Suited to success
A passion for the environment has taken a woolgrowing couple places — including to Italy, where they rubbed shoulders with celebrities. Roger Hanson reports
Vanessa and Matt Dunbabin recently got to have a peek at where their fine Merino wool ends up – in suits that cost tens of thousands of dollars each. The couple were in Italy for an awards ceremony for sustainable produce and also visited manufacturers who use wool from their farm.
THE love of growing superfine wool and caring for the environment are the driving passion for a couple farming on the Forestier Peninsula in the state’s South-East.
Matt and Vanessa Dunbabin consider themselves the custodians of their 6200ha farm Bangor, which includes vast areas of native vegetation and permanent forest reserves as well as 5km of coastline.
The farm is running 6000 head of sheep and wool from Bangor is used in high-end suits.
“Bangor is a unique property with a mix native bushland and pasture. We care for the environment and run a viable sheep property at the same time,” Mrs Dunbabin said.
The property is home to a large number of animals and birds, including some of Tasmania’s most precious and iconic species. Marsupial residents include Tasmanian devils, wallabies, bettongs, wombats and quolls. There are more than 120 bird species including wedge-tailed eagles, sea eagles and swift parrots.
“We love what we do. The protection and sustainability of this special place forms the core of the management philosophy and practice here at Bangor.”
The Dunbabins’ efforts have resulted in being awarded the title of Australian farmer of the year.
Recently they got to share the spotlight with Hollywood star Cate Blanchett at a prestigious awards ceremony in Italy, where they received an ecological stewardship gong at the Green Carpet fashion awards.
This year’s event attracted big names in fashion and entertainment at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. The sustainable fashion awards and the EcoAge brand that sponsors them were created by actor Colin Firth’s wife Livia Firth.
Mrs Firth visited Bangor and was impressed by the Dunbabins’ attitude towards the land and the animals.
“She was really impressed by our attitude of being custodians of the land,” Mrs Dunbabin said.
“The Milan experience was exciting. It shone a light on Tasmanian wool producers.
“It was great being away but also it reminds you of how much you appreciate home,” she said.
For the awards Mrs Dunbabin wore a dress made from Tasmanian wool from Smitten Merino.
“We are hopeful about the future of fibre in the market and for sustainable farm practices to look after the planet,” she said.
Being in Milan allowed the Dunbabins to see where their superfine wool ends up.
“One company, Loro Piana, has a range of fabric branded Tasmania, made from superfine wool.”
The Dunbabins said Loro Piana targeted discerning customers who are passionate about nature.
They said the company was selling suits made from Tasmanian wool, including from Bangor, for EUR20,000 or close to $31,700.
“That’s crazy, we can’t even imagine that,” Mr Dunbabin said.
“About half a kilogram of wool goes into one of these suits. The wool from one of our sheep could produce enough wool to make two or three suits.”
Wool from Bangor Merinos ranges from 14 to 16 micron.
The Dunbabins shear three times a year and recently finished shearing their hoggets.
As well as superfine Merinos, Bangor also runs a flock of Coopworth and Poll Dorset crosses for prime-lamb production.
Much of the farm’s native grassland and bush is lightly grazed by Merino sheep in a manner that retains the health and diversity of native grasses, herbs, shrubs and trees.
Mr Dunbabin said it had been a dry spring so far after low rainfall in the autumn.
“Wool production is like any farming, cyclic, and at the end of the
More people are becoming aware of the environmental impact of synthetic fibres VANESSA DUNBABIN
day we produce superfine wool, but it’s still a commodity.
“But we know we can produce quality wool, and hopefully more brands will take an interest in where their wool comes from, and start to tell the story of the people and the land who produce it.”
Mrs Dunbabin said the buzzword at present was fast fashion.
“More people are becoming more aware of the environmental impact of synthetic fibres,” she said.
“Wool fits, it is a natural fibre and it has a story.”
The land at Bangor has been farmed since the 1830s. In the 1890s the Dunbabin family took over, with Matt the sixth generation of the family to run the property. The farm is laden with history, including Dutch explorer Abel Tasman landing on Bangor in 1642.
The first Dunbabin, John, was given a 14-year sentence and transported to Van Diemen’s Land for stealing a horse in 1830.
The bushfires in January 2013 destroyed one third of the property. From there the Dunbabins diversified to create a 4ha vineyard and the Bangor Vineyard Shed.
“We are proud Tasmanians and look forward to further showcasing this area,” Mr Dunbabin said.
INSIGHT: Matt and Vanessa Dunbabin of Bangor have recently returned from Italy, where they visited manuf
manufacturers using their superfine wool.
SUPER EFFORT: From top: Bangor Merino wool ranges from 14 to 16 micron; Vanessa and Matt Dunbabin with bales of wool; inset, ewes with their lambs on the farm in the state’s South-East.