  48. VK3FVIC
  49. VK7JON
  50. VK3ELH
  51. VK3NDX
  52. VK3MAB
  53. VK3FBNG
  54. VK3ZL/m
  55. VK1AT
  56. VK3AJA
  57. VK2STO
  58. VK7HCK
  59. VK3ANL
  60. VK7DW
  61. VK4AAC/2
  62. VK3CWF
  63. VK2AYM
  64. VK2KQB/p
  65. VK5XY
  66. VK3RV
  67. VK5FAKV
  68. VK3FRJD
  69. VK4NKL/3
  70. VK3OHM
  71. VK3FAJH
  72. VK2LAX

I worked the following stations on 20m SSB:-

  1. ZL4HSV
  2. VK4SMA
  3. VK5GJ
  4. VK2NP
  5. VK4AAC/2
  6. VK2IO
  7. VK4TJ
  8. VK5SA
  9. VK4FE
  10. ZL1PWD

I worked the following stations on 80m SSB:-

  1. VK5FANA
  2. VK5GJ
  3. VK5XY
  4. VK3ARH
  5. VK5SA
  6. VK5HS
  7. VK5FMAZ



localwiki, 2017, <;, viewed 14th May 2017

South Bristol Amateur Radio Club, 2017, <;, viewed 14th May 2017

5 thoughts on “Nixons Mill and Mills on the Air

  1. H Paul,
    An interesting story about the Mill. It is all new to me, although I am aware of the general history of wind power useage in the state and cereal growing and milling. Thanks for the contact: I will be using VK5WOW this afternoon and evening on 15, 40 and 80 metres both digital and ssb. It might give you a chance to get a few more contacts for the award.
    John D, VK5BJE/VK5PF

  2. Hi John,

    It’s a great shame that this old mill has been the subject of vandalism attacks over the years. I hate seeing historic buildings like this falling into disrepair. Jenny and I spoke at length recently re Mackereth cottage at Scott Creek.

    I went down to Strath on Sunday and operated from the old mill there as well. The Mills on the AIr Weekend has certainly improved my local knowledge on these 2 old mills.


    Paul VK5PAS.

    • Hi Chris,

      It was good to see a bit of activity here in VK this year for the Mills on the Air Weekend. Any program which brings activity to the bands is a good thing.


      Paul VK5PAS

  3. Pingback: Nixons Mill and the 2018 Mills on the Air Weekend | vk5pas

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