Vale | Bill Bailey sheep classer 1935-2020

Vale | Bill Bailey sheep classer 1935-2020

Bill Bailey was not just a sheep classer; he was a mentor, counsellor and friend to many.

Bill Bailey was not just a sheep classer; he was a mentor, counsellor and friend to many.


Bill Bailey was not just a sheep classer; he was a mentor, counsellor and friend to many.


WILLIAM (Bill) Maxwell Bailey was born in Melbourne in 1935, the only child of Bertha and Max Bailey.

After spending much of the war years in Nagambie, Victoria, he attended Scotch College where he enjoyed early success in the sport of rowing.

From 1951 to 1953, Bill coxed many crews including the first eight for both Mercantile Rowing Club and Victoria.

In May 1952 Bill steered the Victorian crew to victory in the King's Cup in Penrith, defeating NSW by four lengths and breaking the then three mile record. In 1953, Bill again steered the Victorian eight to victory at the King's Cup in Perth.

Bill then made the decision to pursue his desire to work with animals and spent a few months working for the Shippen family at Banyandah, Moulamein, before starting a jackarooing position at Woorilla, Hillston, with the McLean family. Here he gained experience in general sheep and property management.

During 1955 and 1956, Bill worked for the Pye family at Gingie, Walgett. He arrived at Gingie shortly after it was cut up for closer settlement and, while there, experienced the floods of the 1950s in the Walgett district.

There was also a long shearing strike which coincided with an extreme fly wave. Bill and other jackeroos in the district were organised into teams to shear the Gingie and surrounding properties' sheep.

From 1956 to 1957, Bill was a jackaroo and in charge at Gnomery at Burren Junction owned by the Saddington family.

In 1958 he went to Haddon Rig Merino stud, Warren, as a senior jackaroo, and was later promoted to stud master in charge of the special stud breeding and the shedded rams, accompanying many sale teams to Perth and Sydney.

It was during his years at Haddon Rig that Bill also met Dick Jago who would become a close lifelong friend and fellow sheep classer.

In 1961, Bill started a position as overseer at Egelabra Merino stud, Warren. This was to be the beginning of a long and successful partnership with the Kater family.

In 1962, he married Joan and was promoted to manager of Eenaweena, the Egelabra ram depot. His time at Eenaweena shaped his sheep classing pathway, working with the special stud ewes, doing the odd classing trip, and selecting rams for clients with Reg Cobb and Harry O'Brien (eventually inheriting both their runs).

At the end of 1969, Bill resigned his position at Eenaweena and moved the family to Dubbo where he started his long and rewarding full time classing career, taking him to four states around Australia, and a world Merino conference in South Africa.

Bill and Joan later bought Chelsea at Dubbo, which they ran on a part-time basis, and established a small Egelabra based breeding flock of their own.

In 1976 when Egelabra was searching for a general manager, Bill recommended Hugh Lydiard, forming a formidable team for 21 years. They complemented each other, not only improving the Egelabra sheep, but educating many young people along the way some of whom went onto very high profile jobs, many still in the industry today.

Upon Hugh's retirement, Bill also worked closely with Cam Munro in continuing to build the stud's enviable reputation.

There were many highlights in Bill's successful career, including:

- The 1988 Melbourne Ram Sale where a team of four Egelabra rams averaged $25,000

- In 1989 Bill's client, Gunyah Merino stud at Cooma, purchased a ram for $30,000

- The impact he had in the Surat district in Queensland, where he built a large client base, which led to the formation of the Egelabra Wool Growers Association.

Bill classed millions of sheep between 1970 and his retirement in 2000, with 1989 being close to his record year classing in excess of 200,000 young ewes.

Bill was unique with understanding and identifying a certain type of sheep to suit different environments along with the breeding direction of every client.

He adapted to every personality and was not just a sheep classer; he was a mentor, counsellor and friend to many.

Upon retiring from sheep classing, Bill handed the reins to Paul Kelly, Egelabra's current sheep classer.

In 2004, Bill and Joan also sold Chelsea, with their final mob of Egelabra-blood wethers topping the Narromine breeders' sale.

Bill died in Dubbo on August 7, 2020.

He is survived by his wife, Joan; daughters and sons-in-law Wendy and Lynda, Hunter and Donald; and grandchildren, Lachlan, Sarah, Campbell, Simon and Edwina.

The story Vale | Bill Bailey sheep classer 1935-2020 first appeared on Queensland Country Life.


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