Apparently wooden ‘dolly pegs’ were originally  hand made by Gypsies in the UK, who sold them door to door.  Sometimes they were carved from hedgerow wood, sometimes they were just a couple of sticks  bound together with strips of tin.

In Tasmania  during the Great Depression a  hawker known as  One-Eyed Mrs Brown or Ma Brown followed the same tradition. She sold large clothes pegs  made from willow,  camping  out as she made her way around  the  State.

Tasmanian Peg maker and Hawker
Mrs Brown off on her rounds. A sight to terrify children.

A Tasmanian friend, Jen Eddington,  told me that her grandmother bought pegs from  Mrs Brown when she hawked them at Parkham,  a rural district near  Deloraine.   I was intrigued to hear this, because my own Grandmother lived nearby at Reedy Marsh, and no doubt bought the pegs too. According to Jen’s mother, people were too afraid to refuse the old lady, because she had a very rough tongue.  Another peg hawker was a fellow known as Yorky’. In the 1940s he peddled his wares around St Marys. He too camped in the bush with his swag.

Handmade Tasmanain peg made of willow
Mrs Brown’s Willow peg

If  one of Mrs Brown’s pegs broke you could probably just plant the pieces and grow trees. Willow  is so easy to propagate. It reminds me that my mother’s brothers made her a washing stand from willow in the 1930s. Decades later there were a couple of sizeable trees thriving  on the spot at Reedy Marsh.

During those tough Depression years,  children from even the poorest families could have fun with their mother’s  dolly pegs.

I loved this piece,  published in 1931;

Little  dolls and mascots made from clothes pegs are such fun to make.

Pretty crinkly paper (one penny a roll), odd bits of silk or ribbon give charming results.

Figures A and B show how to arrange dollies ‘arms (wound round the neck of the peg)’; these are made from one of daddy’s pipe-cleaners; as the foundation is wire, they can be twisted about in all sorts of positions.

Figure L is the brim of the little boy’s hat, made from  a pair of compasses, and the inside black cut away. Now from this little brim you will find you can make  every kind of hat. The little girl must have pretty hair. I’m sure mummy will find you some cotton wool,  or pieces of knitting wool to show beneath the crinkly paper hat.

I know you will have no trouble making little suits and dresses. They are so simple to stick and sew together, and can be made from any odd scrap of material.

Instructions for making dolls from pegs
Drawing of peg doll

Here is an even simpler version. I love the feather in the cap!

Wooden peg dolly
I think even I could make this one.

In  1926 what was claimed to be  only peg factory in the Commonwealth  opened in Tasmania  in the small town of  New Norfolk. At its peak the Pioneer Woodware  Company employed 100 people, mostly women. The wood used was  fragrant Sassafras, which  had the added advantage of not staining fabric. There was plenty of work for timber getters, as the factory turned out 1.4 million pegs per week.

(Now I do have to take issue with the claim about  it being the sole factory in the Commonwealth. In 1925 the dance hall in my adopted village of Blackheath in the NSW Blue Mountains was turned into a peg factory!)

On Christmas Day 1941 a fire broke out at the New Norfolk factory in a pile of timber. The Manager’s wife noticed smoke and raised the alarm. Fortunately  a young man rushed to help until the fire brigade arrived and the blaze  was extinguished in the nick of time.

Fire at the Factory where the pegs were made.
Disaster averted on Christmas Day

In 1948  the factory did  burn down. The  town brigade  turned up quite  quickly, but the company had no proper  provision for fire fighting, and it was hopeless. It was the largest fire ever experienced in New Norfolk, with flames 100ft high.

Ruins of the Pioneer peg Factory in New Norfolk.
The ruins of the Pioneer peg factory in New Norfolk

The loss presented an enormous problem, as it was still the main supplier of pegs throughout Australia. An emergency factory had to be set up before the new one opened the following year.  It could only produce square pegs, but at least filled the gap.  Wooden pegs with springs started being produced by the company in the late 1950’s.

In this photo of the new building you can spot a giant new  chimney stack powering away on the far left.

Peg Factory New Norfolk 1949
A large venture for a small town.

As late as 1973 the Australian Women’s Weekly published an article in their fashion pages about using dolly pegs to make  quirky accessories. The idea was to slide then into the pocket of a jacket, or use them to decorate a belt.

Dolly Pegs Jewellry
Very Seventies!

1960  was a terrible year for the Tasmanian peg maker. In April the Derwent River rose and  flooded the factory, causing great damage to stock and equipment.  Worse still, the Federal Government removed import duties and the market was flooded with cheap foreign pegs. The factory closed in 1975.  The end of an era.

I was delighted when Wendy Latham shared a photo of the ‘knock-off’ whistle, which was powered by steam. It was rescued by her father, Ernie Gilbert, and is treasured by his family.


On October 7 2011, locals were amazed to see thick smoke pouring from the old chimney.

Peg Factory chimney New Norfolk

FOOTNOTE – Dolly pegs are still available from craft shops.  And yes,  children still adore them. Here are some my friend Chris made recently. As in  the Women’s Weekly article,  the peg is  dressed side-on, so it can be slipped onto a pocket or belt.

More dollies. made from wooden pegs.
Photo courtesy of Chris Goopy.

And finally, this could be the most beautiful Miss Dolly ever created. Made by Desley Allen for her lucky little granddaughter.  Love those silver slippers.

Dolly pegs can make a  fairy.
Every little girl loves a fairy dress. (photo courtesy of Desley Allen)

A step up from the dolly pegs. Two pieces of wood, a little hinge and voila!…..a marriage made in heaven.

Hinged pegs also make great dolls.

For more on the history of clothes pegs, CLICK HERE.


  1. So why were the locals amazed to see thick smoke coming out of the chimney in 2011?
    You are not keeping secrets are you Ms Conolly?

    • Pauline

      Well it was because the factory had closed down years before. Must have been vandals, Barbara.

  2. Thanks, Pauline..

  3. During the 1940’s a man known only as Yorky (maybe he was from Yorkshire) travelled regularly around the St Marys area selling hand made pegs. He camped in the bush and carried all his belongings in a swag. Some parents threatened their children with ‘Yorky’, but he was never known to harm anyone.

    • Pauline

      Oh, that’s interesting, Bill. I’ll add that to the story. Thanks for taking the trouble to leave the message.

Leave a Reply

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.