The Peter Westblade Scholarship provides practical experiences and contacts for young people wanting to excel in the sheep industry.

Story Ken Eastwood

Spending time with wool classers, a trip to Italy, a better understanding of sheep genetics – these are some of the key benefits of the Peter Westblade Scholarship, according to recent winners.

Applications are currently open for the eighth round of the scholarship, which was set up in memory of Merino breeder, sheep classer and mentor Peter Westblade, from Lockhart, NSW, who died in 2008. Worth $10,000 in educational trips and mentoring opportunities, the scholarships are given to people 18–30 years old who want a career in the sheep industry. “It suits people who are really practically minded and hands-on, and willing to get into the nuts and bolts of the sheep industry, and have a go at classing and that, rather than the research side of things,” says 2018 winner Anna Cotton. 

Anna, 26, works on her family’s superfine merino property Kelvedan Estate, in north-east Tasmania, and as part of her scholarship organised a trip to Italy to visit woollen mills in Biella. “A lot of our wool from home ends up there and I wanted to see where it ends up, what happens to it, and also find out how we can do what we’re doing better,” she says. 

Anna has a Bachelor of Business (Farm Management) from Marcus Oldham College and worked for a few years for Roberts Ltd as a sheep and wool advisor before returning to the family farm, which has about 7500 head that produce a clip averaging around 16.5 microns. She says she has always wanted to work in the wool industry. “I can’t think of a time when I wanted to do anything else, and have always loved sheep and wool.”

Aside from travelling overseas, Anna says highlights of the scholarship included learning more about Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) during a trip to Western Australia. 

Rachael Gawne, who received the scholarship in 2017, says one of her highlights was also a trip to Western Australia, where she spent time with a wool classer and some long-term sheep breeders. “It was a real eye-opener to me to see a professional classer in the industry and see what they do,” Rachael says. “I spent time with Bill and Geoff Sandilands from Billandri, at Kendenup. They breed poll Merinos and are real trailblazers. They’ve been doing stuff that the industry is only just onto – like setting up sire evaluations – since the 1970s.”

From a mixed farming operation in Narrandera, NSW, Rachael became interested in working in the sheep industry during the second half of her animal science degree at Charles Sturt University three years ago. While on a work placement, Rachael met a previous winner of the Peter Westblade Scholarship, who encouraged her to apply.

“You get to meet real goers and doers in the industry,” she says. “If someone said, ‘I’m going to go out here and have a chat to these people,’ I’d go along. The scholarship provided an opportunity to go along with other people and learn. It was a fantastic 12 months learning as much as you can.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #122

Outback Magazine: December/January 2019