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Beyond the Bale : Jun 07 - Jul 07
By Kellie Penfold Over the years, like many country villages near large regional centres, Nundle, NSW, faced becoming a dot on the map. But a decade after this ignominious prospect loomed, an average of 300 to 400 people now visit Nundle each day. The attraction is the creation of a ball of wool -- and also to buy wool and clothing by leading Australian knitwear designers. The turnaround happened after Peter and Judy Howarth moved to Nundle from Sydney, seeking solitude. After creating an upmarket bed and breakfast, they 'did up' the local motel and a couple of shops, and then they looked for a way to get the visitors to the town, 45 minutes from Tamworth in northern NSW. Judy says they wanted to create employment in Nundle and give people a reason to detour there: "We looked at a soap factory, candle making ... none of those appealed, and then we heard about some wool-processing machinery, which had been brought up to Tamworth from Geelong for a boutique knitting business." The equipment translated into 25 semi-trailer loads from Geelong and required a new purpose-built factory in Nundle. The couple also had to scour the country for extra equipment before the machinery could be made operational. However, Judy says this was not a major problem, given there were once as many as 60 woollen mills in Australia. The Nundle Woollen Mill opened in 2001, primarily to create wool and wool blends for hand-knitters. A mezzanine level was built to showcase products and give visitors a view of the machinery in action. A website and toll-free telephone number allowed wool to be sold online and ordered from around the world. Judy says the response from woolgrowers, as well as tourists, has been heartening : "The first reaction from woolgrowers when they enter the mill is gratitude, because they see someone is value-adding to wool in Australia and putting their fibre on display." She says visitors love the feel and look of the balls of wool, but generally are not knitters or interested in creating their own hand-knits, so they had to seek out local knitters to make knitted items to their specification. "Now the hand-knitted market has changed, from garments to accessories such as scar ves, leg-warmers and gloves. People are seeking a finer knit, and for that reason we also stock knitted men's and women's garments from 30 Australian designers, including Sheer Bliss, Toorallie, GHG Merino Essentials, Maplebrown, Snowy River Merino, jac + jack and Carrigan. Each year, the volume of wool garments we are selling has grown by 20 per cent." Judy says she is astounded at the interest in wool this season -- considering the warm autumn. The mill got off to a particularly strong start this year with retail sales for January to March up 75 per cent on 2006. Wool reigns supreme at Nundle Finding a good use for some wool-processing machinery has brought new life to a country village 18 WEARABLE WOOL BEYOND THE BALE Judy Howarth of Nundle Woollen Mill. PHOTOS: AMANDA DUCKER
Jun 07 - Jul 07 Supplement
Apr 07 - May 07