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Central Australia Trek Day 1

Monday, May 13, 2013

Hi all! Better late than never I guess. I was going to take today off but it's been a good day overall but one really big stressor for me happened so I decided to come play here instead!

I can't believe I'm on another trek! So I'll do the best I can. I'll have to start checking on this board throughout the day.

I'm glad we stopped at The Williams Woolshed! What a cool place that was! I've always loved crocheting and knitting with wool. I ended up learning about sheep shearing in the old days.

Shearing sheds (or wool sheds) are large sheds located on sheep stations to accommodate large scale sheep shearing activities. Regional variants of shearing shed architecture throughout Australia and New Zealand have been identified through different uses of building materials and local styles of design.

It is usually regarded as necessary to be able to shed, and keep dry, sheep for two days of shearing. Wet or damp sheep may cause health problems for the shearers and damp wool can't be pressed. In many instances sheep are held under the shed or in an adjacent area known as a sweating shed. In the shearing shed the woolly sheep will be penned on a slatted wooden or woven mesh floor above ground level. After shearing the shearing shed may also provide warm shelter for newly shorn sheep if the weather is likely to be cold and/or wet.

Ideally shearers should not have to cross the shearing board with their sheep or move them excessive lengths. Earlier shed plans often had the catching pen on the opposite side of the release chutes which necessitated shearers crossing the board and paths with the roustabout. In Australia and New Zealand a "Roustabout" can be any worker with broad-based, non-specific skills, in any industry. However, they are more commonly found in rural employment, especially sheep farming.

The Wool Room is planned to reduce walking distances for all shed hands. The shorn fleece is picked up by the roustabout and cast onto a wool table for skirting, rolling and classing, before being placed in the appropriate wool bin. Good light is essential for quality shearing, wool classing and grinding etc., and is a very significant factor affecting sheep flow in the penning area. In the southern hemisphere southern walls can have translucent sheeting installed there as a source of natural lighting because direct sunlight is never a problem.
Good ventilation is essential to provide fresh air and improve working conditions during hot weather. Shearing sheds can become extremely hot, even in cooler climates, during the summer. The body heat of the sheep and the insulating qualities of wool contribute to the problem.

Sheep shearing, shearing or clipping is the process by which the woollen fleece of a sheep is cut off. The person who removes the sheep's wool is called a shearer. Typically each adult sheep is shorn once each year. The annual shearing most often occurs in a shearing shed, a facility especially designed to process often hundreds and sometimes more than 3,000 sheep per day.

Sheep-shearing was an annual June event in medieval England, culminating in the sheep-shearing feast. In Australia, up until the 1870s, squatters washed their sheep in nearby creeks prior to shearing. Later some expensive hot water installations were constructed on some of the larger stations for the washing. Sheep washing in Australia was influenced by the sheep breeders of Saxony in Germany who washed their sheep and by the Spanish practice of washing the wool after shearing. There were three main reasons for the custom in Australia:

1. The English manufacturers demanded that Australian woolgrowers provide their fleeces free from vegetable matter, burrs, soil, etc.
2. The dirty fleeces were hard to shear and demanded that the metal blade shears be sharpened more often.
3. Wool in Australia was carted by bullock team or horse teams and charged by weight. Washed wool was lighter and did not cost as much to transport.

The practice of washing the wool rather than the sheep evolved from the fact that hotter water could be used to wash the wool, than that used to wash the sheep. When the practice of selling wool in the grease (with the Lanolin left in) occurred in the 1890s, wool washing became obsolete.

Australia and New Zealand had to discard the old methods of wool harvesting and evolve more efficient systems to cope with the huge numbers of sheep involved. Shearing was revolutionized by the invention of an Australian sheepgrower, Frederick York Wolseley. His machines made in Birmingham England by his business The Wolseley Sheep Shearing Machine Company were introduced after 1888, reducing second cuts and shearing time. By 1915 most large sheep station sheds in Australia had installed machines, driven by steam or later by internal combustion engines.

The wool is removed by following an efficient set of movements, devised by Godfrey Bowen in c. 1950, (the Bowen Technique) or the Tally-Hi method developed in 1963 and promoted by the Australian Wool Corporation. Sheep struggle less using the Tally-Hi method, reducing strain on the shearer and there is a saving of about 30 seconds in shearing each one. When one is talking about one sheep it's not much but when one is talking about 3,000 sheep that's a lot!

