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The Kamo Brick Story

Mel Williams, Visitor Experience

 

Sometimes I’m surprised by what grabs my attention. In a museum filled with beautiful relics from our past, skeletons of animals that once walked on our land and swam in our water, furniture crafted with enduring elegance and stories of love, loss, heroics and bravery… what grabbed my attention this week was one little brick.

 

But that one little brick is very special. Imprinted with the word “Kamo”, it comes with its own story of industry, development, and pioneering technology. That one little brick helped to lay the foundation for many New Zealand industries.

 

The Brickworks, situated at the northern end of Kamo was founded by two Dalmatian immigrants in 1916. They created standard building bricks until Kamo Potteries Ltd took over in 1921. It was during this time that it was discovered the clay extracted from the hillside next to the factory and from Kauri Mountain, was a high alumina clay which resulted in quality, heavy-duty bricks, able to withstand great heat. This made the clay perfect for creating firebricks and in its first year, the company were producing 50,000 bricks per month.

 

 

By 1931, the brickworks expanded from domestic to industrial and began manufacturing firebricks for a range of companies and industries, in New Zealand and abroad.

 

Some notable uses included the lining of cement kilns used by the Wilsons Portland Cement Co. Ltd, the lining of the oil-burning furnaces in HMNZS Achilles during World War II and at one time, every railway engine in New Zealand was also lined with Kamo bricks.

 

Such was the demand for the Kamo brick that the factory underwent an expansion, the first stage of which was completed in 1961. This meant it could now meet the substantial needs of heavy industries while producing a variety of firebricks and products including mortars and castable, plastic and moldable refractories.

 

Another change in 1966 saw the brickworks become the Kamo Green Refractory Co, who enlisted the technical and engineering services of a company in Missouri.

 

The next 20 years were good for the Kamo brick.

 

Then in the mid 1980’s, demand for bricks began to wane and in 1988 the land and building were transformed into a garden centre called The Brickworks. Today, 34 years later, the site is still a garden centre, now run by Greenfingers.

 

That one little brick, currently on display in Whangarei Museum, continues to be a very big part of a very big story.

 

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