Wool classer reaches 50-year milestone

Wool classer reaches 50-year milestone

Sheep
Tony Boyle, Walpole, will join an elite cohort of classers who have worked in the wool industry for 50 years.

Tony Boyle, Walpole, will join an elite cohort of classers who have worked in the wool industry for 50 years.

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His knees are "crook" and he relies on two walking sticks to get about his farm north of Walpole and sheep dog trials arenas all over the country, but Tony Boyle, 74, still classes his own wool clip every year.

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HIS knees are "crook" and he relies on two walking sticks to get about his farm north of Walpole and sheep dog trials arenas all over the country, but Tony Boyle, 74, still classes his own wool clip every year.

He also classes a few wool clips for other farmers on the south coast - generally for part-time farmers with small flocks - but it keeps his eye and hand in on the appearance and "handle" of wool.

Mr Boyle has been a registered wool classer for coming up on 50 years - he earned his classer's certificate in August, 1970, just seven years after the formal qualification was introduced.

In August Mr Boyle will become a member of an elite coterie that few in the modern wool industry will ever have a chance to join.

To commemorate his achievement Australian Wool Exchange (AWEX) is planning to send Mr Boyle a commemorative 50-year wool stencil and a certificate of recognition.

His name will also be added to an AWEX register of wool classers with more than 50 years' service to the industry.

Mr Boyle's family has a heritage in wool - his brother Don from Broomehill and nephews Brendan and Damien are all champion shearers, but he chose a slightly less strenuous career connection with wool.

He grew up in a large family in the Central West of New South Wales and as a teenager enrolled to do a wool classing course at Grenfell TAFE, 370 kilometres west of Sydney,

For a year, once a week he rode his pushbike 80 kilometres to attend TAFE and then back home again the next day.

But part way through his course the family moved to Western Australia and he had to transfer to Albany.

"It was a totally different course, it was four years in NSW and only three years here, but what I'd learned already at Grenfell TAFE helped me get through," Mr Boyle recalled.

The next problem came when he finished the theory part of his course.

To graduate as a qualified and registered wool classer he had to work for 16 weeks under the supervision of a registered wool classer.

"Because the qualification was relatively new to WA in those days, there weren't many of them (registered wool classers) around," he said.

"Most of the classers were reputation boys (experienced but unqualified classers who were employed on shearing teams on the strength of their reputation)."

But he eventually found two old-timers, Len Ford who had been head of Dalgety's wool store in Fremantle and Harry Simpson in Albany, who helped him out and taught him much about wool.

He started out "piece picking" - working on the skirting table in shearing sheds removing loose, stained or dirty pieces of wool from around the edge of the fleece.

"I was picking pieces for an eight stand (shearing) team and then I went off as a registered classer," Mr Boyle said.

"I did that (wool classing) for 25 years full-time.

"I went all over Australia doing it - it was a case of put your hat on and you're home."

In January 1975 he got one of the last conditional purchase bush blocks of land available in the Walpole region and set about clearing his 351 hectares at weekends.

He married Jennifer the following year and when enough area was cleared to farm, the property became their home base.

Having a rural home base also allowed Mr Boyle to develop his passion for working dogs.

He has bred and sold working dogs for 35 years - mainly border collies and huntaway-kelpie crosses - and trialled them in every State except Tasmania, as well as in New Zealand, with much success.

Boylee Sugar was a Dog of the Year in WA and her daughter and Mr Boyle's current main trials dog Boylee Midget was runner up in the State championships.

After a battle with cancer 12 years ago Mr Boyle depends on his dogs to help run the farm.

"I couldn't do it without them," he said.

"I still run 1200 ewes - it used to be a lot more but I can't get about now like I used to."

He has responded to AWEX's offer of a special stencil and certificate and is rightly proud of his achievement.

AWEX chief executive officer Mark Grave said the wool classer registration scheme started in 1963.

"The wool classer registration program was launched in the Eastern States and over the next two years became a national program promoting excellence, professional standards and established Australia's reputation for producing and preparing the best wool in the world," Mr Grave said.

"Other countries have tried to emulate this but have not been able to achieve it.

"Over the years Australia's preparation standards have become the benchmark for the global industry and in many ways they have continued to build on this over the past 50 plus years.

"AWEX has a total of 430 wool classers who have achieved the 50-year milestone, including the 1970 cohort.

"Most are still actively classing today.

"In WA there are 21 wool classers who have reached this milestone and as an industry we are indebted to their commitment and passion for their industry," he said.

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