THE wool industry has traditionally been a man’s world, but in the past 20 years, the number of female woolclassers and roustabouts has overtaken men.
Today, a talented, well-travelled group of women are bridging the gender gap further in wool marketing with iconic agribusiness company Elders.
In the past two years, the face of SA’s wool team has changed dramatically from one to five female district wool managers, from a team of eight, spread across the state.
Many have classers’ stencils and considerable practical experience in shearing sheds and on properties, which they are using to maximise returns for their clients.
Elders southern zone wool manager Lachie Brown says it is a “natural progression”, with women today making up a large percentage of classers and shed staff.
He says it is a “positive for the industry” that many of these talented individuals are applying for jobs further down the supply chain.
“It is great to have young district wool managers coming through out of the sheds where they have been good classers,” he said.
“They are so passionate about sheep and wool and have a great rapport with their clients at the local level.”
Mr Brown says although the strong representation of women in wool roles has not been replicated yet in other states, he expects it will only be a matter of time.
“We are getting more female applicants that have the skill set and drive to become outstanding wool agents,” he said.
Port Augusta-based Alice Wilsdon has been at Elders for seven years.
The former classer and sheep contractor joined as a district wool manager at Esperance, WA, in 2010.
In April last year, she transferred home to service clients across the Upper North and Flinders and Gawler Ranges.
Ms Wilsdon, who was raised on a farm in the Mid North, says marketing wool is a job she loves.
“There have been a lot of ups and downs in the wool industry, but the people left in it have a lot of passion and pride for the wool they produce,” she said.
“Growers put a lot of effort into their clips and for many years didn’t get the returns, so to see them reaping the rewards for their hard work is exciting to be a part of.”
Broken Hill-based Charlotte Treloar, who covers North East SA and Western Division of NSW, agrees it is a pleasure working with pastoralists growing “white gold”.
“Many pastoralists that have grown wool for generations have seen the highs and lows and are enjoying a buoyant exciting market – what a time to be in wool!” she said.
Ms Treloar, whose family own Wadnaminga Station via Manna Hill, says wool has become a versatile fibre with “endless possibilities”.
“Gone are the days of the scratchy, itchy knit jumper – welcome to a whole new era of high-end fabrics and clothing, homewares, shoes and elite sportswear,” she said.
Two of Elders wool’s newest recruits are Eyre Peninsula representative Claire Loveridge, who hails from a farm in Kent in England, and Tegan Falkner, based at Millicent, covering the Lower South East and western Vic.
A few years ago, Ms Loveridge joined a shearing team short of a roustabout and was hooked.
In May this year, she made the jump to district wool manager.
Ms Falkner joined Elders in early July after eight years working in ag, which even included “a crack” at shearing for six months.
She was classing in WA when an opportunity arose in Elders.
“I was seeking a challenging career to further my knowledge and love for the wool industry and live closer to the family farm,” she said.
SE classer blazes industry trail
ELDERS SE district wool manager Steph Brooker-Jones has helped blaze a trail for women in the wool industry.
When she did her classers course at Marleston School of Wool and Textiles in Adelaide 40 years ago, she was one of just two female participants.
Her successful career has included 14 years wool classing, a decade as a private buyer with Michells and 14 years with Elders.
Ms Brooker-Jones is pleased to see more women helping market the wool clip, but is adamant they have been “the right people for the job” rather than an equality push.
“I have always said to be a woolclasser takes common sense – it is the same for district wool managers, plus the ability to talk and knowledge helps,” she said.
“In the past 20 years, a lot more women have progressed from shed hands to woolclassers and we have been able to identify good people because we have seen them in the sheds.”
Ms Brooker-Jones – who is also the chair of Sports Shear Australia – says wool classing and being a district wool manager has been a great ticket to travel and meet great people.
“I have travelled Australia and been to the United States, New Zealand and the United Kingdom and wool classing has got me there,” she said.
“If you are prepared to get out there, it is a big world.”
At Elders’ National Wool Selling Centre in Melbourne, Vic, there are two female wool technical staff that auctioneer as part of their roles.