Looking back on a lifetime in the wool trade.
Albert Ah Yee reckons the first wool shed he was sent to was the roughest.
“Oh it was a terrible shed. We were about seven weeks there and we had seven different cooks,” the 90-year-old recalls.
“We arrived at Jerilderie late at night and had a 50-mile trip sitting on the back of the truck to the shed at a place called Gala Vale, and we got there, the cook was drunk, there was nothing to eat, there was no bedding, nothing there at all.”
Sitting out of the midday sun on his veranda, a cuppa in hand, Albert peppers his sentences with “oh gollies”, “chappies” and “old coots”.
Here is a man who has seen almost three times as much life as I have, yet his memory is crisp.
After almost a decade in Melbourne during which Albert received his wool classing certificate at RMIT (Melbourne Technical College) while working at Foy and Gibson’s mills in Collingwood, he returned to Sunnyside with his young bride, Joan.
Joan had lived in the city her whole life, but Albert says she took to farm life quickly.
“I think it was a big step for her, to come home and the fact I was sort of going away and we were milking 35 cows at the time and she learned how to run the dairy. She had a pretty fast initiation into farm life.”
Aged in their 20s, Albert and Joan quickly found themselves running the property, wedged between Newlands Arm and Eagle Point Bay.
“Dad had a buster off a horse; just after I’d come home I think, and fractured his spine and he spent the rest of his life in hospital.”
Albert would travel, classing wool across the southern Riverina and Victoria’s high country, often leaving Joan, and later their four daughters — Laurie, Janice, Vanessa and Georgina — to run the farm.
“The kids were growing up, they used to do all the feeding out and lambing and calving.
“I’d come home of an evening and Nessy and Laurie would have the cows lined up for me to pull calves from.”
Even though he still runs cattle, you can tell Albert has always been a sheep man. He has those hands for a start; swollen knuckles, covered in sun spots, but soft as a baby’s bum.
Wool classing at RMIT
The wool classing program was offered at RMIT for 71 years from 1896 to January 1967, when the Wool School was passed to control of the Education Department of Victoria and transferred to the Melbourne School of Textiles.
Now fashion and textile students at our Brunswick campus have access to state-of-the-art equipment in the fabrication workshop. FABShop has a diverse range of machines, such as 3D printers, laser cutters and CNC milling machines – a far cry from the equipment used in Albert’s wool classing days.