Les Boothey, well known to the flooring industry, served as Interior Textiles Manager at the Australian Wool Corporation until his retirement in 1991. He was responsible for bringing us into the ‘golden age’ when it came to carpets in this country and showcasing one hundred percent pure wool carpeting, and more. Les talks about his work life and we take a nostalgic look back at the industry, the Australian Wool Corporation and shine a light on a remarkable man…..
What do you feel have been the career highlights for you looking back?
Looking back on my career highlights is very much like reliving my life in the Textile Industry. Having studied Textiles in the early 1950s, I became involved in the manufacturing of woven fabrics from purchasing the raw wool through to blending, scouring, carding, spinning, weaving and finally to finishing. After achieving such positions as Weaving, Production and Factory Manager with leading Australian Companies, in November 1966 I was invited to join the Australian Wool Board which later became the Australian Wool Corporation. It was here that I achieved my career highlights.
Tell us about your long association with the Australian Wool Corporation?
After being with the Australian Wool Corporation (AWC) for several years and always being interested in wool carpet, in the late 1960s early 1970s I became very involved in the Carpet Industry until retiring in November 1991. That’s 25 years ago!
What’s the history of the Australian Wool Corporation?
It is well-known that the Australian Wool Industry has a long history dating back several hundred years. The Australian Wool Board (AWB) was formed in 1936, then the International Wool Secretariat was formed in 1937. The IWS was funded by the major wool growing countries. Being the largest wool growing country, Australia had the major involvement.
What impact did your association have on the flooring industry? How has that changed the shape of the industry today?
Always enthusiastic to pursue product development and innovation, and with these resources continuing to be available at our Technical Centre in Ilkley U.K. by the IWS, I was very fortunate to be able to feed these new developments immediately into the Australian Industry.
A) A most interesting development for the ‘Wool Fibre’ was the Felted Wool Yarn . The Yarn, coloured or natural is felted in various counts, fine or coarse in texture before being used to manufacture rugs and carpets. Both carpet manufacturers who spun their own yarn and yarn spinners took up the concept with enthusiasm.
B) In my opinion the biggest event to occur for wool in the Carpet Industry was the natural appeal of “Berber”. This took the World and the Australian Industry by storm and whilst over four decades have now passed, it still has a commanding influence on the flooring industry today. Originally the Berber concept was taken up from the Nomad Berber Tribes of North Africa who used the fleeces straight from their sheep, naturally coloured or white, blended it together then spun it into a yarn for their clothing and rugs.
What were some of your lasting memories and greatest achievements at the Corporation?
A memorable highlight is that I very much enjoyed my relationship with the Industry Leaders and respected their continuing input into our numerous joint promotional activities over many years. Together we made an indelible impact for wool consumption in both the Domestic and the Contract market where our “Wool in Architecture” information was also very successful. On my departure from the AWC in November 1991 I was pleased that Wool consumption in carpets was approaching 50% of total fibre usage, its highest level ever.
After retirement, is there anything you particularly miss?
On my departure from the AWC I really missed the companionship of my staff and technical colleagues who played a substantial role in my achievements. However, after 27 years we still contact each other and have a lunch get-together 3-4 times a year to enjoy each other’s company.
Talk about your family life. Was flooring in your blood?
When I commenced with the AWC in 1966 I met my future Wife and we married several years later. As life moves on Joan and I have down-sized from a large family home as most of the children have married and moved on. Joan has always played a supporting and substantial role in my career. She was also Personal Assistant to the AWC Technical Manager when we met so always shared in my activities and progress through the years. Wool is still in our blood and having experienced the overall superior performance of wool carpet in two large family homes – the first for 22 years and the second for the same period, we were very happy to choose our second Berber for our current home.
Any industry lowlights you care to mention? Highlights too?
The only lowlight in my long career was leaving the AWC for the last time in 1991. However, the over-riding highlight has to be the Industry Farewell given to me on my departure. This Farewell was graciously hosted at The Victoria Carpet Co. by Michael Oakley, the Directors and Staff. Forever grateful!