In many ways Australia still rides on the sheep's back.
Admittedly not with the same conviction as the nation did during its halcyon "pound a pound" days during the 1950's.
According to last week's agricultural census results, wool sales still did their bit for the national accounts with a handy $2.6 billion made in 2020-21.
Farm production, according to ABS, in the 12 months to June 2021 jumped 17 per cent to almost $71 billion.
Slowly but steadily the wool industry is building again from its days of despair with 68 million sheep and lambs on Aussie farms as at June 30, 2021, a rise of seven per cent on the year before.
Our farmers are still the best at growing wool, globally.
But to be the world's biggest in a country located down under comes with challenges getting our massive wool clip to our customers inconveniently located on the other side of the globe.
A lot has changed since the first wool from the colonies was sent 'back home' to London by barrel in 1807.
One of Australia's cashed up agribusinesses last week announced it was spending big to modernise wool handling in a way growers have scarcely seen for generations.
Within a year and with a $25 million spend, Elders Ltd will have robotic vehicles (devoid of human jockeys) whirring efficiently about a 35,000 square metre warehouse in what Melbourne locals know as the prison suburb.
That's because Ravenhall, home of Elders new high-tech wool hub, is also home to three of the state's big prisons.
The suburb was bare ground in the 1980s when Australia stood alone as the colossus of global wool production with 100 million kilograms produced a year.
It's not just Elders, there is a drive during these good times in agriculture to innovate the handling of this enormous national treasure.
There's been some tinkering around the edges but wool is still shipped off the farm by bale and sent off to huge warehouses near sea ports for selling, storing and shipping.
Most of our woollen mills are gone, those wool tops from China end up in Europe mostly and India is a fast growing market.
Australia's early and lasting success with sheep saw most of our biggest and best buildings constructed port-side and in the inner cities.
It wasn't just the big centres but wool, light but bulky, was piled up all about the coast.
Think of Newcastle's famous wool row, Geelong (now the national wool museum), Port Adelaide's Santo Parade, Teneriffe in Brisbane, Fremantle Woolstores, Portland.
Those enormous red-brick multi-layered buildings are still much admired, but not by those who have to use them.
Some of them have been knocked down, more than a few of the lanolin-saturated behemoths have burned down, others have been converted to stylish apartments.
A bloated wool industry collapsed along with the reserve price scheme back in 1991 when the size of the wool stockpile reached a still staggering 4.7 million bales.
Today the wool industry is building steadily again.
Agricultural service companies like Elders have all the numbers and well know wool's not going anywhere.
They've been involved in the Australian wool industry for over 180 years and began wool handling and financing in the mid-1800's.
Last year Australia's biggest wool handling company AWH announced it was moving its Portland store to the heart of Victoria's woolgrowing region in Hamilton.
That in itself signalled a shift in thinking - to move away from the port would have been considered madness not so long ago.
With 14 wool stores, AWH handles almost a million bales of wool annually and provides sale room services for the three national wool selling centres, co-shared by companies like Elders.
With apologies to the builders, Elders new high-tech hubs won't draw the same aesthetic comparisons to those red brick multi-storey warehouses of the past - it will be more a giant steel shed.
It will still be impressive for all that, the floor space of the Ravenhall building is the equivalent of 1.5 MCGs, and the volume is something like 235 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
With its 22 automated guided vehicles, it will be able to process more than 300,000 wool bales each year with storage for 65,000 bales.
The hub's builder, Dexus, says it is the tallest warehouse they have ever been involved with at 16.8 metres in height.
Elders handled about 350,000 wool bales in the last financial year.
Elders says the site links key regional wool growing areas to Australia's largest concentration of buyers plus access to the biggest wool shipping port.
The height of Australia's mountain of wool will rise and shrink as it has done since that first barrel in 1807.
The challenges remain the same, it is a massive logistical exercise in shipping it off to customers around the world.
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