Life Before and After the Factory Gates Shut


Cottontales: Bonds in Cessnock 1947-2009 is an exhibition of stories, photographs, and film of 80 workers retrenched from Pacific Brands’ Bonds in December 2009 as well as previous generations of workers who had worked at Bonds Cessnock as far back as 1947. Cottontales is one of a national series of TCFUA arts projects and events and acknowledges the contribution of Bonds Cessnock workers while also marking an historic turning point in Australian manufacturing.

The exhibition will be launched on Thursday 15 March 2012 at the Cessnock Library.

It is produced by the Textile Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia (TCFUA) and is supported by the CFMEU Mining and Energy Division, Northern District Branch.

It pays tribute to three generations of Bonds workers and comments on the closure of the manufacturing site and the company’s shift of production from Australia to overseas. The end of textiles manufacturing in Cessnock is also the story of the effect of the loss of industry upon a small country community. This is a common story, which links many other small communities in Australia.

What is the reality behind a brand, an image, an iconic symbol? In the case of famous Australian brand, Bonds, the predominantly female workforce was vibrant, diverse, courageous, hardworking and loyal.

The shock announcement by their employer Pacific Brands was life changing. The stories are about real people, generations of families, communities abandoned by companies focused on profit. The stories are of Australians in blue-collar towns, mounting pressure, power, births, deaths, tears and laughter.

The language of work and life, friendship and camaraderie rises above the noise of machines. It stands apart from price of products and rings true as an authentic, powerful and passionate voice of workers.

Cottontales will be launched at 6.30pm on Thursday 15 March 2012 at Cessnock Library, 65-67 Vincent St, Cessnock, NSW. This is a unique exhibition not to be missed.

For further information about the project, contact:


Michele O’Neil

National Secretary (TCFUA)

T: 03 9639 2955

M: 0419 339 259



Celeste Coucke

Project Artist

T: 02 4885 1617

M: 0458 511 611



Donreve Miles

Advocacy Officer (TCFUA) and retrenched worker from Bonds Cessnock

T: 02 4998 1967

M: 0414 906 348 | E:


Other workers will be available for comment on the night of the launch.


On 25 February 2009 Pacific Brands announced the closure of seven of its factories across Australia and the loss of 1850 jobs.  One of the factories was Bonds in Cessnock NSW.  

A resilient community of 80 workers became unemployed.  Many have found jobs, but most jobs are casual and part-time, and can’t replace the stability workers had in full-time work.  

Retrenchment causes economic and emotional difficulty including a loss of community and shared identity. 

“When we knew we were going to be retrenched, we had to adapt emotionally beyond anything anyone could ever imagine. There were young ones there that had just got their home and they got their big mortgage. So you were trying to prop them up. And then there were the ones where the mill was their life. They came to work, but they came for the friendship too. It was their life line away from a very hard home life.”

This community arts project documents the rich history created and shared not only by the workers retrenched in 2009, but also the history of the enduring community of workers who had worked at Bonds Cessnock as far back as in the late 1940s.

The TCFUA engaged project artist and curator Celeste Coucke, photographer Stephen Fearnley and filmmaker Russell Hawkins. The artists worked with retrenched workers, across three generations, to document and acknowledge their working life, family and community in photographs, stories and film.

The stories are of families employed: grandmothers, mothers, daughters as well as marriages made through working at the mill. The textiles industry was by far the biggest employer of women in the Maitland / Cessnock region. Almost everybody in Cessnock knows or is related to someone who worked at Bonds. There is a unique generational significance in the stories – mothers introduced their daughters to a working life at Bonds, just as their mothers had done. Work was family, both notionally and literally.

“My husband worked in the mines. When times got tough at the mines, I knew I could always get a job at Bonds.”

“Everything that happened in the mill was like a family. And it was just wonderful. I don’t think anyone that you talk to, and I don’t care who it is, would say anything different. It was just a very, very good place to work.”

The workers want this opportunity to share their stories of life in the mill, of lives and communities shaped by work that is now no longer available. The strength of this project lies in the honesty, humour and integrity of the worker’s stories.  This project will celebrate their achievements, making a record for future generations and in so doing help to assuage some of the anger so that the Bonds chapter can close with the dignity and acknowledgement these workers deserve. 

 "Well I started the Cottontail line, putting the gussets in knickers. A few people would frown on us factory or mill workers. So I would say to them I think I contribute pretty well because I would hate to see the world without the gusset in their pants. And they just absolutely come undone. Ok, I said it’s like everything in the world; everyone is part of a wheel. I don’t care what you do, I have no idea of status as in you are better than me or they are better because of a job factor. I don’t care who you are, I think that we are all equal.”