The Wool Industry in QLD

By Lorraine Tomlinson, Dalgetys and The Australian Estates Wool Department

Wool is the fibre that grows on the sheep, and lanolin is the natural fat that covers the sheep’s wool fibres. The industry was so important that in 1961 the Merino Sheep’s head was placed on the Australian Shilling and Queen Elizabeth was placed on the other side of the coin.

The wool industry requires a mild climate rich pastures and a good rainfall. Sheep first arrived on the first fleet in 1788. Merino sheep arrived from South Africa in 1797 and the Macarthurs used them to commence their Merino flock. Initially wool was transported by bullock wagon or riverboat and after 23 years of Australia being settled, Merino wool enabled us to lead the world as a wool producing nation.

Sheep were first shorn with hand shears and the wool was trodden down into bags. Shearers were paid by the number of sheep shorn, and in 1892 Jack Howe sheared 321 sheep in 8 hours and 40 minutes. A shearing machine was invented in the late 1800s, and in 1865 a wool press was invented to pack wool into the bales.

The wool from the sheep is a natural fibre and it keeps you warm even when wet and the most important thing is that it is fire resistant. The merino originally came from Spain. Merino wool is described as: fine, medium or strong.

Mustering used to be done on horseback; today utes and bikes are used and sheep dogs are used for most of the mustering work. Sheep may be bred, raised and shorn on one farm or they may be brought in as lambs and reared for wool or meat. Often wool-growing ewes are crossed with meat-producing rams so they can produce not only wool but fat lambs too. Sheep are shorn every year, usually by a team of shearers who travel between farms and stations. On the farms or stations the sheep are checked regularly where they are mustered and treated for disease and parasites and other problems.

Shearing is carried out each spring when the wool is at its longest and they are mustered and brought into the shearing sheds one at a time then pushed down a chute into another holding pen.

Sorting or classing: The fleece is then sorted into bins the wool is then pressed into bales by a wool press.

The wool is transported by road or rail to a wool store for auction to buyers from Australia and overseas the bales are transported for shipment, processed and return as garments or other woolen products.

Wool is sometimes processed in Australia: cleaned or scoured combed or carded, combined, dyed, spun and either plied into knitted wool or woven into cloth. Wool can be used for insulation: this is treated differently.

Wool yarn or cloth is then transported to factories for re-manufacture into garments and associated products.

Today Shearer’s can shear between 100 and 200 sheep per day.

Roustabouts: They put the sheep into pens, sweep the floor, collect the fleece and then throw it onto the wool sorting table.

Classers: The classer inspects the fleece and removes any dirty or poor quality pieces from around the edges. This is known as skirting and it is then sorted into bins: colour, crimp, strength and it also depends on the thickness of the fibre.

Pressers: The wool is then put into the wool press, which is packed into bales: one bale can hold 40 fleeces. The bales are numbered, and labeled with grower and type of wool. It is then transported to a wool center for holding.

A wool classer then removes a sample of the wool from each bale; it is tested and then a description of the wool is catalogued into a wool catalogue: e.g. AAA LMS, AA, A etc.

The overseas buyers would then examine the wool prior to bidding at the wool sales; today wool can be sold via the internet.

Most of the exported wool is greasy so the cleaning process takes place overseas. Wool grease Lanolin could be smelt throughout the wool stores at Macquarie Street. In 1927 the Vice-Regal ball was held in honor of the Duke and Duchess of York at the wool stores at Teneriffe and in 1934 it was used to celebrate the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester.

From 1963 onwards I worked for both Dalgetys and The Australian Estates. Cataloguing was a major effort leading up to the sales as approximately 10 wool sales per year would be held and even sometimes two per month. (24,000 bales of QLD wool would be displayed at the wool stores at the one time).

One would work throughout the night, have a two-hour break and then return to the job. The wool sales would take place at The Wool Exchange, Eagle Street the City, and then calls would be booked to the clients informing them of the prices that they had received at auction. The major buyer of the day was Japan. The buyers’ meals were provided for them at the wool stores and some of the food items were supplied by Ross and Jeffrie Garnetts’ family, who had the local grocery store at 152 James Street New Farm.

The Australian Estates wool building later became John Burke Shipping and Travel and I worked for them for a period of time before resuming further studies in classical piano.

The wool industry was a family affair; we had great work ethics and everyone looked out for each other. We had a great social life, attending the wool balls and wool functions which were held regularly.

As a sixteen year old my first boss at Dalgetys was David Hanson and he has kindly supplied information on the first wool sales, which were held in Brisbane on Saturday 29th October 1898.

Russell’s Transport commenced their business as master carriers in 1925 and their business operated from three different sites all located in Macquarie Street between Hastings and Kingsholme Street. During this time the principal freight was drummed petroleum for the Commonwealth Oil Refineries (C.O.R.) and less than a full wagon of wool from the Newstead Goods Rail yard to all the other brokers’ stores as well as a share of the Brisbane Wool Pool cartage.

Philip Russell took over from his father Roy in 1970 and relocated to Eagle Farm where they still remain today as a third generation transport business. As I walked along Macquarie Street on my way to the Australian Estates I would see hundreds of stray cats running all over the wharf area. It was quite a sad sight and one wonders what their fate was in the end.

I would like to thank: David Hanson Dalgetys, Neville K. Long The Australian Estates, Dalgetys and Elders, John Depper Dalgetys and The Australian Estates, Eric Hauff, Primaries, Philip Russell Russell Transport, George Cowin IV transport and Ross Garnett – President of the New Farm Historical Society and Jeffrie Garnett for their oral and written contributions.

Researched by Lorraine Tomlinson 1st July 2010 (3rd generation New Farm), Dalgetys (wool), The Australian Estates (wool), John Burke (Shipping and Travel)

2 thoughts on “The Wool Industry in QLD”

  1. Do you have any articles/information on my father, Gordon Lewis, who was appointed as the first teacher of Sheep and Wool-classing at the Central Technical College, in Brisbane, from 1917 to 1958, when he retired? It seems he was an excellent teacher and specialist at wool-classing, and I am trying to collect historical information on him for my children and grandchildren. Thankyou 🙂

  2. I unearthed a small wool sorters/brokers brass marker dated 18 SEP 1882 10cm under the grass lawn at Jacobs Ladder in Brisbane City couple years back.

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