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Strangers #19 & #20 Andrew and Lucy Old Bus Depot Markets Wool Expo

The weather in Canberra changed overnight last week.  We went from days of 20C to to top of 11C with a cold winter wind that blows from the mountains.  The sun gave some relief and made it look attractive to be outside but the wind made it feel like below 10C.  We had our first major frost of this season with a low of -4C.  The fields across the road from our flat always look picturesque with frost but the icy air made viewing it from inside a more attractive proposition.  It is about this time each year the Old Bus Depot Markets hold there Wool Expo weekend, and it could not have been better timed.  All things to do with wool from sheep so you can make your own wool garments; jackets, coats, scarves, beanies and socks.

In the company of my friend Lynda, who has swapped her life as a office manager in Sydney to a flocker in Taralga, just outside Goulburn I found out more than I thought possible about socks. Lynda has grown her flock from a couple of hand-raised lambs, Buckley and None to a herd of coloured sheep of different breeds.  When asked how many sheep she now has her repy was, “I don’t know, I keep falling asleep when I count them”. Boom! Boom!

Lynda introduces me to Andrew of Lindner Quality Socks.  Lynda shows off her Taralga socks under her jeans.  Andrew tells us that they are no longer making these socks as they can not get the alpaca.

In Crookwell, a town north of Goulburn, south of Crooked Corner and Cowra, and not far from Taralga, located on the main street is a sock factory.  The Linder Quality Sock Factory run by Andrew and Lucy Lindner and Gisela, Andrew’s mother.  This factory churns out socks on machines made in Germany and the UK that were brought to Crookwell by Andrew’s father after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.  Both Andrew’s father and mother came from families involved in sock making for many generations.  They have tracked their families involvement with sock making back to 1730.  Andrew and Lucy stand behind their stall engaging passers by with their story and why the socks they make are the best.  I hear them and buy a pair of thick purple socks to go in my walking boots.  The only boots that keep my feet warm in the icy Canberra climate.

Andrew has an easy manner, comfortable to talk about socks. Wool socks, I am told, change with your body.  As your foot heats up and sweats the wool wicks the sweat so the feet inside do not feel cold.  The thicker socks cushion your feet and expand to fill the space inside a boot.  This not only leds to a your foot staying warm and cushioned but the lack of friction within the boot means the socks lasts for years, as they are not being rubbed away.  Good socks cost money, but this is a quality product made with love.

I ask Andrew how he got into socks, he tells me he had no choice it was in his family and it was going to stay with him.  Lucy turns from the other customers to tell me that she never thought, as a small child, she would be doing this as an adult.  The smile and genuine cheeriness with which she says this tells me she loves what she does.  Andrew tells us how Lucy has found a connection with his mother’s family of another four generations of sock makers in Europe.  When you learn how to do a thing well why not stick to it?

The socks come in many colours; attractive to both men and women, in different thicknesses for different purposes.  You have to get the sock for the correct purpose.  So many choices.  I am given an open invitation to visit the sock factory any weekday, just knock on the door and come and watch how they make socks.

There are many different types of communities.  We think of those that have a geographic boundary easily: people who reside, work and play in the same bounded space.  Villages, towns, suburbs; people who get to know each other due to their physical proximity. But there are other types of communities; those that gather around an interest.  This may be sport, culture, work, or recreation.  They do not come together through workplaces, although there may be a connection.  They are not led by one person or leader, but they do come in many shapes and sizes.  Think sports clubs, music clubs, professional associations.  There maybe an overlap with a profession but the club comes together not for work but to enjoy the professional connectedness and to work together for something: conference, lobbying, learning from each other, sharing a joy.

Geographic communities can spread out.  Members of any diaspora will tell you if you meet another person in a far off setting the fact that both of you come from the same place offers enough connection to bring you together.  I visited East Timor in 2005, a time when the country still felt war-torn. I went as a visitor, a tourist. While there, in Dili, other people would walk up to me on the street, shake my hand, offer their name and ask what I was doing there.  They always seemed perplexed when I gave them the answer “On holiday”.  Their assumption was as a white person I was there is some sort of aid capacity and they wanted to swap stories, share what they knew and help us if we needed it.  Once they found out we were on holiday they lost interest but were polite and moved on.  I was not in the same community.

