The key to success is people

The key to success is people

Terry Winfield, Primaries, and his gavel would have sold a few dollars worth of wool throughout his decades long career of auctioneering wool.

Terry Winfield, Primaries, and his gavel would have sold a few dollars worth of wool throughout his decades long career of auctioneering wool.


Terry Winfield, Primaries, started work in the wool game 'just the other day', on August 25, 1962.

An example of what the wool store show floor would have looked like when Terry Winfield started working in the wool industry.

An example of what the wool store show floor would have looked like when Terry Winfield started working in the wool industry.

TERRY Winfield, Primaries, started work in the wool game 'just the other day', on August 25, 1962.

He is closing in on 60 years of life in the shoes of a wool broker and auctioneer but shows no signs of slowing down despite the thousands of wool bales loaded, millions of kilometres driven and (likely) billions of dollars worth of wool hammered down by his well-worn gavel over the years.

Raised in Beverley, but not from a farming background, Terry started his life in the wool industry when he left his hometown to take a job at Elders.

"When I first joined Elders, my intentions were to go down the line of livestock," Terry said.

"But when I got into the woolstore as the office boy, licking envelopes and delivering letters on push bike around Fremantle, I found myself involved in the wool and it was good.

"So I was doing that mundane job for a while and then I was offered a position on the wool technical staff which meant getting involved with the whole gambit of the wool business."

In those days according to Terry, a job in the wool division at Elders was a coveted one, although he didn't know it at first.

"When they first asked me to go on the technical staff I didn't know much about it so I asked one of the branch managers in the bush what this technical staff thing was all about," he said.

"Then he said to me, son, if you can get a job there - that's the best job at Elders.

"So I took the job and that was where it started."

In the years between the 1960s and today, there were plenty of highlights and lowlights for the wool industry and Terry was there to see it all, but learning the tricks of the trade on the woolstore floor to start with was an eye-opening experience.

"Of course back in those days, we were working in those big multi-level stores in Fremantle," he said.

"There was no mechanical handling, no forklifts and all the wool was displayed on the show floor in the bales.

"There'd be these enormous offerings, Elders in their own right could have up to 20,000 bales in a sale and a percentage of those 20,000 would be shown on the show floor so there was a sea of wool - it was a pretty amazing sight.

"All the bales were open but after the sale of course they had to be stuffed back in and put away in stacks so things have certainly progressed from there to where they are today where we have a 5kg sample in a box."

The blokes working in the woolstores when Terry got his start were pushing bales of wool around on barrows.

"There were some pretty tough customers to work with back then, that's for sure," he said.

"But it was a real education and it's something that no one today will ever experience."

Learning how to do all the work manually was something wool brokers and technicians were expected to be able to do, a skill which has been replaced by wool testing technology.

"You just press buttons now," Terry said.

"All of those skills are gone unfortunately and they'll never come back."

Terry spent the first 35 years of his career with the Elders wool team in various roles, working through the ranks from 'office boy' to technical officer to several management roles.

"I became the youngest woolstore manager for Elders in Australia when I was appointed to run the operation at the age of 27," Terry said.

"So that was a real feather in the cap and I slowly worked up from there."

After Elders, Terry spent about 12 months working for a small co-operative wool broker before he was offered the opportunity to make the move to Primaries.

"It was the biggest thing I've ever done in my life," Terry said.

"This organisation, when I came, the 'big three' were still here: Des Sheedy, Simon Joel and Jim Craig - they were the blokes who built the business from scratch.

"So when I came in, it was just like a big happy family - it was unbelievable.

"It was such a joy to come to work and be involved with it."

So much so, Terry stuck around for a while and celebrated 20 years with the Primaries wool team in early July this year.

"That's a cause for celebration in itself!" he said.

And though he can't recall exactly how long he's been auctioneering wool, Terry guessed it would be somewhere past the 40-year mark which means there are more than a few options to choose from when thinking of a career highlight or two worth mentioning.

When asked if he could narrow down a highlight from those 57 years (and counting), Terry's response was sweet.

"Can I say getting married?" he asked with a twinkle in his eye.

"Of course, there were many highlights over the years and they were all so wide and varied.

"I think one of the things I look back at and wonder how the hell I ever did it was when Elders moved out of those multi-level stores to come out to the single level complex out here, merging with Western Livestock.

"I was responsible for pulling all that together and moving the whole operation from Fremantle to Spearwood which was a mammoth task.

"When I think back I wonder how we ever did it."

But big achievements like that are still comparable to the smaller, every day achievements for Terry.

"The first time I stood up for auctioneering was a highlight of my career as well," Terry said.

"That is the most terrifying thing and in those days, there was this tiered structure with all these people sitting there and just you in front of them.

"It was truly terrifying."

And through the years, it has brought Terry pride to encourage others to terrify themselves on the Western Wool Centre rostrum.

"There's no secret to auctioneering, you just have to have a go and practice," Terry said.

"Like right now we've got young Mark (Boxall) starting to have a go and he's doing well.

"I started him off and that's one of the achievements I think of when I look back on my career - training auctioneers.

"There's four of them currently working who I trained: Mark Boxall, Brad Faithfull, Danny Burkett and Mark Goodall so that's another achievement I'll take to the grave."

It's rewarding work seeing the younger generation of wool brokers having a go under his watchful eye.

"I've been glad to be able to put my efforts into the younger generation here and it is rewarding to see them do well, not that I'd let them know that I think that!" Terry said with a laugh.

"I try to give them a hard time but it's great to see young Boxer (Mark Boxall) stand up there and auctioneer whereas six months ago he was battling to say boo to a goose.

"That's a great achievement for him."

While Terry enjoys working with the young up-and-comers and the auctioneering side of his role, he believes his natural habitat is on the road, somewhere between Beverley and Dalwallinu.

"There are probably too many kilometres on the car but I don't mind that at all, getting out there on the road," he said.

It's no surprise then, when asked what his favourite part of the job was, that Terry didn't miss a beat before he responded.

"I love dealing with people," he said.

"Not only with the people here at the woolstores, but with the people out there, in the bush.

"That's what our business is all about.

"You've got to get out there and shake hands in the sheds and the yards, you can't do business from behind a desk in this job.

"And that's what I enjoy about working with this wool team here at Primaries because blokes like Tim Chapman know and understand how important it is to do face-to-face business.

"That is absolutely important."

Keeping in touch with woolgrower confidence in the Merino industry is a big part of that face-to-face business focus but Terry said even with so many years of experience, predicting what was around the corner in the wool game was no easier than it was 50 years ago.

"I couldn't tell you where the market is going to be tomorrow," he said.

"If you look at any graph, I'd defy anyone to say what's going to happen because if anyone knew that, they'd make a lot of money.

"There's so much volatility in the market and I don't know anyone who can predict where it's going."

Despite that volatility, there's confidence among woolgrowers in the future of the industry.

"I believe there's confidence out there, I think wool is a fibre that will always have a place," Terry said.

"With technology changing, there is always going to be different demands for wool but I think it will always be there."

Agreeing with many others, Terry believes China has a long-term role to play in the Australian wool market.

"But because we can't get enough information from over there (China) as to where they're heading I think knowing exactly what's happening there is one of the difficulties of the wool industry for us," he said.

Chinese interest in Australian wool and technological advances aside, Terry doesn't see any big changes in the near future to the way wool is being sold.

"I think it'll be business as usual for the foreseeable future," he said.

And it'll be business as usual for Terry too, because he seems like he has plenty more years of road tripping, wool inspecting and gavel banging ahead of him yet.


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