German potters built a solid brick future in Australia
WHEN a family of potters emigrated from Germany to Australia in 1853 there was no way they could have imagined just how successful their brickworks business would become.
The Schnitzerlings first started making handmade bricks at the southern end of Lyons St.
They baked bricks for the Leslies, who settled in Canning Downs and Canning Lodge in McEvoy St.
Their bricks were also used to build Warwick East State School, the first public school in Queensland, in 1864.
But the limited clay resources and no easy way to transport clay from one place to the next meant the brick makers had to move to wherever they could find clay.
Before moving to what would become their permanent site in Conrad St in 1899, the Schnitzerlings had works in Myall Ave and along Albion St.
It was a labour-intensive job with workers using picks and shovels to dig the clay.
The Schnitzerlings built a small railway from their clay pit at the Conrad St works to carry the clay to the grinding and brick press machines.
There was no such thing as a forklift to lift the stacks of bricks in and out of the kilns and it was all done by hand.
After firing, each brick would then be taken from the kiln and sorted according to colour.
The number of staff changed year after year, but it always remained a family-owned and operated business.
Five generations later the Warwick Brickworks is one of the oldest family-owned and operated businesses in Australia and the only solid dry-pressed brick plant operation left in Queensland.
The business is now run by 63-year-old Andrew Schnitzerling and his two sons Andrew Jnr and Wayne.
Andrew's wife Linda works in the office, taking care of the books.
Mrs Schnitzerling said what made the business unique was that her husband and sons did all the work.
"They mine the clay, make it into brick, fire it, stack it and deliver it - the whole process," she said.
"A lot of other brickworks now make the bricks with holes in them as they are cheaper to make, but the bricks we make are different.
"We are the only brickworks still firing with wood.
"The wood is what gives our bricks their unique colours."
Once upon a time all the bricks made at the brickworks would have been sold locally. Now only 10% of their bricks are delivered around the Downs.
Mrs Schnitzerling said they made deliveries to Townsville, Gympie, Lismore and even Melbourne.
Thanks to forklifts and other advances in technology the job is not as labour intensive as it once was.
But with only the three of them, Mrs Schnitzerling said, they did clock up a fair bit of overtime.
"They still hand-stack the bricks off the brick press, but they use a forklift to carry the stacks into the kiln," she said.
"Trucks are used to cart the clay from our mining site off the New England Highway.
"But they still hand-sort through the bricks after they have been fired."
Making bricks is not a quick process either.
The clay is put through the grinder and then mixed with a small amount of water to hold it all together.
It is then pushed through the brick press and stacked.
The men take turns unloading the bricks from the press because it is a very repetitive job.
Raw bricks are then stacked into the kilns.
Mrs Schnitzerling said it took one whole week to make enough raw bricks to fill the kiln.
Then a week to fire them, a week for them to cool down and a week to unstack and sort through the bricks.
"It is a cycle that just keeps going," she said.
"While the kiln is firing they start working on filling the next one."
Although Mrs Schnitzerling loves the fact that her sons still live and work so close, she admitted that she and her husband had hoped they would not follow in their footsteps.
"Andrew (senior) started working at the brickworks when he was 14 years old," he said.
"But Andrew Jnr started when he was 15 and Wayne followed not long after. It was in their blood, it was just what they wanted to do.
"When they were kids they were down here all the time.
"After school they would come home and we would give them little jobs to do."
Mrs Schnitzerling said the business had gone through a rough patch a few years ago.
"We decided to start selling Boral products, cement, clay pavers, masonry blocks and forklift and truck hire as well," she said.