Seeing the world of wool production through the eyes of its growers has been one of the inspirational experiences given to the Meandarra wool-classer travelling Australia on a mission to showcase the industry to the world.
Beginning in February last year and championed by the Queensland Country Life, Chantel McAlister set off on a journey to shearing sheds around the country in a bid to bring understanding to a largely urban audience plugged in through her blog, and to quash the negative stereotypes perpetuated by animal activist groups such as PETA.
She first connected on her webpage in 2016 with three video documentaries on crutching, shearing and wool-handling.
Their rapturous reception prompted her to “give up her day job” and devise the Truth About Wool national tour, blogging and livestreaming as she went, sharing stories of people living and loving wool.
“I had only seen it through the eyes of the (shearing) team – I’d never sat down and talked to growers,” Chantel said. “The daily fight against wild dogs is incredible. I was heartbroken but also inspired at how it was their life’s work.”
Page after page of beautifully filmed stories, capturing all the passion and pride that abounds, have followed, including one on the Tambo Teddies and another from Bruce and Lisa Alexander’s Blackall property, Warringah.
Titled The War on Wild Dogs, it documents the mental anguish of people like the Alexanders, checking off what else they can do to protect their animals and their life’s work from the predation of ever-present dogs.
Those stories came from a visit to Queensland’s central and south west in August, but first came a 4500km drive around 20 properties around New South Wales’ central west and ending in the Western districts of Victoria, in February.
Chantel flew to Western Australia in March to document the action in the Wheatbelt and Great Southern regions, then spent time in Tasmania in May and June, leaving just before it began snowing.
“I knew Tasmania would be pretty, but...Their appreciation of the land and their conservation principles are different to anywhere else in Australia. It’s really a well-kept secret.
“And I’m used to one sort of landscape in Queensland but in Western Australia I went to places where farms went right down to the beach.”
Chantel feels her blogging efforts and the aims of the tour are paying off.
She said when she started, someone would write attacking her on average every three weeks, whereas they’re now getting in touch to say they’re seeing wool production and its harvesting in a different light, and they don’t hate it anymore.
“As much as I like pretty pictures, blogging has been the best way to communicate with people,” she added.
Although the tour was slated to take place in 2017, a “spanner in the works” came along as the year progressed – Chantel and her partner Jas are having a baby.
She has pulled back from the extended travel to document more local activity around Thallon and Goondiwindi, but has the purchase of a caravan planned so the pair and their newborn can remain together after the birth.
“I’m used to living in quarters – this will be an upgrade for me.
“Having our own bedroom will be wonderful.”
Chantel is quick to stress that the tour – to western NSW and all of South Australia in particular – will continue.
She says she is itching to get back to the sheds and stories she knows abounds out there.
“It really is something that gives my life and work purpose,” she said. “Whether I can start again in 2018 or 2019, I've got a lot of work to do yet.”