At one time, it was proverbial that the Australian economy rode on the back of a sheep. There are still a lot of sheep in Oz, but at one time, it was indeed the major source of income for the country.
In 1804, with a grant of 5,000 acres of land, a few Merino sheep of his own, and a gift of nine additional Merinos from King George III, John Macarthur founded Australia’s wool industry in New South Wales. Previously, Spain had been the only producer of fine wool, jealously guarding “their breed,” the Merino. However, when Spain was defeated in the Napoleonic Wars, the French dispersed the Merinos to a number of different countries, and King George (the one America’s Thirteen Colonies had recently rebelled against) thought it would be a good idea to send some of them to England’s newest colony. Before long, Australia was breeding Merinos and producing glorious wool.
Sheep raising spread quickly and became almost as iconic a part of Australian culture as the drover (Australian cowboy). As I prepared for my trip, I had read many stories of Australia that focused on the lives of the shearers, who traveled from shed to shed (a shed being the place where you shear sheep) during the shearing season. Competition among shearers was common, as everyone wanted to be the top shearer.
Of course, knowing the history of Australia and sheep, I was eager to visit a woolshed and see sheep shearing first-hand. I got my first chance in Queensland, at Jondaryan Woolshed, up on the Darling Downs. Below are pictures of Jondaryan and of a sheep awaiting shearing.