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A THUMBNAIL DIPPED IN TAR

A THUMBNAIL DIPPED IN TAR
A Gentle Stroll Through the Wool Industry

This work of non-fiction spans fifty years of the Wool Industry in Australia and overseas and is a book of great historical worth.

Through a series of photos and text Keith Hutty wonderfully captures the true life of the Australian farmers and shearers in the early 20th century.

From the author's humble beginnings as he worked his way through the industry to working and shearing sheep in other parts of the world as far away as Russia this is a compelling read.

The book shows the diversity and dynamic spirit of interesting characters in the Australian sheep industry and captures the humour and expression of language at that time. The book has been well researched and shows great detail of places and people down to showing the wages that were paid to the bush workers of that time.

The inclusion of excellent photos adds to this remarkable book that is a great contribution to the heritage of Australia

In Store Price: $AU25.95
Online Price:   $AU24.95

ISBN: 1-9210-0527-0
Format: A5 Paperback
Number of pages: 293
Genre: Australian Non Fiction 

 

 

 

 

Author: Keith Hutty 
Imprint: Zeus
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2005
Language: English

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INTRODUCTION 

By Jim Snow1 

Keith's early working life between 1945 and 1955 saw wool provide a huge boost to Australia's economy. One cartoonist of the day depicted a farmer driving his Rolls Royce into town with a sheep sitting on the back seat looking like the lord of the manor. 

With four to six times as many sheep as humans in Australia - depending on the year - the wool industry has always needed high overseas sales. There are not many people who can tell the story of the daunting task of building up Australia's goodwill in other countries as well as the controversies and changes, the story of the shearing industry and the unique humour of the outback and the shearing shed. Keith Hutty's own record as a shearer, marketer of shearing gear, in Australia and overseas and as an acute observer of people quickly engage the reader with this fascinating industry. 

That's not to say there were no problems in the industry. Rabbits began to come under control after depleting much needed fodder and climate was often a problem with drought or wet sheep or foot rot. Apart from confronting disease, a few far-sighted growers, their organisations and governments were thinking about the place of wool in international trade, the quality of their equipment, farm efficiency, long-term viability and the need to train new shearers. 

Wool was selling. The re-elected Prime Minister, Bob Menzies, had promised to ‘put value back into the pound’ in 1949 but inflation stopped that from happening and exports achieved good prices. 55 years later, in early 2004, wool exporters were regretting a climbing dollar, sellers were holding back stock and there was not enough wool reaching the market to entice buyers. China was not willing to write orders. Even in 2004 no one saw this as the end for the industry. Fine wool was yielding to bulkier broad wools and farmers were, as usual, adapting.  

Many far-sighted people have contributed to the advances of Australian agriculture. The scientists who helped curb the feral pests, the visionaries who ignored the `cold war' and visited our potential enemies encouraging friendship and trade, the inventors who improved the harvesting equipment and even the much despised politicians who knew when orderly marketing was needed and when it had become disorderly price-setting and had to go. All had a role in the progress of the wool industry. 

The role of those ‘on the ground’ was just as important. Rabbits had to be controlled, sheep had to be shorn, people were needed who could demonstrate the new ideas. The export aims of industry and government had to be translated into sales, through personal contact and demonstration. People were needed who could adapt to the changes inspired or inflicted by government, fashion houses and the growing global economy, not to mention wide combs. 

Keith Hutty has done all of that. He started as a rabbiter; he became a shearer and then a marketer of shearing equipment. His ideas have boosted both business and our overseas exports.

Much of Australia's high standard of living is due to our exports. Exports, whether they are goods, services, equipment or ideas, are always higher when we achieve trust and goodwill in other countries. Parliamentarians and diplomats may be in the front-line of pursuing, setting up and strengthening trust and goodwill with other nations; they are certainly not the most effective. 