Communities of interest gather around ideas, political actions, shared interests and can be as diverse as the people who set up the groups. People come together over the shared interest creating a shared connection producing an identity.   Flockers are no exception. All the communities gathered together take work.  Someone has the first, initial prompt to make something happen.  That person brings people together to share the thought, idea, or interest.  Those people have to stay to connected so they grow together as a group.  This all takes time and effort.  Planning meetings, getting the word out, bringing new people in, making sure everyone travels to the same destination together, both physical and metaphorical. it is all work.  Minutes, agendas, booking halls for meetings, rallying people to be there.  It does not happen on its own.  It is similar to being in a family.  One person does the organising, often out of sight and other follow. Anything that looks effortless has many hours of work behind it.

The wool community of NSW is like that.  Lynda is introducing me to the people who she has met through her woolly connections: fleece, flock and fibre all play a part.  Lynda grows sheep, many of whom have names, so she can spin wool.  She is not interested in growing sheep for eating, although some of her sheep, may, eventually end up in a freezer.  She wants to grow wool for the fibre they produce and this had introduced her to many different people with a similar interest.

Lynda has involved herself in the local sheep growing community joining a society for coloured sheep breeders and making acquaintence with other growers  and makers.  She knows many of the stallholders at this Expo and her partner Paul is asked why they do not have a stall.  Maybe next year?

In 1987 in an interview with Woman’s Own, Margaret Thatcher gave her famous statement ‘There is no such thing as society’.  She was coming to the end of her run as Prime Minister in the UK.  Beginning in 1979 her governments oversaw a revolution in that country that dismantled many of the structures and safeguards that had been present in the UK since the beginning of the Welfare State brought in by a Labour Government in 1948.  Thatcher had started this journey as Education Minister and pulled funding from free milk in all primary schools. She became known as 'milk-snatcher'. As leader of the Conservatives her governments saw the introduction of lower taxes, smaller government, privatisation and self-responsibility.  It was popular, at first, who wants to pay more tax?  But the repercussions were felt immediately with few new public houses and those owned being sold off so the public stock diminished,  stretched services at hospitals; growing waiting lists and fewer services, and funding cuts to public schools that meant not all children could participate in everything; excursions, books, music programs. A nurse I knew who worked at an emergency department at this time was horrified when the pouch of things given to new patients: toothbrush, flannel, small towel, information about the hospital and what to do next, was given away due to costs cutting.

Some have interpreted her statement as a claim of individualism.  Some argue that she was telling the world that individuals come first and her government was going to support that, and that alone.  I think it is somewhere in the middle.  The Thatcher governments platform, based on the disregarded theory of Friedrick Heyek in his book Road To Serfdom, changed the country forever.  The mantra of the 1948 Welfare State was ‘from the cradle to the grave’.  Thatcher’s governments introduced new ways of being ‘looked after’ and a freedom that would see growing numbers of people living in poverty.  The unintended consequence of this was the communities that provided structure to the individuals disappeared.  If everyone is pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps why would they want to look out for anyone else.  Economic rationalism was a force that took over the world with it ripples still being felt; (tax is a dirty word)

Of course, people are always going to connect with each other.  Families will do their best to assist each other when needed but if the state provides money, expertise, and a plan it everyone connects better.

As we sit out in the sun eating takeaway food to finished off our outting to the Wool Expo.  I am struck by how happy the people are around us.  Everyone animated, chatting about what they have seen, showing off bags of goodies and sharing new things they have found; information or products.  This community that has grown around wool and all things woolly is joyful.  Lynda and Paul, Andrew and Lucy are all part of it.  The connection comes from a shared love, and in Andrew’s case across many generations. I might have to visit Crookwell to see how socks are made.


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