Wool trade flies under the radar

• Wool is unloaded at Fremantle Port. Photo from the Frank Slee Collection, WA State Library.

“FREMANTLE is the second biggest wool-selling centre in the world — but you wouldn’t even know.”

The WA wool industry is worth nearly $1 billion a year and has been tied into the port’s history since the colonial era.

At one point every second business in the West End was associated with the wool trade, and while a majority of wool businesses have since vacated inner-Fremantle, the port still exports about 350,000 bales of wool each year.

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Swan Wool Processors managing director Paul Foley says our wool is so sought after that some companies buy exclusively from Fremantle.

UK clothier Hainsworth — who supplies Buckingham Palace — is a long time customer and the Queens Guard’s uniforms are made from Fremantle wool.

“You can imagine a guard around Buckingham Palace who has been there since 1975,” Mr Foley says.

“The new recruit comes in and stands next to him, [their uniform has] got to be exactly the same.

“[It’s] been made the same way, same machines, for probably 50 to 60 years, and that’s direct from Fremantle.

“[It’s] the Fremantle colour, we have a beautiful colour, and the qualities of the wool they enjoy.”

Along with serving the royals, the local industry also gives back to the rural Australians who keep agriculture alive.

On Wednesday July 10, the local wool industry sponsored an old-style open cry auction at the Western Wool Centre in Bibra Lake.

It raised more than $30,000 in less than five minutes selling off donated bales. With no overheads, the money goes to the Michael Manion Wool Industry Foundation, named after a well-known and wool industry figure who died in 2014.

“The wool trade is extremely sensitive to issues in the bush and they look after their own,” Mr Foley says. “The foundation supports needy rural families, mostly children, who have come across very hard times.

“Wherever tragedy hits … we put it to the committee, [the case] gets audited, and we write them a cheque.”

By SEAN HILL

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