IT may have seemed like a sideways step at the time, but leaving high school two years early proved to be a masterstroke for one wool industry stalwart.
Having grown up in one of the state's most productive wool districts, John Croake was always drawn to the sheep industry and decided at 16 he didn't want to muck around.
So after getting some first hand experience on his parents Pyramul property producing superfine wool, the teenager decided to take his passion to the next level.
"After I decided to leave school, I went to Grathlyn to wool roll there for two weeks and finished up staying there for 10 years," Mr Croake said.
"Under the guidance of Max Rayner Senior, I learnt as much as I possibly could from one of the industry's best.
"Max Snr taught me the ins and outs of wool and the stud industries and I've carried his lessons with me for the past 40 years in this great industry."
After a decade with the Mudgee stud, an opportunity to join Wesfarmers-Dalgettys as an area wool manger in Young came calling, and with it the start of a new career path.
"After getting that start I then moved to Coonamble to continue working for what was then Dalgettys and my patch went from Coonamble up into Queensland," Mr Croake said.
"I was only there for 12 months before I moved to Dubbo but my patch more or less stayed the same and stretched to Queensland.
"I stayed there until 2000 when I moved to Tamworth to cover the New England region for Dalgettys specialising in wool and studstock.
"From there I then left the company in 2003 and joined the Australian Wool Network (AWN), which turned out to be the best thing I ever did."
A start up organisation at the time, Mr Croake said helping AWN "go from what it was to where it is today" is one of the highlights of his career.
"I'll be honest, I have the best job in the world," he said.
"My passion has always been wool and studstock, predominantly in the fine-superfine areas but that has still connected me with clients all over northern NSW and southern Queensland.
"The best part of my job is the fact I get to deal with fair-dinkum people every day.
"As a kid from the land, sometimes you go into a role like this with that bit of the land still in your blood and this job gives me the ability to go onto different peoples' places every day, see something new, which still excites that kid off the land in me."
The job is not without its challenges, which Mr Croake said includes being "called a scone-gobbler" as well as long hours and countless kilometres behind the wheel, but he "wouldn't trade it for the world."
"It brings me a lot of joy to witness the successes people have and I feel a part of it which is really special," he said.
"I actually don't have a clientele, I just have a lot of friends. It's an industry where everyone gets along and I really am blessed to have the best job in the world."
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