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Merinos, myths and Macarthurs : Australian graziers and their sheep, 1788-1900

CollectionsANU Press (1965- Present)
Title: Merinos, myths and Macarthurs : Australian graziers and their sheep, 1788-1900
Author(s): Garran, J. C.
Date published: 1985
Publisher: Rushcutters Bay, N.S.W. : Australian National University Press
Sheep and their wool, the strong backbone that helped colonial Australia walk upright, have a proud place in Australian hearts and in the national record. But the romance of wool has often shrouded the hard facts, and the myths developed by and around the pioneers have distorted an important story. John Garran, sheep-breeder and historian, was convinced that the history written from the study chair be corrected from the farm. He brought a critical eye, practical experience and a great interest in genetics to tracing the origins and development of sheep in Australia. This approach was complemented by the political economist Leslie White. The particular focus of myth has been John Macarthur and the purity of the Merino breed. Australians have been taught that their nation has ridden to prosperity on the sheep's back, and that early sheep-breeders made a unique contribution in developing a pure breed - beliefs aired in controversies about the export of Merinos. But the earliest sheep in Australia were hairy sheep from the Cape of Good Hope and Bengal which had with an undercoat of fine wool, and these provided the base from which, by cross-breeding with Saxon Merinos and other breeds, the Australian Merino became so successful. It is generally, but wrongly, assumed that all Macarthur's stud sheep were pure bred, unmixed descendants of Spanish Merinos he obtained from King George III. Macarthur has been credited with having a vision of a great Australian industry, and working untiringly to establish it on a permanent basis, and has gained a carefully fostered but unmerited reputation as a scientific breeder, a knowledgeable grazier and a producer of superior sheep. None of these assumptions is tenable, and Merinos, Myths and Macarthurs demolishes once and for all the claims by Macarthur and later advocates to his being the father of the wool industry in Australia. What is more, it was his wife Elizabeth who carried the burden of his sheep enterprise. Macarthur at last is shorn.


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