Once the entire fleece has been removed from the sheep, the fleece is thrown, clean side down, on to a wool table by a shed hand. The wool table top consists of slats spaced approximately 12 cm apart. This enables short pieces of wool, the locks and other debris, to gather beneath the table separately from the fleece. The fleece is then skirted by one or more wool rollers to remove the sweat fribs and other less desirable parts of the fleece. The removed pieces largely consist of shorter, seeded, burry or dusty wool etc. which is still useful in the industry. As such they are placed in separate containers and sold along with fleece wool. Other items removed from the fleece on the table, such as feces, skin fragments or twigs and leaves, are discarded a short distance from the wool table so as not to contaminate the wool and fleece.

Following the skirting of the fleece, it is folded, rolled and examined for its quality in a process known as wool classing, which is performed by a registered and qualified wool classer. Based on its type, the fleece is placed into the relevant wool bin ready to be pressed (mechanically compressed) when there is sufficient wool to make a wool bale.

Wool Pressing

Wool Bales on the way to market.

Blade shears consist of two blades arranged similarly to scissors except that the hinge is at the end farthest from the point (not in the middle). The cutting edges pass each other as the shearer squeezes them together and shear the wool close to the animal's skin. Blade shears are still used today but in a more limited way. Blade shears leave some wool on a sheep and this is more suitable for cold climates where the sheep needs some protection from the elements. For those areas where no powered-machinery is available blade shears are the only option. Blades are more commonly used to shear stud rams.

During Australia's long weekend in June 2010, 111 machine shearers and 78 blade shearers shore 6,000 Merino ewes and 178 rams at the historic 72 stand North Tuppal station. Along with the shearers there were 107 wool handlers and penners-up and more than 10,000 visitors to witness this event in the restored shed.

A culture has evolved out of the practice of sheep shearing, especially in post-colonial Australia and New Zealand. The sheep-shearing feast is the setting for Act IV of Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale.

"Wife make us a dinner, spare flesh neither corne,
Make wafers and cakes, for our sheepe must be shorne,
At sheep shearing neighbors none other thing craue,
but good cheer and welcome, like neighbors to haue"

On that we bid adieu to the Woolshed and drive to the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park. What a wonderful place this is that Ann has found for us. The Canoes that she's hired are so fun and we can't help but splash and play with the paddles as we race to the island. The first island we visit is the Seal Island.

Seal Island is an island located approximately 8.5 kilometres (5 mi) south-east of Albany. The island is located approximately 3 kilometers offshore from Frenchman Bay in King George Sound. The island is designated as a nature reserve and has a total area of 2.8 hectares.

George Vancouver named Seal Island in 1791. The island is composed entirely of granite and is only accessible at the western end. Below are some of the animals we see.

The Australian sea lion (Neophoca cinerea) lives only in Western Australia and South Australia and nowhere else in the world. The total population of these animals is only about 10,000 to 12,000, which makes the Australia sea lion one of the rarest sea lion species in the world. They can live for up to 20 years of age.

Sea lions have a blunt dog-like snout and can be recognised as 'eared' seals by their ear flaps. The males (called bulls) may reach about 2.5 metres long and weigh up to 300 kilograms. They have chocolate brown fur, with a creamy crown and neck. Females (called cows) are silvery grey above and creamy yellow below, growing up to 1.8 metres long and weighing up to 105 kilograms. Pups are born with chocolate brown fur, which is lost after the first moulting phase.

Bottlenose dolphins are actually small whales, and belong to the group known as 'toothed whales'. They are air breathing mammals so, even though they have adapted to the marine environment, they still must come to the surface to breathe through the blowhole on top of their heads. The common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus) are so named because they have a short rounded snout or 'beak' that resembles a bottle.

Bottlenose dolphins are sleek and streamlined and can travel at speeds of up to 35 kilometres per hour. They have a prominent dorsal fin, which can be seen slicing through the water. Bottlenose dolphins vary in size, shape and color depending on where they are found. In general dolphins have a dark grey back and a light grey belly. This helps to camouflage the animal so when potential predators (such as killer whales or sharks) look up from the deep, the light grey belly blends in with bright surface waters. When seen from above, the grey back blends in with the deep dark waters below. Bottlenose dolphin calves weigh around 15-30 kilograms at birth and around 70-130 centimetres long. They will grow up to seven times their original body weight in their first year. An adult will reach 2-4 metres and weigh between 150-650 kilograms. Bottlenose dolphins can live to over 30 years of age.

