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Video Clip Synopsis:
125 million sheep are spread across Australia. 90 thousand tons of lamb and 3 million tons of wool are exported annually. Australia truly rode to prosperity on the sheep’s back.

1min 20sec

The Post War Wool Boom is an excerpt from the film Men and Mobs (20 mins), produced in 1947.

Men and Mobs: Sheep and the Australian economy cannot be separated. Men and Mobs relates the growth of Australia’s flocks, starting with the few Spanish merinos that John Macarthur mated to the progeny of Indian sheep brought out by founder Captain Philip. Using song and anecdote, the film builds up the story of the men and mobs of sheep that provide fleece for our textile mills and materials for clothing a nation.

Men and Mobs is a National Film Board Production. Produced by the Department of Information for the Commonwealth Department of Commerce and Agriculture.

Study Module

Curriculum Focus: The Arts
Year: 11-12
Theme: Environment & Work

Key Concepts

Economy; Environment; Sustainability; Propaganda; Change over time; Values; Nostalgia; Memory; Longing; Belonging; Identity; Pride of place

Curriculum Applicability Notes

ACT:Art and design: Research and thinking task (A Course); Conceptual task (C Course)
NSW:Visual arts, Stage 6: Art criticism and art history
NT:Visual arts Stage 1: Arts analysis and responses; Art in context
Visual arts Stage 2: Perceiving
Qld:Visual arts senior syllabus: Appraising
SA:Visual arts Stage 1: Arts analysis and responses; Art in context
Visual arts Stage 2: Perceiving
Tas:Art, draft and design appreciation: Criteria 2-6
Vic:Unit 1, Area of study 2: Art and society
Unit 2, Area of study 1: Exploring ideas and issues
Unit 2, Area of study 2: Art and the individual
WA:Art Year 11: Art history and criticism
Art Year 12: Art history and criticism

Context / Background Information

The image of sheep has long been a powerful one in Australian art.

Early colonial painters produced portraits of prized sheep for wealthy landowners; wool created the wealth that built magnificent properties, which were celebrated in artistic works. Sheep and wool also shaped the environment, as native trees and grasses were destroyed or replaced to create pasture. The working class hero and icon was the shearer, and the great Australian 'battler' in Waltzing Matilda stole the jumbuck and brought down the wrath of the squatter and the police — symbolising class rifts in Australian society.

Wool was also a key element of the Australian economy for 150 years. In 1945 World War 2 ended. The Australian economy had been greatly affected by the war. The disruption of international shipping had forced Australia to develop its own manufacturing industries, rather than rely on imports from overseas. However, Australia's main export revenue still came very much from its primary products, with wool the most significant component.

Discussion Pointers

  1. What is your image of the ‘environment’? Record your ideas in a list of single words or short phrases. This will give you an indication of your own definition of and values towards the environment. It will be a modern one.
  2. Watch the extract with the sound turned off. List your reactions and impressions, in single words or short phrases, particularly to the scenes showing the environmental activities shown.
  3. Now watch it again with the sound on. What are the main messages of the video clip? If your own ideas are different from those actually presented in the video clip, try to explain why.
  4. How do the film-makers persuade you to accept or adopt these messages? Consider such elements as the music, the type of shots used, the narrative.

Suggested Classroom Activities

  1. Research the work of Australian artists who have included sheep as the subject within their work. Compare and contrast the work of two artists,eg. Charles Conder, Yarding Sheep; Tom Roberts, Shearing the Rams, The Breakaway,or The Golden Fleece:Shearing at Newstead: Arthur Streeton, The Land of the Golden Fleece. For a more recent example, find images by Les Kossatz. Explain the importance of these works in establishing or maintaining an Australian identity.
  2. Compile a list of artists who have depicted the Australian countryside and contributed to a sense of being Australian. Concentrate on one of these artists and using their style or approach, create a painting of a favourite or selected open-space area. This might be a sports ground, a shopping centre, the view from your bedroom/classroom or a holiday location. Include elements which place the depiction in the twenty first century. Photographs could be used as a reference. OR, Imagine you have been given the task of depicting a new icon to represent a modern Australian identity. What would you choose and why? How would you describe this icon – for example, as a painting, a sculpture, a video clip, etc.
  3. Why do you think visual images are so important in understanding our cultural heritage? Collect images and words which help you feel Australian. Look for symbols which have a long history of relating to our country and one or two more recent examples, ensuring they are local not global. Present your material as the basis for a poster for Australia Day or as a card to send to overseas friends.
  4. Some of the images in the clip show materials and text-based information which are of a more universal nature. (The bales of wool are lifted on a cradle of ropes, and the bales, constructed of hessian, are roped together. A sculptor would view these materials and the forms as relevant to their practice.) Christo, an international artist, came to Australia in the 1960’s and wrapped a section of the NSW coastline using wrapping and ropes. He also wrapped smaller items. Create your own combination of wrapping and text, using materials common to our era. Trial and error may help determine the best and most visual satisfying materials. Select an object which can easily be identified as Australian buy the text or by the wrapped form. OR Discover details about the wrapping of the NSW coast and explore its contribution to the ‘internationalising’ of Australia/promotion of Australia on the world stage. Explain how and why this event drew attention.
  5. The stencils used on the bales use a simple lettering style. American pop artist, Jasper Johns, made use of such lettering. (See Map, 1961) As an art history project, look at the use of text in Western art from early iconic paintings of the crucifixion to today. (OR a shorter period could be tackled, eg from Pop Art to today.) This could be conducted as a group or class project. This can be followed by studying the work of more recent Australian artists where the text is included in the work or has become the subject of the work, eg Bea Maddock, Jenny Watson, Davida Allen, Gareth Sansom, Rosalie Gascoigne or Mike Brown.

Modules That Use This Clip

SOSE/HSIE Year 9-10, SOSE/HSIE Year 7-8, The Arts Year 11-12