Organisations such as the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation {SMEC} have proven the value of assisting other countries with their expertise and later benefiting with huge, worthwhile jobs for the nation. Then there are individual people like Keith Hutty. Keith is one of those seemingly 'ordinary' people who have an extraordinary impact on Australia's goodwill around the world. Keith's efforts, and those of industries and governments who wisely encouraged him to do the work, helped maintain the worldwide use of wool when the commodity was under challenge from its competitors. 

This story of wool, its harvesting and its role in international relations is always informative and often funny. Interspersed with the hilarity of the shearing shed are the challenges of wide combs, union relevance, living conditions of shearers and travellers and the less successful threat of robot shearing. The story covers the firms lulled by success, messed by takeovers and occasionally coming out of trouble with a new vigour. Through all this Keith Hutty describes a resilient and adaptable industry. 

' Former MP for the federal division of Eden-Monaro 1983 to 1996, former Member Prime       Minister's Country Task Force and Chair, Australian Parliamentary Labor Party (caucus).

FOREWORD

By The Hon. Tim Fischer1

Deputy Prime Minister of Australia 1996 to 2001 

There is something romantic and something very dynamic about the great Australian sheep industry, from the back paddocks to the shearing sheds, from the wool stores to the big end of town fashion parades.

In this book Keith Hutty, through an extraordinary set of glimpses, captures the diversity, the dynamic spirit and the great characters of the Australian sheep industry.

He also encounters and highlights the other dimension attaching to the industry - the quintessential core Australian character of the various people associated with the industry involving a special form of mateship.

At the end of the day it has to be said the shearing shed is a great leveller, involving mateship above all else and lifelong networks built on this mateship. Curiously enough, this mateship thrives notwithstanding the quite sharp and distinct seniority rankings of each and every person in and around the shearing shed and, for that matter, the wool industry.

In the modern era, the brutal demarcation of the past has been almost completely buried and so everyone from the part owner to the junior hand will lend a hand, particularly if rain is looming and there is a need to get the sheep in under cover quickly.

The writer confirms that Mrs Shand Kydd, the mother of Princess Diana (Queen of Australia but one), was a dab hand around the sheep yards and shearing shed of the large properties Bloomfield and Yanawe at Yass. In fact, Diana visited this property, during the period of build up to her marriage to Prince Charles, for a bit of time out in preparation for all that lay ahead.

There are many colourful characters referred to in the book, many of them great Australian shearers by use of the blade, such as lackie Howe. Others were expert shearers with the more modern ‘Lister’ and other mechanical later electrical machinery. Bill Kimber from Bombala was one of many ‘gun’ shearers in this group.

I recall from years ago my days in a shearing shed at Peppers Boree Creek in the Riverina, the colourful language and established pecking order, but overall a friendship and mateship and a desire for all to pull together to get the job done. Albeit the passage of time has probably eroded the memories of the odd flare up when things went wrong.

Over the decades, Riverina Woolsheds have had their own special collection of colourful characters, a number mentioned in this book.

Winston Churchill's Chief Parliamentary Secretary and Minister for Information during the crucial years of World War II, Brendan Bracken, spent part of his youth on an Australian sojourn helping as a jackaroo for the Ryan Family in and around Echuca. History records that Brendan Bracken was too often found reading books instead of looking after the movement of sheep and so was sacked from his job as a jackaroo.

He went on to teach and write at Sydney and Wallaroi College, Orange, before returning to the UK and linking up with Winston Churchill, close links he maintained until his death.

Brendan Bracken hid away his Australian phase, even decades later when he was the driving force behind the Economist Magazine he never returned to Australia and he was the singular reason why Churchill never came to Australia. I digress but it has to be said that many ringers and jackaroos went to the bush to hide away for a time, and wanted to cover their tracks so as to speak, in denial of their bush phase.

All of this points to the colourful diversity of the characters who got their start around the big shearing sheds and Keith Hutty, at the start of a new twenty- first century, has laid this out in a timely fashion.

In Keith's own case, from humble beginnings he worked his way through the industry to be of such standing that he was invited to work overseas on challenging projects such as in China, Korea and the middle of the desert in Libya. In links with McGowans International, the firm that paved the way with Agricultural Aid and technical co-operation last century, Keith Hutty held his own with his international activities.

Not everyone gets to shear in front of the Russian Leader Kosygin, but Keith Hutty did!

The book is a sharp reminder of a changing times, not the least of which is the brilliant photo of senior shearers undergoing training as Shearing Instructors, all dressed in dark suits, white shirts and ties for the purpose. I suspect this would not be the case today, even if the Governor General were opening the lecture series.

All in all the book captures a memorable part of the history of an industry which carried Australia through the nineteenth century and still remains a vital part of our heritage, contributing a great deal to the well being of Australia through the twentieth and now the twenty-first century

Chapter 1 (part sample)

Early Days 

When I was very young

Our numbers are now declining, but we who were born and bred in the bush in the early years of the 20th century still have good memories of the times past.  Among us there were forest workers, rabbit trappers, farm workers, drovers, horse breakers and many others, including blacksmiths, farriers and fencers; and the list goes on.  We also remember droughts, bush fires, floods, starving stock, horses bolting, flies, fleas, mossies, blowies, ants in the tucker box and maggots on the meat!  But after all of those things we still survive and our past should not die with us. 

The good times included winding up the gramophone and playing Jimmy Rodgers singing ‘Moonlight and Skies’, and the Carter Family singing ‘One Little Word’.  There were lots of bands playing marches as we were in between the wars and patriotism was rife.

The wireless came along.  The Crystal Set, usually home made from plans sent away for, and generally plenty of static and only two stations.  Then when valve or ordinary radio came along we felt we were really spoilt.  We could listen to ‘Mrs Obbs’, ‘Martin’s Corner’, ‘The Lawsons’ and ‘Dad and Dave’.  We especially liked ‘The Snake Gully Cup’ when Bill Smith’s horse beat Dad’s horse ‘Socks’.  My favourite was ‘First Light Frazer, A drama of A War Torn World’.

We lined up at school on Monday morning, saluted the flag and said we loved God and our country; we honoured the flag and served the King etc.

The alarm clock played a big part in country life, going off at five or six o’clock each morning so that we could get up and go around the rabbit traps, or get the cows in for milking or go shearing, or even worse still, get ready for school.  It was quite a thrill to be able to switch off the alarm before it went off.  You felt as though you had had a win! 

Sixty years on, we still set the alarm when needed, but our lives are so adjusted to getting up early we are awake and don’t need a clock to say ‘wake up’ and ‘get up’.  Rising early meant going to bed early, and this doesn’t change over the years.  These days I go to bed soon after dark, watch a video usually taped from the History Channel on Fox by Gwennie, my wife of 40 years.  Last night it was ‘Sinking of the Bismark’, an event in 1941, which I remember but I fell asleep before the Bismark sank the Hood.  I am a good sleeper! 

Stratford

Early days meant growing up in Gifford West, Stratford and Woodside, all small towns in Gippsland.  It was still Depression days in the late 1930s and World War II followed.  We moved a lot, as we were poor, our father was sick and mum had to go to work.  She bought a bike called ‘The Flyer’ and paid it off.  It cost £5, which was a fortune for her. 

I have very clear memories of the Anzac Day marches.  A few Boer War Veterans leading, followed by a lot of World War I soldiers, then the 13th Light Horse and finally some soldiers who became World War II warriors, three years down the track.  A few years later the march had no Boer War soldiers, a lot less from World War I, no Light Horse and a big number of World War II Veterans – time changes things.  Everything was in short supply except bad news at that time, especially out of England and the Middle East, as the casualty list in The Sun got bigger by the day.

In 1941 we moved to Woodside and it was a different world.  As I was reasonably clever at school I would have been something, but certainly not a shearer.

