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Camden sheep a living link to Australia’s modern-day Merino



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If John and Elizabeth Macarthur, each lengthy useless, magically reappeared on Earth, they’d be delighted to see their former residence Elizabeth Farm at Camden, south-west of Sydney, lovingly preserved.

They might additionally be thrilled to find that the wool trade they performed a key position in founding remains to be thriving.

And they might be in all probability tickled pink to see an all-too-familiar sort of Merino grazing in close by paddocks.

The sheep is formally often called the Camden — named after its Australian hometown.

Whereas it has typically been stated that Australia’s financial system rode on the sheep’s again for a lot of its historical past,  some have forgotten that the experience started on the thin legs and slender body of the Camden.

B&W photo of a ram.
A Camden Merino ram, a descendant of sheep imported by John and Elizabeth Macarthur.(Provided)

Australia’s historical past of Merino sheep

These flighty, hardy, short-woolled sheep bear little resemblance to the fashionable Australian Merino.

It has been so selectively and intensively bred for greater than two centuries that the Macarthurs would possibly even battle to recognise it as a sheep.

Amazingly, the Camden has survived to at the present time, largely unchanged, as a residing colonial relic.

That has been a results of some devoted custodians such because the Collins household at Mt Bute in western Victoria.

Photo of a man hugging a sheep.
James Collins’ (pictured) grandfather Jim purchased a flock of Camdens in 1967 that have been destined for the meatworks.(Landline: Tim Lee)

The household has been producing a number of the nation’s most interesting Merino wool for generations.

It has additionally performed an important half in saving the Camden from extinction.

Saving a legacy

When the final remaining flock of Camdens was put up for public sale and really almost consigned to the meatworks, the late Jim Collins and fellow woolgrower Mac Troup realised their historic significance and every purchased half the sheep.

The household has by no means introduced in exterior genetics nor tried to enhance the standard of the sheep in any approach.

As a substitute, it has rigorously managed the flock to remain in a state of stasis, to maintain it true to its ancestors.

Photo of sheep two sheep. The sheep at the front is noticeable smaller than the one behind
The fashionable Camden (entrance) stands alongside a Merino.(Landline: Tim Lee)

The distinction between Camdens and modern-day business Merinos is stark.

The Camden, at about 35 kilograms, is roughly half the burden and half the peak.

The Camden’s fleece weighs lower than two kilograms. The fashionable Merino yields three to 5 instances that quantity.

A greater pressure of Merinos was imported by the Macarthurs in 1804.

Because the colony started to prosper, so too did the Merino and its beneficial tremendous fleece.

By the 1870s, sheep had unfold over a lot of the continent, and Australia had assumed the mantle of the world’s biggest wool-growing nation.

A black and white photo of a Merino ram.
A drawing of a Merino ram in Australia, circa 1810.(Provided)

By then, the Camden had been reworked and tailored by genetic choice right into a larger-framed sheep that grew longer wool and was sturdy sufficient to face up to Australia’s arid inland.

Wool accounted for half the nation’s exports till the Sixties, and Australia nonetheless produces 80 per cent of the world’s tremendous wool.

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