About five hours' drive from Sydney, the golden Australian sun is rising over a beautiful chapel in the mountains, casting long shadows over a magnificent elm tree-lined avenue that leads to a stone-hewn farmhouse. A flock of merino sheep are grazing contentedly in the pasture, barely raising their heads as they hear the usual morning sounds: streams babbling gently in the distance, the put-put-put of the
farm manager starting up his bike, and the farm's sheepdog, Rocky, coming out to greet them. But don't be fooled by the outward signs of idyllic pastoral bliss. Seriously hard work is the order of the day: this picture of perfect peace and tranquillity is about to be transformed into a buzzing hive of activity.
This is shearing day at Gostwyck, a wool farm where traditional grazing practices have remained largely unchanged for 150 years; where an incredibly light, soft-to-the-touch merino wool is produced which the farm's experts have been refining for decades to make it as special as cashmere. The fleeces grown here produce the wool we use, blended with absolutely nothing else, to create our pure Gostwyck range of sweaters and cardigans, which feel so soft next to your skin that they have to be touched to be believed.
The Gostwyck Farm was established here in 1834, and has remained a family-owned concern ever since, through boom and bust times in wool production, a financially tough, outdoorsy, physical business that's not for the faint of heart. The man currently in charge of Gostwyck's fortunes is Phillip Attard, who took over the reins from his father-in-law after he married Alison, the heiress to the business, in the picture-perfect chapel on the grounds.
Under Philip's stewardship, very particular values have driven Gostwyck forward to put this backwater business at the forefront of the way wool is produced today: an environmentally sustainable way of farming that places the sheep's happiness and wellbeing at the centre of every decision made. The farm's 16,000 sheep, carefully selected and bred for the quality of their wool, are moved from pasture to pasture to give them all the food they need, while rivers on the property are carefully protected to make sure fresh, running water is always available to drink. Pregnant ewes are watched over carefully, looked after if they get sick and given extra food and ultrasound scans to check on the health of their lambs. Any lambs rejected by their mothers are carefully bottle-fed until they are strong enough to go it alone, often making a lifelong friend of Rocky in the process.
And this painstaking care shows through in the incredible softness and strength of the wool their fleeces produce. When it comes to shearing day, old-fashioned wisdom meets new-world technology as sheep after sheep trots into the woolshed, where a maelstrom of shearing, pressing, bailing and sorting begins. The shearers kneel, the sun slanting in upon their faded shirts and polished shears. Beneath them a captive
From top: Rocky on his morning rounds; the latest shearers ensure a perfect finish
From above: Every fleece is tested for softness and strength; one of the shearing team
sheep lies panting, and within seconds its fleece is separate from its body: removed whole and ready to be stretched out and checked, strand by strand, for softness and strength. All day this goes on, until all 16,000 sheep's fleece have been tightly bound into cloth packs, and the sun starts to sink like a stone beyond the craggy edges of the mountains in the distance.
Shearing day is over. The barbie is started, beers are drunk, songs are sung and the farmhands reflect in the glow of a hard day's work well done. The carefully chosen wool, meanwhile, is bound for Hong Kong, where it will be woven into Jaeger sweaters, not blended with anything else, just as pure as when it left the sheep. Soft enough to wear next to your skin and gloriously bright in colour, its final destination is Jaeger stores in Britain, from Regent Street to Ringwood. Back at the Gostwyck Farm, blissfully unaware of their fleeces' voyage around the world, the sheep sleep contentedly nestled in their pens, under the gaze of Rocky's watchful eye.