Merino Country has been challenging stereotypes of wool products for 30 years.
Story Ryan Butta Photo David Kelly
In the early 1990s, Kerrie Richards and her family were growing wool on about 24,000ha in north-western Queensland. The main property, Clareborough station, was located about 65km south-west of the town of Richmond. Times were tough, but it wasn’t the drought and bushfires and the floods that bothered them. It was constantly hearing that their wool wasn’t worth as much as wool from Victoria, for no other reason than where it was produced. But Kerrie had a plan. With a group of like-minded local producers, Kerrie formed the Matilda Merino group, set up to educate customers and producers about the potential of their Merino wool.
Kerrie asked each group member to put up 5 bales. She drove her truck around the farms, loaded up the wool and packed it off to Italy, where they were processed using a non-aqueous scouring technique. It was a new technology that had already attracted the financial backing of another Australian, Kerry Packer. The yarn produced from those bales eventually made its way to the United Kingdom where it was transformed into woven fabric and then used in suits sold at Marks & Spencer. For Kerrie, seeing fine suits made from wool grown in north-west Queensland being sold in the UK was a breakthrough moment. “Most growers then, and a lot still now, don’t understand what their wool is capable of being put into and the quality of it,” she says. “We were using a straight fleece of about 20.5 micron. But it processed out beautifully, with no blending. And it was such a great thing to be able to see that. It was pretty exciting.”
The potential led Kerrie to jump the farm gate and found Merino Country, moving down the supply chain from grower to manufacturer. Based in Queensland, Merino Country now employs up to 12 people and produces everything from woollen underwear through to travel gear, T-shirts and thermal wear, now in partnership with Kerrie’s husband Malcolm Pain, a beef and grain producer she met in 2002.
This story excerpt is from Issue #149
Outback Magazine: June/July 2023