Wizard looks back over career

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Bob GarnantCountryman

In some parts of the wool world, Ian Mathersul is known as the ‘Wizard of Oz’.

The Australian Wool Testing Authority (AWTA) quality insurance controller is a good bet on being able to identify the land of origin of almost any wool sample.

After being instrumental in the development and innovation of measuring wool over 37 years, the 64-year-old has decided to bale up his career on a good note and retire with a smile.

“July 15 is my last day and saying goodbye to so many workmates will be very emotional, to say the least, ” Ian said. “I am satisfied to be leaving the industry with more confidence than those early days of subjective measurement.”

Ian said the acceptance of testing wool using objective assessment has been a great tool and has given growers, exporters and processors more confidence in the market.

The son of a merchant seaman, Ian started his career in the great Australian outback. As a 17-year-old, he found work in shearing sheds from Minilya in the Gascoyne to the Murchison, Goldfields and Great Southern.

“It was very busy in the late 1960s and before long I was shearing my first 100 sheep, of which 30 were doubles (not shorn the previous season), at that milestone shed called Riverina in Menzies,” he said.

Two years in the shearing shed was enough, though, and Ian was keen to spend more time with his family, so he took a milk delivery job in Fremantle and also pressed wool for Bill Fielder at Elders GM.

After saving enough money for a house deposit, he found a full-time job with PJ Morris, which supplied wool to Mitsui, Nissho-Iwai and Louis Kint in Belgium.

Gaining knowledge from good wool men including Len Forward, Jack Secombe, Bill Blatchford and Ernie Levett, Ian was keen to continue his education. At technical college in 1968 and 1969, he scored the highest marks for wool classing.

Working for Stuart Tufnell and applying some new skills, Ian was using wool from sheepskins in the blends of extra good wool limits and traditional buyers could not get near his bids in the sale room.

“Blending was an art, pushed on by forward contracts from mills that specified length, colour and fault,” he said.

“We were reliant on core test data from both WTS and AWTA.”

After an interview with AWTA’s regional manager Peter Morgan in 1974, Ian accepted a job as a sampler.

Within three years, he had moved into the technical side of the Fremantle laboratory and was tireless in understanding and developing the evolution of quality control.

Other interests saw Ian get involved in mohair judging and teaching the wool technology component to trainee wool classers at TAFE.

During Ian’s career at AWTA, more than 6.5 million certificates have been issued and he did all he could to assure each one was correct.

Ian’s take-home message to all growers was to keep the clip clean and enjoy the value-added benefits.

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