Australian company Hills has sold the right to make and sell Hills Hoist clotheslines after concluding it could not make money from the iconic product.
The ASX-listed company outsourced its gardening and laundry products business to Woolworths in 2014 under a licensing arrangement that saw Hills Hoists and other products sold through Woolworths’ Masters stores but taken off shelves at rival Bunnings.
That deal was upended last year when Woolworths decided to exit the home improvement market and close Masters stores. Woolworths paid Hills $6 million to dissolve the deal, prompting it to hunt for a new home.
On Tuesday, Hills revealed a deal to sell its gardening and laundry products business to fellow gardening product manufacturer AMES Australasia.
While the company behind the Hills Hoist since 1945 announced this week that it was selling the rights to the iconic rotary clothesline, its firm place in Australian backyard culture will remain.
The Hills Hoist was designed by Lance Hill of Adelaide after he returned from serving in World War II.
Until then most people had hung their washing on static wooden clothes poles strung together with wire; they had to be regularly re-propped or replaced as the poles deteriorated in the weather.
The Hills Hoist, on the other hand, could be raised and lowered and could even spin with the wind.
Mrs Goddard uses the Hills Hoist in her Kensington yard.
PHOTO A Sydney woman uses the Hills Hoist to hang out the washing.
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“What an amazing invention,” cultural historian Grant Stone told 720 ABC Perth.
While others had patented rotary clotheslines before the war, it was Hills’ product, thanks in part to the timing, that captured the public’s imagination.
“It was everything in the post-war boom that we wanted,” Mr Stone said.
“To be successful, you needed the big block, you needed a house, and you needed all the accoutrements to run a family.”
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The Hills Hoist became an essential item in the classic suburban quarter-acre block.
“We had the space and we could do things differently to the rest of the world,” Mr Stone said.
“Part of that was using the whole quarter acre to live in and play in.
“Who cares if half the backyard is taken up with some structure that we hang the washing on?
“It wasn’t the kind of thing we needed to worry about.”
In 2006 the National Library designated the Hills Hoist a National Treasure and recorded the immediate popularity of Hill’s invention.
He charged £10.10s — double the average weekly wage at the time — and was flooded with orders.
Hills Hoists & Television Services stand at the Perth Royal Show, 8 October 1959.
PHOTO Hills Hoists and other products on display at the Perth Royal Show in the 1950s.
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The clothesline became an integral part of Australian backyards and eventually were used for many things other than hanging clothes out to dry.
“The Hills Hoist was not only an object that was working for the woman at home, but it was also a great play object in the backyard as well,” Mr Stone said.
A number of ABC Radio listeners shared their memories of the diverse uses for the Hills Hoist.
“Ours served as a big cubby house for birthday parties — great for hanging balloons on — and also as a summer tent,” Jan said.
“We have twins (age 32 this year) and when they were little my brother-in-law attached their car seats to the Hills Hoist, strapped them in and swung them round. They loved it,” Joan said.
Flip shared the story of getting married under the Hills Hoist in her East Fremantle backyard in 1983.
“We painted it a green to match the lawn, put a green canvas on the top, hoisted it up, put hanging baskets under it and had the wedding table underneath the hoist. It was absolutely brilliant.”
Norma from Bicton reported that her Hills Hoist, bought in 1955, was still in use after being restrung eight years ago.
But despite its iconic status, sales of Hills Hoists have declined as suburban backyards shrink and more householders opt for fold-down clotheslines against a wall.
And while the Hills company no longer makes the clotheslines, they will not disappear altogether.
The company has sold all of the Hills home living brands to manufacturer AMES Australasia.