Local wool handler Rex Ellis is the proprietor of High Country Wool Pty Ltd. He shares his industry experiences with us and explains why the New England region produces some of the best super-fine Merino wool in the country.
> Have you always lived in the region?
I was born and bred on a property near Ward’s Mistake, east of Guyra. We had super-fine merino wool on the property for many years, but now there are mainly cattle.
I have been around this region most of my life, except the seven years I spent in Cooma. During my life I have done this, that and the other, but I always come back to wool.
> Tell us about your family business.
My wife’s name is Anna, and we have three children – though I probably shouldn’t call them children anymore. Anna and I own High Country Wool; it is a proprietary limited company, and our youngest daughter Teresa does the bookwork for us. She works at North Hill Vet Clinic several times a week, and when she is not there she comes in here, as I am not computer literate. She comes to do the payments.
We pay on a Monday for auctioned wool. We are also a broker, as well as a private wool buyer, and I know that our rates are far cheaper than most of the bigger companies. This is why a lot of people are swinging over to our way of doing things.
Our other daughter Lisa works at Watson, McNamara & Watt, and our son Andrew has a successful business in Canberra.
> What prompted you to start High Country Wool, and how has it progressed?
High Country Wool started in June 1993 in Armidale. There was no one in Armidale as a private wool buyer; I just saw an opening, and I thought I’d give it a go. Sure the first few years were tough, and at times I thought I’d made the wrong decision, but now the networking is in place.
You had to have your buyers and your networking, but it didn’t take us too long to set that up. It’s come along very well. I started buying wool in 1970 down in Cooma, for a French company.
> Describe a wool-buying day.
Yesterday, for example, I left Armidale at 6.30am and got back at 5pm. In the meantime I picked up a load of wool in Kingstown, and I dropped some wool in Inverell for sampling and auctioning.
Then I had to go out north of Oakwood to pick up another load. I dropped that back to Inverell also. From there, I came back to Armidale via a quick pick up at Bundarra. In fact, those wool bales (points to the front of his shed) are still on the truck from yesterday’s final pick up.
> How do you price wool?
We have what is called a core-gun, which is about so long and as big as your finger, with a sharp end on it. That is driven into the bale, which draws a sample that is sent off for testing to the Australian Wool testing Authority (AWTA) in Sydney. They then give us the test results, and we base the buying price on those results.
> Where do you class the wool?
I don’t class at the properties, but in store. I have two classing stencils. One is a personal one that I use if I have classed at a shed. The other is a Classing House stencil that is issued by AWEX (Australian Wool Exchange), and that’s what I put on these particular wools.
> What is the quality of New England wool like?
Having bought wool in Victoria, the Southern Tablelands, Yass and areas like that, I believe quite honestly there is no wool that matches our New
England wool anywhere in the world, except maybe a little spot in Tasmania.
We’ve got the best super-fine merino wool in the world, as far as I’m concerned. There was a switch a few years ago to crossbreeds, and we have a lot of crossbred wool now. The really nice super-fine wool, though, is just so nice to touch and so soft.
> Has your client base grown over the years?
I have had regular clients for years, but I don’t mention their names, as it is their business. We are picking up new clients all the time now.
> What is the state of the wool industry locally?
It is very bad at the moment. I am very critical of the people who are in charge of the wool industry. I call it ‘nobody in charge’, to be quite honest with you. I was reading an article just over the weekend, I think a letter to the Land newspaper, where one guy mentioned we should just disband AWI.
I would like to see a lot more than that happen, as I believe we are a headless chook. These people in charge would totally disagree with me, but the direction we are going is backwards. They are paid out of the wool levy, which over the years has produced millions of dollars, and what have they done? I don’t believe they have done anything.
Wool is a product which is the greatest product of all, and cotton is next, as they are both natural fibres. Then we get to man-made fibres, which can’t compare to the quality and safety of these natural fibres.
> Do you employ other wool handlers?
I’m it. There is nobody else but me. I can’t pass the buck onto anyone else. I see the grower; mostly I drive the truck and pick the wool up, and that is why I don’t have a lot of time.
I have tried to employ people, but I always come back to the situation that if I can’t do it, it won’t get done. It is my knowledge of wool and the industry that people are paying for, and I pride myself on the way I read wool. Some people are experts in cotton, some people are experts in IT. I don’t think there are experts, but I do know a lot about wool.
> What areas do you service?
I travel east to Ebor, south to Walcha, North to Bonshaw, west to Inverell and all points in between.
> Some facts about super-fine Merino wool …
Fine and super-fine Merinos are found in the northern and southern tablelands of New South Wales, the western districts of Victoria and the midlands district of Tasmania.
The super-fine wool Merino produces wool that is of excellent colour, soft handling and dense, with a fibre diameter of 18 microns and finer. Staple length is about 80 mm.
The fine-wool Merino possesses a bright, white, dense fleece. Fibre diameter is 19 microns, with a staple length of about 85 mm.
> Thank you Rex.