The Australian wool industry would not be what it is today without the significant contribution of women. Often their role has been forgotten or underrepresented. Since colonial times, women have left their mark on the industry, such names as Eliza Forlonge, Elizabeth Macarthur and Anne Drysdale are examples of pioneering Australian women of wool.
Traditionally woolsheds were claimed as the domain of men. In the past men would utter the phrase “ducks on the pond” as a cryptic warning to other male shearers that there were women in the sheds and they should watch their language and clean themselves up. But this segregation has changed.
In recent years the role of women has increased dramatically across all aspects of the wool industry, but most significantly in woolsheds. Over the last decade the number of women in shearing sheds has almost doubled and it is set to increase further in the coming years. Today, in many sheds across Australia, sometimes women outnumber men when it comes around to shearing time. Women are active and important contributors to the prosperity of the industry.
The portraits on show here are a celebration of the significant role of women in the industry. They are a diverse selection, including both young female shearers and experienced workers, ranging in age from 19 to 96. Many of the up-and-coming shearers started as rouseabouts and have stepped up to becoming shearers – one sitter for the project had just returned to the sheds after having a child only three-months before. Also on show are women who devoted decades of their lives to the industry and are only now becoming recognised for their vital role in Australian wool.
Foreward by National Wool Museum Senior Curator - Dr. Luke Keough