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Meet the sheep (and their products) in Australia.

Meet the sheep (and their products) in Australia A curly horn and a black face are not the only things that make Tom the Tukidale and Sam the Suffolk different from each other. In a country built, as the saying goes, on the backs of its sheep, it's the fleece that counts.

All over Australia, you'll see woolens and other sheep products that make first-rate gifts and souvenirs--and labels often go beyond "wool" to identify the breed of sheep; there are eight.

Merino, imported from Spain in 1797, accounts for 80 percent of Australia's wool industry and produces the world's finest wool for clothing. Raised in warmer parts of the country, Merinos have fleece that is dark on the surface, stark white beneath, and tightly crimped (the tighter the crimp or wave, the finer the wool).

Corriedale ranks number two. Better suited to the cold of southern Australia, it has beautiful, long, soft fleece that, along with higher-elevation Polworth, is a favorite of hand spinners. Polworth is also prized for its very white, soft fleece.

Border Leicester has broad, coarse hair with a loose crimp; its wool is good for blankets. Coopworth is a cross between Border Leicester and the similarly coarse-fleeced Romney Marsh (the mainstay of New Zealand's industry).

Suffolk--with black face and legs--has coarse, tough fleece; Suffolk socks will last forever. Tukidale also has sturdy fleece, most destined for carpets.

Meet the sheep

It's pretty easy to arrange a trip to a sheep station--by plane from Sydney, bus from Canberra, or either from Melbourne; check at tourist offices.

But perhaps the country's best overview of sheep culture is close to Brisbane. The Australian Woolshed, established three years ago in the bushland on the city's outskirts, welcomes visitors to meet trained representatives of each major breed and learn their characteristics, and to watch sheepdog work, shearing, classing, and spinning.

The program, at 11 and 2 daily, costs $4.25 U.S. for adults, $2.85 for children. The Woolshed craft shop has been voted the best in Australia. Address is 148 Samford Road; telephone 351-5366. Hours are 9:30 to 5 daily.
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Date:Mar 1, 1988
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