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Published: 14 April 2022

By Andy Ross

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New Zealand's wool industry

Wool: A history of New Zealand's Wool Industry was published in 2003 in Wellington, and explores the wool of these islands from the very start of what would become an industry until the 21st Century.

This is a dense book, filled with photographs, images of important documents and chapters about the various aspects of the industry. Starting with the introduction of sheep to New Zealand in 1779, it leads the reader through the rapid growth of the farming sector, through two World Wars that saw the demand for wool rise, and on through the introduction of man-made fibres that have contributed to the decline of wool production across the globe. It has been fascinating to learn how quickly the numbers of sheep rose once the methods of farming the animals had improved, and the book is full of interesting anecdotes:

"Dugald Macfarlane's first shearing in 1852 is notable for the fact that the sheep were shorn by his Scots shepherd outdoors on the house carpet turned upside down. The picking-up and tying of the fleeces was done by a strapping young Scots maid - surely one of our first woman wool handlers." (Page 17).

Of course, handling wool was no strange thing to a Victorian Scots woman!

Another useful tidbit of information led to Mary-Annette Burgess who began work with the promotion board for wool in 1948 (at the princely salary of 300 pounds). Mary-Annette immediately started to organise "Wool After Dark", a floor show that was inspired by Hartnell, Steibel and other European designers. From there her artistic flair took flight and her tenure was filled with many more shows, all featuring wool. You can read more about Mary-Annette here.

At present we are doing research into New Zealand's wool industry as part of GlobalYell's network project. There is plenty to learn and we are piecing together an overview with the intention of supporting where we can through education. This book is part of that understanding and is, in addition, a thoroughly good read too.