A dyed-in-the-wool tradition

Third generation shearing contractor Matthew Baillie fully booked

Livestock
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The speculation about the future of the shearing industry in western Queensland, on the back of years of repeated drought, encroaching wild dog predation, and the wild ride that wool prices have been on, has been answered in spades by one Blackall family.

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Three generations: Matthew 'Bear' and Kevin 'Bomber' Baillie having a rare day off from shearing, at home at Blackall with son and grandson Marshall Baillie. Picture: Sally Gall.

Three generations: Matthew 'Bear' and Kevin 'Bomber' Baillie having a rare day off from shearing, at home at Blackall with son and grandson Marshall Baillie. Picture: Sally Gall.

The speculation about the future of the shearing industry in western Queensland, on the back of years of repeated drought, encroaching wild dog predation, and the wild ride that wool prices have been on, has been answered in spades by one Blackall family.

Continuing in the footsteps of his grandfathers Alf Baillie and Bob McLeod at Tambo in the 1960s, plus his father Kevin 'Bomber' Baillie at Blackall in the 1980s, Matthew Baillie started up his own contracting business in March and has been flat out since then.

That's largely thanks to the exclusion fences that have been constructed and the ongoing faith the wider area has had in the Merino industry.

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"It's been a few solid months," Mr Baillie said. "We've got over 30 clients and picked up a couple more, one in Augathella and two in Tambo, so hopefully we keep doing that and it'll fill the gaps."

Mr Baillie, who has always wanted to try out organising his own business, took over Andrew Ross's Barcaldine run and has quickly become one of the main operators in the central west, working a stretch from Hughenden to Cunnamulla.

Much of his work this year, since the relief rain that fell, has been helping producers align their shearings and get crutching done after putting work off due to drought.

Like graziers in western Queensland, he has his eye to the sky - more rain equals more lambs and that's more work for shearers - and that will be a good thing for ongoing work prospects for the region's young people.

"Hopefully we can get a few going," Mr Baillie said.

"I've got boys and they're all keen. Once they get keen, they've got mates and it sort of eggs them on.

We want to make it a good family show and keep everyone together - Matthew Baillie

His dad, Bomber, does the team's penning up these days, his mother-in-law has taken over the cooking, his nephew Jake Baigrie, contracted to the Melbourne Storm, has a stand when it suits, and his oldest son, 13-year-old Marshall has had his first go on the handpiece.

Mr Baillie, now 39, remembers shearing his first 300 sheep at Melrose in the Blackall district when he was just as young as Marshall and said although he had a five-year spell in his 20s when he didn't shear, he was always planning to come back to it.

"When there weren't many sheep up here I travelled to Nyngan, at the end of 2015 - I did that for four years," he said.

"I'd do my three weeks, come home for a week or two then go back.

"I started shearing when I was 16 - I'll shear at least another 10 years I reckon."

If conditions for wool-growing remain in a healthy state it will then be up to the fourth generation, Marshall, Dakota and Chase, to decide if they want to continue the family tradition.

Matthew Baillie guides his son Marshall Baillie through crutching the breech of a sheep during a break in shearing at Macfarlane, Tambo. Picture - Louise Martin.

Matthew Baillie guides his son Marshall Baillie through crutching the breech of a sheep during a break in shearing at Macfarlane, Tambo. Picture - Louise Martin.

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