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Australian clothing brand Courela celebrates 30 years making clothes for shearers across the world

From the fresh new roustabouts to world champions, shearers worldwide have pulled on the well-known Courela clothing brand hundreds of times over.

The brand, which makes shearing pants, singlets and jumpers, started out in the loungeroom of Noel and Kerry Johnson at their farm near Streaky Bay on South Australia's west coast.

That farm, also called Courela, was the inspiration behind the brand's name.

As the mum of two young children, Ms Johnson wanted to be able to work from home so started to make work clothes for her husband to shear in.


"I had been working in the shearing sheds and my mother-in-law had the kids before school and after school," Ms Johnson said.

"That was wearing a bit thin so I thought, 'I need to do something else where I can be at home'.

"It was also the last lot of droughts in the late 80s and we definitely needed more income, so I decided to make shearing clothes."


Special shearing requirements

Ms Johnson explained that shearing pants were quite different from normal pants and jeans.

"Shearing pants are made with a tough fabric. They have two layers at the front and an extra panel at the back," she said.

"They are worn a lot tighter-fitting, especially in the lower legs, and they are [worn] higher with the belt under the waist."

Knowing that a standard work trouser pattern would not be adequate, Ms Johnson found a pattern she thought would work and started experimenting.


Australian shearer Shannon Warnest often wears Courela clothing during shearing competitions.(Supplied: Kerry Johnson)


"I had my model in Noel. He would constantly tell me where I was going wrong and what he liked."


Mr Johnson, or Grub as he is more commonly known, said he still had his first pair of pants that his wife made for him.

"They never did fit real well, but that is where it started from."


From little things big things grow


The Johnsons' business with Courela grew from humble beginnings in the family home, and it was a case of all hands on deck.

So does Mr Johnson also get behind the sewing machine?

"I have been banned … I used to have a bit of a crack, but I was never real good.

"We were actually doing some footy jumpers one day and I was helping with the side seams and I sewed the whole lot together somehow. I was pretty much instantly dismissed from that," he said.

He said he would help out by cutting out material from time to time.

"We would shear all day and then come inside to cut out singlets at night and then wonder why by Friday we were puffed out, but that is what we had to do.

"It quickly took off from our little loungeroom at Courela and now we have the factory here in Streaky Bay," he said.

Worldwide success


The name Courela is seen in many shearing sheds around the world(ABC Rural: Brooke Neindorf)

Mr Johnson said he never imagined how far their shearing clothes would go, but with so many Australian shearers travelling the world, it did not take long for word to get out.

"We never intended for it to go so far, but a lot of the guys travel to Europe and everywhere around the world and they see them wearing the clothing and then others come to Australia and learn more about it.

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Shearing clothing brand, Courela, turns 30 years old(Brooke Neindorf)Download 10.6 MB

"It has really spread out as people travel and compete in competitions," he said.

Mrs Johnson said when she first started sewing for some extra cash she never thought it would turn into what Courela is today with a shop in the town.

"When you start you do try to achieve something big at the end.

"I now have my factory that I wanted. We have come a long way and we are pretty proud of that," she said.

Gone are the days of the blue singlet

Mrs Johnson said that over Courela's 30 year history, the materials they use has changed as they look for ways to keep shearers more comfortable.

"There is the new cool mesh fabrics, which are supposed to breathe more for the shearers, and we have had to keep up with what is out there and available," she said.

It is not only the texture of the fabric that has changed, but the colours as well with a lot more brighter colours growing in popularity in the shearing sheds.

"The girls in particular like to make their stamp on what they wear and not all be the same as the next person," Mrs Johnson said.

"[Colourful designs] brighten the day up too because it is hard, hot work in the shearing shed."

But it is not only the women who like to show a bit of flare, with the blokes enjoying brightly-coloured clothes in the shearing sheds.

"I think it is pretty much the norm these days — if you are getting around with an old blue singlet on you would be classed as a bit of an outcast," Mrs Johnson said.

"Some of the colours are pretty wild. The old purple singlet is pretty popular.

"Some of the biggest, ugliest fellas are wearing pink singlets and you just have to laugh."

Kerry and Noel "Grub" Johnson have been running Courela clothing for 30 years.(ABC Rural: Brooke Neindorf)

https://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2018-05-12/courela-clothing-turns-30/9710810


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