The Australian wool industry

Shearers lined up in Australian Wool Shed

The history of Australian wool starts at the very beginning of Australia as it was settled by the British. For many years, wool was the most important product of the Australian economy. The wool industry dates from 1797 when John Macarthur and Reverend Samuel Marsden imported Spanish merino sheep to attempt to start a wool industry. Up until then, the only sheep in the colony were the fat-tailed sheep which the First Fleet brought with it from the Cape of Good Hope. These were used primarily for meat, rather than wool. 

Whilst the breeding programs took almost a quarter of a century for Macarthur genetics to produce enough wool to auction. In 1821, the first Australian wool was sold at Garraway’s Coffee House in London.  Before 1840, Australia was producing more than two million kilos of wool each year. The success of the wool industry made many squatters and pastoralists immensely wealthy and by the 1880s the wool business was booming. 

Sheep breeders gathered in numbers in large metropolitan centres to buy and sell stock and wool each year. The Sydney Mail described the scene at the Sydney Wool Exchange in 1897.

With the modern farmer born into a decade of the internet, the wool industry has had its ups and downs with the introduction of different sheep breeds through the use of importing genetics. The wool prices have held comfortably giving respite to the older & younger generations looking for relief in the years of drought.

The turn to raw materials being utilised again with the generations recycling more & more. It could be seen that the Australian Wool Industry provided bales for the Australian Cricket Teams baggy greens.

More than 400 woolgrowers from across Australia donated a sample – some a handful, some a whole bale – to the Flock to Baggy Green project. From the finest Merino to a handful of 27-micron wool, the donations filled the wool pack of the Flock to Baggy Green project. Together these donations were processed to create one long run of fabric to make the iconic Australian cricketers Baggy Green.

Flock to Baggy Green

You can listen to the full story on The Yarn podcast. The podcast is run by the Australian Wool Innovation AWI which is a not-for-profit company that invests in R&D and marketing to increase the long-term profitability of Australian woolgrowers. With the group looking to add a little bit of wool into the lives of consumers.

With the introduction of wool fitness apparel and famous woolen sneakers by Adidas has allowed the wool products to be purchased in large scalable amounts. View the article in the Financial Times.

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