WHILE Michael Taylor was on a photo shoot for Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) he noticed a disturbing trend: a significant number of the outstanding superfine woolgrowers he was photographing would not be handing on their businesses to a succeeding generation.
As well as being a photographer, Mr Taylor is himself a sixth-generation New England woolgrower at “Taylors Run”, Kentucky, NSW.
The realisation that so much history and expertise is about to slide away pained him, so he decided to start documenting the business he grew up in - and which he remains solidly committed to as a producer.
The result is an exhibition of photographs, Secret Merino Business, which was opened by Liz Foster, managing director of the Wool Fashion Awards, at Gallery 126 in Armidale on Friday. The exhibition will run until October 14.
Golden Fleece, "The Hill", Kentucky, NSW, by Michael Taylor.
The project has been a melancholy pursuit for Mr Taylor.
In his woolgrowing family, New England producers like the Stephen family at “Warrane”, the Gall family at “Wilsons Creek” and the Blanch family at “Westvale”, were held in high regard for their skill at producing a consistently outstanding fibre from a mess of biological processes.
Those families, and many like them, are winding down their lifetime of superfine wool production and have no successors.
“It’s impressive that the passion of these people is still there, and sad that the rewards are not,” Mr Taylor said.
However, the New England fine wool tradition is far from dead. Mr Taylor is part of a group, which includes several young producers, that is working co-operatively to survive the current slump in superfine prices and build robust businesses on the other side.
Wool is in the Taylor DNA. Although wool receipts on “Taylors Run” have been nearly halved by falling wool prices and offloading of sheep in drought, Mr Taylor can’t see an enterprise that adequately replaces superfine production on the family farm.
He’s not sure whether he is optimistic about the superfine business, or “trying not to be pessimistic”, but the result is the same: unless the wheels completely fall off, Michael and Milly Taylor’s primary school-aged children will be the seventh generation of Taylors to grow up amid the bleat of sheep, and the hum and smells of the shearing shed.
Secret Merino Business runs until October 14. For more information go to the Gallery 126 website or call (02) 6772 1859.
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