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Warrook Farm

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by Lucinda Barty (subscribe)
After growing up on a 7000 acre sheep property, adapting to the fast-paced Melbourne was a drastic but liberating change! Now a media-communications graduate, editor and journalist, I'm eager to share my return to a beautiful life in the country.
Published November 23rd 2015
Shearing -where suits, t-shirts and ball gowns begin
Ever wanted to take a peek behind the corragated iron walls of a shearing shed? Despite being one of the most quintisential of Australian scenes depicted through the art and poems of past Australian greats, little is truely known about the process of taking a fleece and creating a t-shirt, suit or ball gown. With many tours available involving on-farm experiences, however, the curiosity of even the most adept city-dweller can be quenched.

sheepdog, wool bales, shearing, farming, country
Ruby the sheepdog takes a break atop the finished bales

One by one they scuttle down the small wooden ramps of the wool shed through trapdoors that seem to open and close rhythmically but reveal little of what is going on inside. Freshly shorn, however, they appear almost flourescently white against the faded grey sheep yards - the look completed with two stripes of vibrant blue drench down the back of each.

Sheepdogs, each known by personality rather than name alone, are assembled into compatible teams. Some pace up and down the yards, occasionally pushing their noses through the sheep yard rails and delivering a short, sharp bark as if to remind the unruly sheep of their presence and keep them in line. Others, while not 'on duty', make the most of the sunshine, languishing in the warmth of the spring sun on the back of the motorbike - yet with one ear always pricked and waiting for command. With only the odd exception, Sheep dogs are typically female as they form strong bonds with their owner and prove more even-tempered and responsive to commands - however, some forge bonds so tight they will refuse to work for anyone but their owner/ trainer or only with specific dogs.

wool, lanolin, shearing, farming, sheep
The wool classing table usually takes on a thick coating of lanolin oil from thw wool continually thrown across it

The smell of dust, lanolin and motor oil drifts out the open door of the shed, revealing more clues as to the activity inside as the token 'shed cat' greets me at the door. (Most woolsheds have a stray cat which has taken up home there, often earning their keep by keeping mice at bay and mingling with the work men).

cat and dog, sheep dog, shearing, woolshed, cat
A stray cat affectionately known as "orange cat

Shearing, although seen as an old fashioned concept subject to myriad stereotypes (bluey singlets?), is a practice which has certainly moved with the pace of technological change. There was once a time when sheep were washed prior to shearing by herding them through a creek- a dangerous task which risked them drowning due to the weight of their own water-laden wool. Fleeces are now washed prior to shearing or sheep kept shedded or wearing lightweight canvas rugs to preserve the final clip.

shearing, farming, sheep, wool, woolshed
The woolshed is a place for anyone willing to give it a go

There was once a time when females were not welcome in the shearing shed, yet now they may be wool classers, roustabouts (sweeping and dividing wool and spreading fleeces across the table) or even shearers themselves.

woolpress, shearing, fleeces, farming
After being graded for quality, fleeces are pressed into bales weighing hundreds of Kgs each

stencils, wool bales, shearing, farming
Stencils are used to number and label each bale prior to auction

Now, of course, the shearing shed is a place anyone is welcome to visit (except of course the odd brown snake!) and occurs on most farms between September and mid-December. Tours are available through a multitude of different companies with may in Melbourne offering full or half day tours which include transport and catering. Warrook Farm in Gippsland is just one of many but very popular. There is no glass wall between the viewer and the action - nor is there a barrier to prevent loose wool strands clinging to your clothing or boisterous sheepdogs from greeting you. Yet this is exactly how shearing time should be experienced. A truely Australian experience that endures today - just as it aways has.
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Why? Come and see a part of Australia's cultural history firsthand.
When: dependent on tours available
Phone: 61 3 5997 1321
Where: 4170 South Gippsland Highway, Monomeith, Victoria, 3984
Cost: dependent upon tour company
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