The general goal for my trip was to try to see everything that related in a significant way to Australia, past and present. Australia, which has a long and strong scientific tradition, has always had a part in the space program, including a long association with NASA. (Australia also seems to be where a substantial amount of space junk—such as SkyLab—crashes back to earth when it wearies of the heavens.) So I’d thought I’d go visit the Tidbinbilla Space Tracking Station at Canberra. However, I think God knew I needed to get out of town, so the space tour was cancelled, and I was offered a visit to a sheep station instead.
For those of you who are disappointed that this isn’t about the Space Tracking Station, here’s a link with more information. http://www.cdscc.nasa.gov/
As it turned out, my initial disappointment turned to relief and joy. Burbong was just what I needed. Suddenly, I was surrounded by fields and gum trees, horses and dogs, people in oilskins instead of pin-stripe suits. And kangaroos dropped by for tea. I was in heaven.
The photos below show a bit of what I enjoyed that day. You can see one of the station owners, Rhuben Colverwell, on horseback, with his dogs rounding up sheep for shearing. The other owner, Rhuben’s brother, Ray, is shown shearing one of their big Merino sheep. The blur of Ray spreading out the wool gives some idea just how much wool comes off one sheep. And that’s just one year’s growth of wool on one sheep.
The final image shows different grades of wool and, on the left, how much the wool grows each year. The shortest clump of wool is one year’s growth. The longest clump of wool is four year’s growth. That four-year growth is only seen on a sheep that gets lost, as an owner would never let a sheep go that long without shearing. If it rained, that much wet wool could smother the sheep. One more year’s growth, and just the weight of the wool would overwhelm the creature. These sheep need to be shorn—it’s not just nice wool for the shearers, it’s a matter of life and death for the sheep.