Back on the Wool Track by Michelle Grattan

‘The wool track has become the tourist route.’

In this book, Michelle Grattan follows in the footsteps of C.E.W Bean’s journey through western New South Wales in the early twentieth century.  In 1909, Bean was commissioned by the Sydney Morning Herald to write a series of articles on the wool industry.  Those articles were complied into a book ‘On the Wool Track’ (which I’ve not read).

A friend mentioned this book to me recently, then another recommended it.  I picked it up, wondering what had changed over almost a century.  This is country I’ve not (yet) visited, country that has suffered severely from drought and from the drift of (younger) people away from the land.

‘Even the best providers, the most effective managers, can’t fully insulate themselves against the rainless years.’

Ms Grattan tracks down descendants of some of the people that Bean met.  She writes of the challenges in these remote parts of New South Wales where distance and aridity shape life.  Wool was the staple in Bean’s time, but this is marginal land and drought has had an impact.  Ms Grattan visits shearing sheds (some of which are no longer used).  And shearing, an old job with some changes in a more modern world.

As I read this book and learned some of the history of this vast area, I added some towns to my ‘want to visit’ list.  The country itself will be foreign to me: I grew up near the lush green dairy country of northern Tasmania, and even though I’ve not lived there for over forty years, it’s the country where I feel most at home.

Ms Grattan’s book is worth reading, especially for those of us who’ve not ventured into the western part of New South Wales.

‘The people of the outback would see their lives as ordinary.  To the observer from the city, or from the ‘inside country, they are remarkable.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith