ELDERS wool broker Tony Alosi, 66, will call time on Friday, December 20, on a 50-year wool industry career that came about by accident.
Good at woodwork, Mr Alosi, who was born in Italy and came to Fremantle as a young boy with his family in 1955, thought he might become a cabinetmaker when he left school.
He landed his first job with a North Fremantle firm but an unexpected impediment quickly became apparent.
"I did two weeks but when they put me on the planing machine with the fine dust I couldn't stop sneezing, I had to give it up, I was allergic to the dust," Mr Alosi said last week as he reminisced about the changes he had seen in the wool industry more than 50 years.
He tried for a job at Alcoa but missed out and ended up at the local Commonwealth Employment Service office.
"In those days they had a board full of jobs, so I picked one off the board with Wesfarmers and I and another bloke both went for it, I got it, he missed out," he said.
Mr Alosi started in 1969 as an office boy at the Wesfarmers wool stores near Robs Jetty, South Fremantle.
"I did every job in the wool store - that's how they trained us - I was office boy, shipping clerk, local delivery clerk, we used to go looking for lost bales (in the wool stores), used to countermark bales going to Japan (marking the bottom of bales so that when bales were dumped together for shipping, they could still be identified)."
One of his least favourite jobs was the Friday morning delivery of invoices to wool buyers.
"I had a Malvern Star bike, no gears, with a box on the front so it was overbalanced.
"I'd ride up from South Fremantle, deliver one invoice on the way and then ride beside the railway line past the wharf to Fremantle itself.
"There I'd ride up and down four streets - Cliff, Mouat, Henry and Pakenham - delivering invoices, because all the buyers were in those streets.
"It was bloody hard work," he said.
Mr Alosi still rides a bicycle for recreation these days, but it is a lot lighter than the old Malvern Star and it has gears.
As a junior in the wool industry Mr Alosi joined a highly structured workplace, he wore a grey dustcoat - technical staff wore a white dustcoat and wool buyers were top of the tree.
"Buyers in those days were held in very high esteem, it was a prestige job being a wool buyer," he said.
"The brokers used to cater for the buyers, they'd run a canteen and supply breakfast, lunch and tea for them."
Juniors on the other hand had it differently.
"When I started there were no wool tests, everything was by visual appraisal and when they did start testing, the core testing was all done by hand," Mr Alosi said.
"There was no sale by sampling either, sales were done on the show floor, we had to show a quarter or 30 per cent of each line, so we used to have to open up a bale from the beginning, one from the middle and one at the end for the buyers to look at.
"I'd be head down, backside up chalking the show floor, they'd (white coated technical officers) be telling you the brand, bale numbers (in the lot) and the description of the wool.
"You'd be chalking that information on the wooden floor between pieces of board they used to separate the lots.
"On the Friday after a sale we'd (Wesfarmers) take on about 100 people (casual labourers) to clear the show floor.
"They'd have to put all the wool that had been pulled out of bales back in and repress them."
Loading wool into the stores, now done with one or two staff on forklifts, was equally labour intensive.
"There was no road transport in those days, it was all rail," Mr Alosi said.
"Between the two wool stores at South Fremantle there was a rail siding and they'd just train in 20 or 30 wagons at a time.
"There'd be blokes unloading the rail wagons and blokes with barrows - a bale on each barrow - carting it into the store.
"Everything had to be weighed over a scale in the scale box with the weighing clerk recording it.
"It was a big deal getting a job in the wool store because even the labourers could do so much overtime, they worked until 9 o'clock at night Monday-Thursday and then all day Saturday - they could make big money."
There were also wool sales at Albany every few months.
"I used to go down there, leave on a Monday morning and come back Thursday night," he said.
In those days, Japan was the major buyer of Australian Merino wool.
"You would have had seven or eight major Japanese companies buying wool, now there's none buying direct," Mr Alosi said.
"For wool buying, Japan was the China of yesteryear."
After completing a wool classing course at Fremantle TAFE Mr Alosi moved up to the technical staff who handled the marketing of wool and exchanged his grey dustcoat for a white one.
He started travelling, visiting farmers to sign them up for sale of their wool clip.
"It wasn't like it is now, when we'd go calling on farmers we'd leave Monday and come back Friday, we'd be away for the week," Mr Alosi said.
"We'd go to an area for a week and do the business (sign up farmers for that season's clip) and you wouldn't have to go back until next year.
"Everything has changed, when the small broker came into the industry, we went from a commission rate to a flat rate, everybody had to do so many more calls.
"Now you do pre-shearing calls, shearing calls and follow-up calls.
"I've always serviced the Avon Valley from Northam," he said.
"I've done Moora, Carnamah, Mingenew, these days I also do Corrigin to Hyden and Tarin Rock to Lake King.
"In the early days I did Merredin, Morawa and Busselton - after a week at Morawa, Busselton was the sweetener.
"I've been serving clients for 30 years, they're all friends of mine and I haven't lost one of them."
About 40 years ago Mr Alosi also began auctioning wool in the old Fremantle wool centre.
"In those days we had three (sale) rooms, one was oddments, one pieces and bellies and one fleece - yellow, blue and white they used to call them.
"Buyers used to bid in quarter cents - quarter, half, three quarters, one - it was bloody painful calling.
"Then we progressed to half-cent bids and then full cents - they (buyers) thought the world was going to cave in when we went to full-cent bids.
"I'd like to see it go to five cents increases, but it'll never happen," Mr Alosi said.
After 32 years with Wesfarmers a company restructure saw Mr Alosi and two others retrenched.
"In their wisdom they decided to put me off, I was two days out of work and Chris Puckridge (then Elders wool manager) wouldn't let me go to anyone else and put me on," he said.
"I got put off on a Tuesday and by Friday I was working for Elders.
"When I left Wesfarmers I took 8500 bales with me - that shows that people like to deal with people.
"It's a matter of trust, people don't leave you unless there's a bloody good reason."
Now, after 18 years with Elders, Mr Alosi is about to leave his third employer, but this time on his own terms.
"I'm nearly 67, the time is right for me to retire," he said.
Mr Alosi's son and two daughters are adults and wife of 41 years Vicki is heavily involved with charity work.
He said if he became bored with retirement he could always do community work.
But first there is a touring holiday planned for Alaska, Canada and the United States.
While the future of the wool industry will no longer affect him, Mr Alosi laments its diminished state today.
"The best year I can remember when I was at Wesfarmers, between us and Elders - the two major brokers - we handled one million bales," Mr Alosi said.
"Now we're lucky to do 160,000 bales between all of us.
"The industry is still shrinking.
"People say they are improving their sheep numbers, but I can't see it.
"Young people today don't see the (wool) industry the same way their parents saw it."
Mr Alosi attributes some of the blame for the decline to the Australian Wool Corporation (AWC) and its floor price scheme which left a backlog of wool to be cleared before the industry could move forward after deregulation.
"When the AWC got stuck with selling half a million bales it nearly killed the industry, we were lucky to survive it to be quite honest," he said.
"They had a really good system with a floor price that went up and down to protect woolgrowers with the cost of production, but then they got to the stage where they thought they were going to control the industry and they pushed the floor price that high it couldn't be sustained - you can't do that to a commodity.
"The buyers just sat back and watched, they knew it wouldn't last.
"When we were auctioning wool when AWC was going, we were averaging about 1700 lots an hour - it was one bid, bang, gone, one bid, bang, gone, buyers didn't want to know."
But Mr Alosi is leaving a changed industry with no regrets.
"It's been good to me, I wouldn't change anything that I've done in my 50 years and I'll probably miss it," he said.