Bottlenose dolphins eat around 15 kilograms of food per day consisting of a wide variety of fish, squid and octopuses. The offshore form may be able to dive to depths of more than 600 meters to catch food. Dolphins use echolocation for hunting and navigating. The clicking sounds they make travel through the water hitting objects up to 200 metres in front and echoing back to the dolphin, which allows them to work out the size, shape, speed, distance and direction of their prey. Working together as a group, dolphins can trap schools of fish or squid by rounding them up and diving into the middle to feed, swallowing their food whole and head first.

We then make our way to Penguin Island to see the wee little ones. We learned about them on the other Trek but let's refresh our memories.

The little penguin is the smallest of the 17 penguin species and is the only one that nests along Australia's mainland coast. These flightless seabirds are superbly adapted to the marine environment. Their wings have evolved into flippers with which they propel themselves, 'flying' underwater. On land they stand upright, walking or waddling awkwardly on their hind legs. Little penguins have a life expectancy of 6 or 7 years, although some survive for 20 years.

Little penguins are a bluish-grey colour, with a white underside and throat. They have a black bill, pale pink feet and silvery-grey eyes. The males are slightly bigger than the females, and have a deeper bill and a larger head. Adults stand about 40 centimetres tall and weigh about a kilogram.

The little penguin colony on Penguin Island eats more than 100 tonnes of fish every year. Little penguins can swim 8 kilometers per hour and dive as deep as 60 meters to catch pilchards, whitebait and other small fish. The birds may venture up to 200 kilometers from Penguin Island on extended feeding excursions, but while breeding they generally feed within 15 kilometers of the island. The shallow nearshore waters of Becher Point, which is just south of Penguin Island in the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park, is a very important nursery area for juvenile whitebait, the little penguin's favourite food while rearing its chicks.

In Western Australia, little penguins have declined in number since European settlement. Predation by introduced animals such as foxes, dogs and cats has had a severe impact on birds nesting on the mainland and colonies are now largely confined to offshore islands. At sea, penguins are vulnerable to hazards such as discarded plastics and fishing line, boat strikes and oil pollution, and are also taken by natural predators like sea lions and sharks. Other impacts include people trampling their nest sites, loss of suitable habitat and destabilization of foredunes (which may prevent penguins from accessing nest sites).

The little penguin has up to nine different calls ranging from short, sharp barks when at sea and sharp, snorting yelps when disturbed. Little penguins are excellent swimmers and are able to spend long periods at sea but they generally spend the day at sea and return to their colonies after dark.

Well after a fun filled day in the Park we all pour back into the campers to finish our drive up to Perth and our hotel. I sure hope I can get to the laundry so I can wash all my clothes for the next day! I also want to check on my bags and get some of my extra clothes out since we will be spending some days in towns. I'd really like to look better than on the trail.

We arrive at Quest on James in good time. Apparently we all have 'lead footed drivers' and have plenty of time to shower, exchange clothes, wash clothes and get ready for the marrow.

I only did 600 steps today since my knee was still cranky from yesterday and I did no exercise since I decided to celebrate Mothers Day as if I was still in the USA. But I'll be ready for tomorrow no matter what happens. Have a great sleep everyone and I'll see you in the morning.

Patty emoticon
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
  • PHOENIX1949
    I now have a much greater appreciation for the sheepskin rug I bought on vacation in Harrogate, England many years ago! emoticon blog.
    1768 days ago
    Awesome blog Patty I was reading things I didn't know. The penguins were always called" Fairy penguins " not politically correct so they changed them to little they will always be Fairy penguins to me

    Look after that knee, you need it to carry your body
    emoticon emoticon
    1768 days ago

    Comment edited on: 5/14/2013 4:02:32 AM
    This is way better here, blogged out with pictures. You always have so much information on what you focus on! emoticon blog!
    IKacey co-leader of the Chair Exercise Team

    1768 days ago
    emoticon It is hard to believe how much we are learning on a Virtual Trek!! I love the History about Sheep Shearing that you have written out here!! Very Informative!! Loved seeing the Dolphins & Seals!!
    1768 days ago
    A lot of information
    1768 days ago
    Another great blog -and far better with pictures - that's why it belongs here not in the Discussion thread
    It sounds like that knee is demanding rest - that's the way it is - it needs to heal!!
    When its healed you can catch up on exercise and steps - but until then take it easy!!
    1769 days ago
    looks like your having so much fun.. great pictures. thank you for sharing.
    hope your knee feels better soon.. take care..
    1769 days ago
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