IT’S the end of an era for the Newcastle wool sales, with next month’s three-day auction likely to be the last at the Hannell Street site – and possibly the last in the city.
Australian Wool Handlers, which leases the Maryville wool sheds, said yesterday it would vacate the site after the February 26 to 28 sales.
Melbourne-based Australian Wool Handlers chief executive officer Craig Finlay said the company, which transports wool samples to Newcastle for inspection by buyers at auction before exporting them, was walking away because the market was not viable. He said the volume of super-fine wool, mainly produced in the New England region, had shrunk and copped the ‘‘double whammy’’ of drought and poor market conditions.
‘‘There used to be up to 10 sales a year but now it’s only four, the market has just been eroded over time,’’ he said.
‘‘It is very sad, but we have to be realistic – we just can’t make it pay any more.’’
Australian Wool Exchange figures show the volume of wool sold in Newcastle has plummeted from 152,518 bales in the 1999-2000 season to the little more than 50,000 bales expected this financial year.
The Newcastle wool sales have been held in February, August, October and November and its closure would leave Sydney, Melbourne and Fremantle, with each running about 40 sales a year.
Mr Finlay said Australian Wool Handlers would probably move its sales operations to Sydney.
He said he expected the handful of wool brokers at the site to move elsewhere in Newcastle or to Rutherford, where wool bales are handled, tested and stored before being consigned for export.
‘‘There will be no change to our staff numbers ... the other offices have one or two people each and are manned intermittently as they are usually away travelling in the country looking after their clients,’’ he said.
Once owned by Australian Wool Handlers and businessman Con Constantine, the Maryville wool sheds were bought by Bradstreet Motor Group in May last year for $15 million. Bradstreet Motor Group director James Bradstreet said the company’s development application to set up its Newcastle headquarters at the 6.6-hectare site was still before Newcastle council.