THE biggest crowd in years turned out to see the clock turned back more than a decade as a new wave of high sheep prices prevailed at the Katanning June special sheep on Friday.
And not surprisingly it was Russell, Pam and David Calderbank, Pingrup, who topped the Elders' section of the sale at $72.80, a massive $31.60 increase on their 2000 price.
The Calderbank's line of 305 July shorn Nardlah blood one year old wethers has been a constant at the sale for almost two decades dominating the top prices under intense competition from graziers.
But this year the buyer was live exporter Al Mukarish demonstrating the absence of premiums for the superb breeding and presentation.
Al Mukarish buyer Kevin Tagney figured in many of the top prices on the day and said that with shipper prices established, he bought to the value of the wool to satisfy a demand for heavyweight sheep in future shipments.
For much of the day the buyers and vendors list read like a who's who of the season.
The dominant buying regions were Albany, Mt Barker Williams and Boddington with other strong support from exporters and graziers seeking annual lines of replacement sheep.
Elders auctioneer Roger Fris was disappointed that there hadn't been a good rain saying it could have "added a few dollars to the prices for sure".
However, he was "very, very happy" with the result regardless.
Late nominations flooded in from the Hyden and Gairdner districts as farmers made spur of the moment decisions to quit stock.
But nothing could dampen farmers' exuberance for the upturn in prices.
Elders' second top price was $69 again paid by Al Mukarish for 558 September shorn Rutherglen blood 1yo wethers from Holmbush Springs at Hyden.
Also mustered from this dry region were 411 young wethers with a September shearing and Nepowie breeding offered by Gil James, Karlgarin, and bought for $63 by R & R Ford, Narrikup.
R & R Ford was one of the most active buyers among the high price lines buying a total of 965 head and paying $66 for two outstanding lines offered by Mal Gibbs (of the recent $86.50 record auction price prime lamb fame), Boyup Brook.
These 269 September shorn Westerdale blood 2yo wethers and a second draft of 120 bought by the Ford family for $62.50 were the only older wethers in the Elders catalogue.
R & R Ford also paid $$61.50 for 165 September shorn Yarrum Valley blood 1yo wethers offered by JB & MA Griffiths, Gnowangerup.
The only other prices to top the $60-mark were also spring shorn wethers and included Derek Piesse's annual draft of 319 October shorn Wallinar blood 1yo wethers from Muradup sold for $60 to CO Smith, Kendenup.
A second draft of the same sheep sold to the same buyer for $40.
Lake Grace farmer Ron Boulton received $60 for 369 November shorn Eastville Park blood 1yo wethers, the first a 1207-head buying spree by Wagin farmer Jim Toll who was buying in replacement sheep.
Topping autumn shorn lines was HL & JS Bray, Dumbleyung, whose 360 January shorn AMS, Strath-Haddon blood 1yo wethers hit $56 and fell to Al Mukarish.
Glynesk, Broomehill, also featured among the top autumn price getters with 178 February shorn Condeena blood wethers fetching $55.50 and selling to the same exporter.
Young ewe prices were consistently around $32 to $36 a head with an exceptional line of 211 maidens from Holmbush Springs (Rutherglen breeding) selling for $44.50 to Williamson Brothers, Beverley.
WAMMCO International struck at $40 for 150 maidens with a March shearing and a big Willemenup frame trucked in by Clarevue Farm, Mindarbin.
A couple of small lines of older ewes in good condition mated to Suffolk rams sold for up to $43 to Kevin Tagney on behalf of an undisclosed buyer. The vendor was KR & S Stephens, Nyabing.