Woodside

I was never meant to be a shearer as I was born in a large town in Gippsland, Sale, Victoria on 28th March 1932.  I was the third of four children and we were forever on the move to wherever we could get cheaper rent.  My father had tuberculosis (TB), which was common in those days and he couldn’t work, so mum went out to work on cleaning jobs and housework, and occasionally cooking in hotels.  Dad died in July 1939 while we were living in Stratford, ten miles from Sale.  He had been in and out of hospital for six years.  In 1941 mum married again and we had another move to Woodside, a very small town where farming and timber were the only work about, plus rabbit trapping.  All the young men and women were in the services, as we were in the middle of the Second World War.  However, if you weren’t keen on army life, and you were married with a few kids and could trap rabbits, you could get out of joining up.  Shearers could also get an exemption during the shearing season and many did!  My stepfather Walter Rowley was about fifty and a rabbit trapper, so he was only in the army for a few months.  Rabbits were about in the millions, and during the very bad drought in 1942/43 it was common to see them around a water hole, where they had to wait to fit in to get a drink. Army slouch hats were made of rabbit fur and therefore rabbit trapping was encouraged.  As meat was rationed, along with sugar, tobacco, tea, clothes, butter, bike tyres etc, there was an advantage of living in the bush as you could overcome some of these shortages.  For meat we could buy an occasional sheep, we had plenty of underground mutton (rabbits), kangaroo meat, ducks, chooks and pigs.  We had our own eggs and butter, plus we had three cows, and if we sold our catch to the one rabbit buyer he somehow got us the occasional 70lb bag of sugar.  One of my uncles was an S.P. bookie and he could get us tea on the black market.  We didn’t need our clothing coupons so our relatives usually ended up with them, or they were traded for a bike tyre or something we needed.  Everyone had to put their name down and wait six months or more to get a bike tyre so there were plenty of old tyres taped up with black tape, and failing that you had to walk.

Some rationing didn’t affect us at all; petrol was one, as we didn’t have a car.  However, we sometimes got petrol from airmen who were repairing planes that had come down or crashed in our area.  Clean new supplies of petrol were put in these aircraft if they were flying back to base.  Often they landed on some of the dry lakes in the area when they were in trouble.  Aircraft that crashed soon had their tanks drained, so we always carried a couple of 4-gallon tins around with us ready to be filled if anything came up.  We used the petrol to swap for rides into town for shopping, pictures or even dances.  As rabbit trappers we were always coming across plane crashes in this area and sometimes even saw them come down.  There were three air-training bases in the area, East Sale, West Sale and Bairnsdale, so accidents were fairly common.

Today, in Sale, there is a fair sized war cemetery where a lot of the airmen who were killed are buried.  Woodside had a general store (there were two but one closed), a pub that because of a beer shortage, only opened from 4 pm to 6 pm each week day and from 2pm to 6pm on a Saturday.

Woodside had a butcher shop, but it had closed as the butcher, Ted Austin, had gone to the war and been captured in Greece.  He reopened the shop after the war, but by this time everyone was shopping in Yarram, twelve miles away.  The Billiard Room had two tables, but it also closed during the war and never opened again. The Woodside Hall, in bad need of repair, was mysteriously burnt down in the 1950s.  What with the insurance money and public donations a new and bigger hall was built! 

Fifty years later Woodside is just the same but all the old characters are gone; J.D. Rowley, Walter Earl, Bert Gale, Mick Kenny, Kelly Thompson, Coogan Cupples, Charlie Austin.  There have been two generations since I lived there and I can go back there now and not see a single person I know.

I remember a Miss Wallace had a haberdashery shop and mixed business and she was retiring so everything was being sold cheaply.  As it was wartime everything was scarce, including lollies.  I bought some liquorice blocks that had been there so long they had dried out and were that hard they couldn’t be eaten, and I would eat anything!  The shop was closed in 1941.

1 Former Leader of the National Party of Australia: served in the Parliaments of New South Wales (1971-1984) and Australia (division of Farrer 1984-1996).

 

 

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