The wool market has rebounded, offering a bright future for sheep production in western Queensland and rewarding wool growers who took a leap of faith in trying times.

Story Fiona Cameron   

Watching Ben Banks bent over a race on Rivington station, working sheep through the yards and intently selecting the “golden girls” from an impressive line-up of ewes, it’s hard to believe the western Queensland wool grower once headed off to agricultural college with dreams of being a cattleman. Although his family has run Merinos on the 40,470-hectare property near Blackall since the 1940s, it wasn’t until Ben went away to study that his inherited passion for sheep and wool took hold.

“I suddenly found out how interesting and amazing the Merino is,” Ben says. “With cattle, you’re chasing a constitution and looking for a good animal, but with sheep, you’re trying to add some pretty good wool into the mix and it’s just a bigger challenge to find that perfect animal.”

His wife, Oona, also comes from a wool-growing background in New South Wales. When the couple met, they didn’t hesitate in pursuing a career together in an industry that, at the time, had lost its appeal for many graziers. 

“We’re a bit different from most people in that we kept our enthusiasm when wool was worth nothing and sheep were worth nothing,” Ben says. “We shared that interest from the beginning and just carried on. We love it.”

Now the Australian wool market is enjoying an incredible resurgence. Last year it made its largest annual gain in 15 years, lifting by more than 30% to break through $18 a clean kilogram. Tight supply and a positive trend in demand look set to sustain this current run on prices, making the young couple optimistic about the future of the industry and confident of their belief that those who “stuck with wool are in the box seat to do well”. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #118

Outback Magazine: April/May 2018