This soft, ropey wool was sheared off a sheep from Gunning, NSW who was just this colour. Her owners sent the wool down to Bendigo – 600km away and in a different state – to be washed, carded and spun. Then it back it came to Gunning – a tiny little town on the Old Hume Highway in the Southern tablelands – where just 487 people live. I bought it – in one huge hank – from a small craft store that has opened in what was once Gunning’s Courthouse.
Like many of the small towns nestled amongst these hot, crackly-dry hills, Gunning was one of many thriving communities that provided services to the prosperous Merino wool farmers. But it’s been a long time since Australia “rode on the sheeps’ back”, so profitable for the country was Australia’s wool production. Since then there’s been too many heartbreaking droughts – locals I spoke to in these parts assured me that they’d just COME OUT of drought – much to their relief. Goodness, I’d hate to have seen it any drier – what was left of the grass crunched under my feet. In the second half of the 20th century the wool price fell through the floor and has never recovered, from a high of $37 per kilo in the early 1950s, to $3.20 per kilo in 2002. And in the 1990s the vast majority of Australia’s wool processing centres went from being the lifeblood of their towns’ economic and social wellbeing to empty ruins, often perched by dry riverbeds and disused, crumbling railway lines. It’s a sad, sad tale.
:: a view to the dry hills from the highest spot in Gundagai – even in its parched state, it has such beauty
:: the old Gundagai Railtrack – would have transported untold kilos of wool from here to nearby processing centres
:: the Gundagai WoolShed, on a beautiful bend of Morley’s Creek, tucked under the railway line – empty and derelict
:: tin and slab settler’s cottage, Gunning
:: for Grandad – the Gunning Post Office
:: the ruins of St. Mary’s, destroyed by fire in the 1980s
:: many of the grand old buildings in Australia’s country towns are decorated with sheep – a tribute to their significance in days past – the colourful tiled art deco sheep is from Goulburn, the sandstone sheep above is from Taree
However, one small farm in Gunning, is holding on – thriving I hope! – and offering their wool for sale at local markets – colours straight from the sheep’s backs. (You won’t believe this, but I have LOST the card that came with my wool – I shall ring somewhere in Gunning tomorrow, find out the details and post them here!). They have 5 ply, 8 ply, 10 ply and 12 ply, in colours from very cool creams through to dark ashy browns. They also sell roving for felting, and beautiful hand knit jumpers from those sized for babes all the way to adults. It was all so lovely it took me ages to choose. Eventually I chose this dusty, earthy tone because it looks so like the landscape from which it came. The bumpy little sheep who wear this colour are so utterly camouflaged in the fields, you can barely make them out! Mum and I drove by many a field where we weren’t sure whether they were sheep or rocks until they moved!
As is the magic of Ravelry, I entered my wool’s dimensions and came up with a lovely cowl pattern that would use most of my wool – Louise Zass-Bangham’s Ice Storm Cowl. That seems to be a terribly inappropriate title for a knit made from wool that came from a land so dry, don’t you think? But the sharp, bumpy chevrons of Louise’s design, reminded me of the hills of sharply jagged grass that the sheep of the Southern Tablelands are hidden amongst. It’s knitting up beautifully – and it is easy to fall into the rhythm of the pattern – I was even able to manage it whilst following the subtitles of a German film!
Book wise – with the start of the new school year, there’s been much reading here in Bootville. Abby is studying literature for her final two years of highschool – I’m so thrilled and she has such a lovely booklist – many of which I have both studied and taught – and is also encouraged to explore complementary titles. Her first unit for this semester is dominated by the World War I poet Wilfrid Owen – so I’ve suggested All is Quiet on the Western Front – similar themes to Owen but from a German perspective. She’s reading a few chapters every night – we have a dedicated 1/2 hour to reading together each evening – and is finding it a lot more interesting than she originally thought.
After Wilfred Owen, her class will be studying Great Gatsby so for reading aloud, we’re sharing some of Fitzgerald’s short stories – my favourite is Berenice Bobs Her Hair – oh such a good ending! I was struck afresh the other night at how pertinent his writing is regarding the bizarre social rituals we both twist ourselves into and frantically try to extricate ourselves from – more so when we are young – no matter the decade. This sentence especially struck me … “At eighteen our convictions are hills from which we look; at forty-five they are caves in which we hide.” Being much closer to 45 than 18, this made me chuckle, so vivid was my memory of being a righteous 18 year old standing on that hill wondering why my parents were so blind.
And, whilst Abby sits engrossed in the horror of an unjust war, I’ve been reading a dear little book I picked up at the annual Bega Book Fair – Little Pear by Eleanor Frances Lattimore. She lived with her family in Shanghai, before World War I, where her father taught English at a Chinese University. They are such sweet stories (with simple but lovely illustrations), and remind me of Shirley Hughes’s stories of Alfie (which are hands down my favourite children’s picture books) – a very real and natural little boy with an enthusiasm and curiosity for everything that is going on around him, coupled with a desire to be a valuable and trusted part of the family he loves – with a cultural twist that is respectful and enchanting. You can tell Ms. Lattimore writes with such fondness. I’m so glad I found it.