From Cunnamulla’s inception, wool has been a primary industry of the area. In the early years, many properties in the region were producing thousands of bales each year, with up to three families living on-site, along with many staff.
Today, however, it is a different story, as graziers contend with many modern day challenges, including industry de-regulation, selling of the stockpile, a crash in wool prices, the government sheep shooting programme, and crippling droughts.
These days, most producers in the area that stayed with wool are down to approximately 30 -40% of their original flock numbers. Many wool producers have made a shift to include cattle and some have made a total shift from the Merino to meat sheep in an effort to diversify their enterprise and spread their risk.
Meat sheep have become popular within South West in light of the devastating impact of drouht, and the decline in the wool industry. Some producers switched to a dual purpose meat/wool animal and others are going all the way to a pure meat sheep. The future for lamb in the domestic market is promising, producers are also looking at converting to organic certification to be able to receive up to a $30 premium for their finished lamb compared to the conventional animal.
Cattle breeds in the area include Herefords, Shorthorn, Black & Red Angus, Santa Gertrudis, Droughtmaster and Brahmans, plus many crossbreds, including Simmental and Charolais. Newer breeds of cattle, including Brahmans, Droughtmasters and Santa Gertrudis, have become more predominate in the area due to their sustainability to the hard drought conditions.
From time to time producers in the area have farmed goats, however, it has not developed to a significant level. Most producers round up feral goats each year with numbers varying from 500 to 5,000 head. After the crash in the wool industry and during the drought, feral goat harvesting was the only income for many producers for a number of years. A huge amount of goats are harvested in this area each year and processed at the meat works in Charleville, before being shipped to the Muslim countries. Goat meat is the most eaten meat in the world.
Cotton has been successfully grown in the area a number of times. However, water needs to be plentiful and the price needs to be high, as there is no cotton gin locally, so the cotton has to be freighted to the closest gin for processing, which is approximately 300km and extremely expensive. Cotton is no longer the nasty crop it once was, as it has been genetically modified to be more resilient to pests reducing the need for chemicals. The hot dry climate in Cunnamulla is ideal for growing cotton.
Table Grapes have been a permanent sustainable industry in the Cunnamulla area over the past decade, producing thousands of boxes of table grapes for local and export markets. Grapes were originally established in Cunnamulla, because the hot dry weather allowed the producers to harvest their crops for the Christmas market, which is when the highest price is asked and the highest demand is required. Unfortunately, over the past couple of years, increased competition at that time of year has flooded the market, reducing the price and local growers are currently pulling out vines and looking at alternative crops. This will have a severe effect on the local economy, as the grapes bring large numbers of workers to the area each year for pruning, thinning and picking, which may no longer be required.
Asparagus was grown on one of the local grape farms as a second source of income. It is such a robust and durable plant. It is harvested during the winter months and trucked via refrigerated vans to local markets in the city.
In Cunnamulla there are about 30 registered licensed commercial wildlife harvesters. Queensland is split into three regions and Cunnamulla is in part of the central region, which is the largest area with the highest quotas for kangaroos and wallabies.
The wildlife harvested is for human consumption for growing markets in Russia and Europe. Like many other rural industries, this industry is largely affected by seasonal conditions and drought.
Refer to Destination Yowah for all the details on mining opals.
Organic wheat was grown in the district by Dunsdons, a long term, highly motivated and innovative grazing and farming family. Organic status was sought to achieve premium prices and penetrate niche markets. Organic wheat was grown for the RM Williams Group to service an organic chicken farm they owned.
In addition to organic wheat, the Dunsdon family also produces organic lamb, which earns a premium price in the market, as consumers demand clean and green produce.
Dunsdon’s operation is ever evolving, as markets change and new technology becomes available. Their commitment to research and development ensures they remain at the forefront of primary production, organic technology, natural resource management, and environmental protection.
Since 2006, Stephanie Mills Gallery, Stephanie Mills Outback Tours and now Out the Back Australia have offered a range of tourist opportunities for the region, encompassing the towns of Cunnamulla, Eulo, Yowah and surrounding districts.
By actively marketing the tourism offerings around Australia and across the globe, as well as working closely with local businesses, tourism operators, clubs and property owners, Out the Back Australia has created world class tour products, characterized by hands-on, genuine outback experiences unique to the area.
Shearers remain an integral part of the pastoral industry in this area. The conditions of the first shearers were rough, shearing manually with blades in sheds constructed of bark and canvas. Back then, 60-80 sheep shorn per day was considered a good day’s work. The man who could shear more would be known as the “ringer” of the shed.
Today, a shearer normally shears around 140 to 300 sheep a day. Teams of shearers travel from property to property during the season. A flock of 5000 probably requires a 4-stand shed with shearing machines and equipment for four shearers. Most sheep are shorn once a year. Merino wool grows about 7 to 10cm in that time.
Charles McKenzie initially came to Cunnamulla as a shearer and soon developed his own contracting business. Charles and his MHR Shearing revolutionized shearing, taking it from traditional sheds to the paddock with his cutting edge, portable shearing and crutching truck. The truck allows for Charles and his team to crutch the sheep in the paddock, eliminating much of the effort required for mustering, reducing stress on the sheep during times of drought and ultimately, saving valuable time and money for producers.
Migratory beekeeping has been practiced in the area since the 1960’s and is a growth industry in Cunnamulla and westwards to Eulo, Thargomindah and north-west to Quilpie.
Beekeepers favour the Yapunyah, a type of box tree, which can yield nectar prolifically for several months. The beehives are generally moved back south or east after the Yapunyah tree has finished flowering (October).
Local beekeepers then take advantage of the Polar Box (or round leaf box), River Red Gums, and Coolibah during the summer months. Bloodwood and Lignum (a type of swamp plant) may be useful if weather conditions have been reasonable.
As Australians are not large consumers of honey, most honey produced in Australia is exported to the Middle East and Great Britain for the food and cosmetic industries.
To get an up close and personal peek into these industries in Cunnamulla, book a tour for Gone Walkabout Town & Industry Tour now!