For the past 30 years, Anne and Gus Gardner have built a flock of merino sheep that have finally delivered the golden fleece.
This week in Sydney, the Gardners will be recognised by fashion icon Ermenegildo Zegna with a second prize trophy for producing Australia and New Zealand’s finest and most valuable wool – putting it among the world’s best.
But high praise from the Italian suit-maker – a reported favourite of former prime minister Paul Keating – has been overshadowed by longstanding concerns that the Gardners’ days on their Penshurst property in southwest Victoria may be numbered.
The Gardners have been vocal opponents of Australia’s largest wind farm at Macarthur, which will put 140m-high wind turbines within 1.75km of their homestead and within 100m of their highly strung flock.
The $1 billion 420-megawatt Macarthur project is a joint venture between AGL Energy and Meridian Energy, and is touted as the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere.
Developers claim the 140 wind-turbine project will generate enough electricity to power the equivalent of 220,000 average Victorian households a year, with greenhouse gas emission savings of more than 1.7 million tonnes.
Ms Gardner is more concerned about the impact it will have on her farming family and award-winning sheep.
“These sheep have a highly sensitive nervous system,” she said. “Ultra-fine wool sheep are supposed to have a controlled environment because if they get stressed, the wool breaks. This is not going to be a little disturbance, it’s going to be a big one.”
Of the 2900 sheep on the property, 400 are kept in a shed and the rest are outside. While the award-winning ultra-fine wool makes 200,000c a kilo, lesser quality wool is worth only 2000c a kilo. Any stress on a sheep can affect the wool’s tensile strength, and therefore the price.
An AGL spokesman said the company was well aware of the Gardners’ concerns.
“The Gardners have been ardent objectors to the Macarthur Wind Farm development,” the spokesman said. “They have written to us on numerous occasions, and dialogue continues.”
However, the company said it did not believe wind turbines would have any noticeable impact on livestock.
“A wind farm and an ultra-fine wool enterprise already exist in close proximity at Challicum Hills, also in Victoria’s southwest, with no ill effect,” the spokesman said. “We believe the Gardners’ enterprise and wind turbines on neighbouring properties can comfortably co-exist.”
The Gardners claim AGL has refused to compromise or even listen to their concerns.
In a submission to the Senate inquiry into the social impact of wind farm developments, Mr Gardner said AGL had targeted Macarthur, which he described as “a very small, vulnerable community which is still trying to shake off the detrimental effect of being voted the most boring town in Victoria many years ago”.
He disputed the company’s claims of 90 per cent community support for the wind farm project, saying an analysis of the submissions showed 38 people had submitted multiple forms, and 50 per cent of the written submissions had come from family and friends of people who would profit personally from hosting wind turbines.
“As the two main proponents own beach homes at Port Fairy, a number of their retired friends have signed submissions supporting, in addition to friends with whom they play golf, away from this district,’ Mr Gardner said.
“Of the people who wrote supporting letters and the supposed around 1100 who signed supporting proformas, at least 95 per cent live outside the 9km consultation zone.
“Very few of the supposed 90 per cent of overwhelming support submitters live anywhere near the site.”
Mr Gardner said at least 50 per cent of adjoining neighbours had objected to the project.
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