Report from the
2010 Australian Sheep & Wool Show
July 16-18, 2010
By Kylie Gusset
The 133rd annual Australian Sheep and Wool Show (aka Sheepshow or Bendi), held in rural Bendigo, is one of the largest agricultural shows in Australia. Some 22,000 people attended this year.
Sheepshow started as an exhibition of sheep, but it’s now devoted to everything related to the buying, breeding, raising, shearing, and various forms of profit-making from sheep, with vendors on hand hawking everything from wool export marketing to animal feed. Fashion shows feature woolen garments, and a “Women of Wool” luncheon celebrates the achievements of women in the wool industry. For the stash enhancement minded, 250 vendors are on hand selling yarns, fibers, food, clothing, and more.
Contests and Competitions
A wide variety of judged competitions take place including animal judging, the national fleece competition with over $13,000 in prize money, the shearing competition featuring the gun shearers from Australia and New Zealand (i.e., the pros), and the sheepdog trials. Not to be left out, spinners, knitters, weavers, and other fiber-loving people are part of the wool craft competition.
One of the biggest recent changes to the Sheepshow has been the influx of knitters. Ravelry has enabled community and organization to great effect.
A dinner, breakfast, and bingo (with appropriate crafty targets and prizes) brought together over 100 fiber-loving folk. Breakfast included prizes for handspun and socks (if only to have wonderful photo opportunities like the sock line up).
What Happens to Wool?
One of the issues looming over the show is the closure of the local wool scouring facility, operated by the government-funded Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). There have already been casualties: Meskills Woolworks, a spinner of locally produced fibers has closed down.
I chatting with Nancy Bennett of Bennet and Gregor who explained that if they can’t find appropriate processing partners they might have to give up raising sheep for fleece and raise fat lambs instead. ("Fat lambs" is a term for lambs raised for slaughter. Sometimes they're also called "locker lambs.")
Although Australia has large wool processors, they’re closing down due to Chinese competition. To stay viable, they can only process white Merino. This leaves small farmers with small lots, rare fibers, or colored fleeces left waiting. The good news at the show was that providers of the purchased and recommissioned CSIRO scour were letting Sheepshow vendors know about their small lot scouring services. Let’s hope it works out to benefit those small farmers.
Yarn Down Under
For those seeking stash, here are a few highlights.
This recently acquired, small independent business—with its own scouring to yarn production services—has its sights set on the big time. Keep your eye out for overseas distribution. Pear Tree Yarn specializes in super soft lofty Merino, Perendale, and alpaca yarns with Australian-inspired colors.
Dairing is the Australian distributor of Japanese yarn company Avril whose stainless steel, paper and linen offerings are gaining the interest of experimental craftspeople. This was Dairing’s first outing at Sheepshow. They were also selling locally made yarns, showing an interest in Australian production.
Long time stalwart and recognized woman of wool Wendy Dennis and her son Tom (a bingo favorite) were on hand, selling rare Polwarth breed fiber in all its forms.
Pam Goble provides amazing silky soft gleaming mohair yarn in various weights from her farmed goats, dyed in a huge crayon box of colors.
Alpaca breeder and fiber mill owner Gayle Herring was selling her own Fibre Naturally yarn. She includes the name and photo of the alpaca from which each ball of yarn was produced on each ball of yarn’s label.
The wonderful thing about this year’s Sheepshow was the addition of Otto and Joanne Strauch, who joined previous attendees Owen and Glynnis Poad from Majacraft and Nicola Bota from Ashford. All three vendors presented and demonstrated the range of their fiber tools.
Quite a few of Majacraft’s new Aura wheels, produced with input from yarn artiste Lexi Boeger of Pluckyfluff fame, went out the door at the show. Strauch made quite an impression as they were left taking orders on the last day for several of their wooden ball winders. Upon snapping up the last freestanding swift, several people swung by my stall to see it in action and to exclaim that I’d stolen theirs.
It was truly impressive to see the efforts fellow Aussies made to make the Strauchs feel at home, such as providing them with the tools and instruction to enable the tim tam slam, vegemite, and advice on breaking through the strine language barrier. (If you didn't guess, "strine" refers to Australian dialect.)
Keeping it Old School
Sheepshow still has that wonderful old school feel. The dagwood (dog/hot chips/donut/fairy floss) vans from my childhood are still there. There are more recent food innovations, such as the burger with indigenous dam-dwelling yabbie (crayfish), extreme hot dogs (their specialty sauces making anything extreme), homemade fudge and hot potatoes.
It’s the kind of show that gives people a feel for what rural life is like. It caters to families with child-minding services, enough events and attractions to keep the mechanical/animal-minded person interested, and also offers stash enhancement opportunities galore. Mention has been made of asking local Bendigo Bank to provide Christmas savings-type accounts for those who could use a little incentive to save for their yearly wool injection.
For a great pictorial summary of the show, check out the Weekly Times’ image gallery.
About the Author
Kylie Gusset has been blogging and online here and there since 1998, and she currently resides in glorious North Melbs, Australia. Passionate about knitting, fibers, and dyeing, she's currently studying studio textiles at rmit melbourne and runs ms.gusset, which specializes in hand dyed yarns and fibers—find them at msgusset.etsy.com.
Read other event reviews
Find a fiber event near you