Cable Conversations: Sarah Houston - For the Love of Wool

Meet Sarah, a mother of four living on a remote sheep station in Hay, NSW. With a family history spanning over a century in the wool industry, Sarah's connection to wool runs deep. Growing up on her family's property, she learned the ins and outs of wool production from a young age, fostering cherished memories of shearing sheds and farm life. Despite juggling her role as a teacher and her responsibilities on the family farm, Sarah also drives up to 1000km on weekends for her sons' sports. Here, she reflects on the rewards and challenges of preserving her family's legacy in wool production.

What is your connection to wool?

My family has grown fine merino wool on our family property, Jimenbuen, south of Cooma, NSW, for over 100 years.

Sheep is what I knew as a young girl. We grew wool and wore wool because it's so cold there. My brother and I helped Dad in any way we could. Fast forward a few years, and I married my husband Rowan, whose family have also produced wool in Hay, for over a century. We have four boys: Jim, 17; Archie, 15; Harry, 12; and Bill, 11. They are re-living our childhoods surrounded by wool-growing sheep. I’m a teacher at our local primary school and have a passion for sport. Most afternoons, I can be found on the sideline of a sporting field, supporting the local kids. Our lives are busy; we travel many kilometres to ensure our boys can play sports. It is not unusual for us to travel 1000km a weekend to watch the boys run around a field, both AFL and rugby! But I wouldn't swap it for the world.

What are some of your fondest memories from your childhood growing up on a sheep station?

I must admit, I still absolutely love the smell of a shearing shed! I attended a one-teacher school when I was young, and we travelled 30km on a tiny bus to get there. It was always a highlight of the year when Dad was shearing. We'd get home from school, race to the house, jump on our pushbikes and ride to the shearing shed. We'd pick up the belly wool and help Dad count out at the end of the day.

Of course, if we were shearing during the holidays, it was an extra bonus; we'd help all day and be able to nibble on the morning and afternoon smoko snacks produced by the shearer's cook. Judy's jam drops were incredible! As we got older, we became more and more helpful around the place. We did everything from 'rouse abouting' — picking up fleeces in the shearing shed— to lamb marking, driving tractors, fencing and general farm maintenance. We lived too far from town to get a job there, so we were lucky enough that Dad gave us some pocket money to help him.

What is most rewarding about continuing your family's legacy in producing fine merino wool?

I am really proud that both our families have contributed to the Australian Wool Industry for so many years. It can be a tough way to make a living, but it is a wonderful way to live. There have been many ups and downs in the history of wool growing in Australia. It is a testament to both our families that they have ridden out the tough times, which has meant enjoying the good times when they roll around.


You are a mother to four boys. How difficult is it to balance your family life with your responsibilities in the wool industry?

Having four boys is probably the best recipe for living on a working sheep property. Like we did, they help with the running of the place, and as they get older, they become very handy. To counteract the hard work, they have the bonus of a 52,000-acre backyard where they do all the fun things farm kids get to do.

The balance is sometimes tricky. Farming life is 24/7, but it can also be flexible; if we get the job done, we can leave the place. In saying that, we are often behind schedule because the 'sheep are in the wrong paddock!' A farmer's work hours are definitely not 9-5—it's more like sun up to sun down!


What challenges do you face living on a remote sheep station?

Living in an isolated area has many challenges, but the good certainly outweighs the challenges. Our access to medical services, shopping facilities, and technology is definitely substandard compared to our city counterparts. Still, we get used to making things work. We drive many kilometres, but I like to look at it as good family time!

What is it about wool that you believe sets it apart from other textiles, and why do you think it's so important to preserve its heritage?

Wool is the most incredible product! It is natural, renewable, sustainable, and beautiful. It keeps you warm, cool, and safe from fire, not to mention that wool products never seem to go out of fashion!


What's your perfect Mother's Day?

To be surrounded by my boys...and not cook or do a load of washing! We often go for a motorbike ride to check the stock and see what is happening there. It is a beautiful time of the year to be outside in the fresh air and enjoy living in the 'big sky country' that Hay is!