Sir William Vines, a legend of the Australian wool industry, died in Sydney last Thursday (January 6). He was 94.
He shot to prominence in the wool industry in June, 1961, when he was appointed the first managing director of the International Wool Secretariat (IWS), a promotion and research partnership formed in 1937 by Australia, NZ and South Africa (Uruguay joined in 1970).
Vines was then 45 and the London-based head of the Lewis Berger paint company. The IWS had experienced steady but unspectacular growth until William Gunn took its helm in 1958 (he was also chairman of the Australian Wool Bureau which was restructured into the Australian Wool Board in late 1962) and started pushing for a big boost in its budget to fund a major new promotion drive to stop the inroads being made by synthetic fibres.
Vines and Gunn, who died in 2003, formed a formidable alliance during the decade until Vines resigned in 1968 and returned to Australia to chair the local board of the big pastoral house, Dalgety and New Zealand Loan Ltd (which has since evolved into Landmark).
In 1960-61 Australian growers were providing a modest five shillings a bale (about $6 in today's money) for wool promotion.
When Gunn was appointed chair of the new Wool Board he almost immediately announced the new board needed £11 million pounds annually (about $260 million in today's dollars) which equated to a per bale levy of about $52 to fund a five-year promotion plan.
This caused outrage, particularly among growers who wanted the industry's marketing issues, particularly the ongoing and divisive debate about a wool floor price scheme, sorted out before their money was spent on extra promotion.
The two Bills - Gunn and Vines - won the day but the levy was changed from a per bale levy to a percentage of the gross value of returns (almost two per cent) to make the tax fairer for producers of lower-quality wools.
In February, 1964, Vines unveiled the Woolmark symbol which had been created by Italian artist, Francesco Saroglia, and was to be the centrepiece of the IWS's new promotion strategy. The symbol remains at the core of Australia's international wool promotion aimed at positioning the Merino fibre at the top of the textile tree. Most of the world's leading wool processors initially rejected the Woolmark concept but gradually signed up as licencees.
Vines returned to the wool spotlight in late 1970 when the then federal Primary Industry Minister, Doug Anthony, appointed him interim chairman of the newly-created Australian Wool Commission which began operating a flexible reserve price at auctions to stop the industry being torn apart by overproduction, poor prices and depressed textile demand.
The fledgling commission was given a baptism of fire during 1971 as demand continued to dwindle and its bought-in stockpile grew.
By August, 1971, the commission had stocks of 339,000 bales and the outlook was grave but Vines refused to blink.
The wool tide turned and in February, 1972, when auction prices took their biggest daily jump (15 cents a kg clean) since the Korean War, driven by demand from Japan and Eastern Europe.
The market lift allowed the commission to unload 170,000 bales out of its stockpile which by then contained 750,000 bales. During the next few months the commission slashed its wool stocks.
In June, 1972, Federal Cabinet approved the creation of the Australian Wool Corporation through the merger of the Wool Commission, Wool Board and Wool Testing Authority.
Vines stepped away from the wool industry at this point but returned to plot a recovery course after the wool floor price scheme was abolished in 1991 with the AWC holding a stockpile of 4.7 million bales and debts of almost $3 billion.
He recommended the creation of three new bodies to take responsibility for promotion, marketing and industry services (the Australian Wool Corporation), liquidation of the stockpile (the Australian Wool Realisation Commission) and research and development (the Australian Wool Research Corporation).
Vines advised the government to permanently scrap the floor price scheme, sell the AWC's assets including its large network of wool stores and set a trigger price for the release of wool from the stockpile.
He was knighted in 1976 for his service to primary industry. His funeral service was held yesterday in the Camellia Chapel, Macquarie Park Crematorium, North Ryde.