CASHMERE: The Story
The Sensuous Fibre
It was probably Mohair that covered the sacred tent, and Mohair that lined the Covenant box (Exodus25 ), history has reduced the description to 'Goats hair', whatever. Cashmere is the sensuous fibre. If you don't believe, buy a jumper, put your partner in it and feel.
What is Cashmere?
ANZ cashmere has developed into a separate highly improved textile entity in its short time on the international fibre scene.
Cashmere by traditional definition, is the fine, soft downy undercoat found on most goats, except angoras, and is associated with a courser hair, called guard hair. It serves the purpose of keeping the animals warm in Winter. The cashmere is shed at the end of Winter, leaving the animal with only its harsh guard hair. In the Middle East and Asia the cashmere is harvested by combing the cashmere when the animal is ready to moult. However here in Australia, we shear cashmere bearing animals just prior to them moulting.
Traditionally the world's main cashmere producers have been China, Mongolia, Iran and Afghanistan. The quality of cashmere from these countries is often poor due to contamination with dirt, lice eggs, scurf and coloured fibres. In the cases of Iran and Afghanistan, supply is also inconsistent due to politcal strife.
Cashmere is the finest and softest of the commercially available textile fibres. It is substantially lighter and warmer than wool of the same fineness. Hence cashmere occupies an elite position in the world textile market and the price it commands reflects that position.
Australian/ New Zealand animal husbandry practices and open spaces allow us to produce a well nourished fibre that has a life and feel that is unique. From Australian cashmere processors can produce a worsted yarn that has a strength and vitality never seen before.
Definition of Australian Cashmere
Australian cashmere is a unique, sensuous and rare natural fibre. Unique, in that it is super soft, light, warm and has its own very special lustre, which gives the fibre vitality. Sensuous, because it feels wonderful against bare skin. Rare, for only a limited number of animals grow this superb fibre.
The amazing discovery in 1973 among the feral goats of western New South Wales of animals bearing a surprisingly good coverage of cashmere beneath their otherwise uninteresting exterior coats of course hair, turned scientific and other eyes westward. There appears little record of 'kashmirs' being taken to Western New South Wales, but quite a number of mentions of small flocks being taken to Western Victoria. These flocks thrived only while their owners' interest held, or perhaps during the owners' lifetime.
We will trace them back as far as we can. The first fleece-bearing goats brought to Australia where those Cashmere-Angoras brought here by Mr. Alexander Riley in 1832. It must be agreed that, although called Cashmere-Angoras, they were bred towards Angoras as Angora bucks were used across the progeny.
So, as far as Cashmeres go, we forget them - or do we? Are they now showing up in our modern Angoras as recessive genes after so many years of too-close breeding?
Riley's successful cross-breeding and the name under which the animals where imported, had given rise to the idea that Angoras and Cashmeres were identical. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Cashmere is valued for the production of a very small quantity of downy undergrowth called 'duvet' by the French. This grows with a course, long guard hair. The 'duvet' is extremely valuable.
In its native land, the 'duvet' is shed in the spring and is carefully combed out. These goats, known as the 'Goat of Tibet' or 'of Cashmere' are found on the highland slopes of the Himalayas and in the valleys of Tibet and Kashmir. White, with bluish or reddish patches on the neck or shoulders, or pure white, it is a handsome creature. Some have a rich reddish or golden tinge on the surface of the fleece but the wool (pushm) is white or brown.
A number of Cashmere goats were introduced into Victoria in 1863. They were brought by Dr Chalmers from Chinese Tartary. It was a marathon trip 2000 miles overland to Calcutta, taking nine months. The heat in Calcutta. As to be expected, was too great for them and only 49 finally landed in Melbourne. Half of these did not survive long after the overall primitive travel conditions and general hardship. It is doubtful whether any of these Cashmere survived more than a year or so.
Small flock of pure Cashmere, descended from an importation of a buck and two does, was brought from India by an agent of the Peninsula and Oriental Company for Sir Samual Wilson about 1873. He ran them very successfully at Longerong in the Wimmera of Western Victoria.
Just when Cashmere were taken to Tasmania is difficult to determine, but there were Cashmeres there in 1874 - 'careful inspection shows a small quantity of silky hair near the skin completely hidden by the course outer hair. This inner hair may be obtained in small quantities by combing'.
Fleece-bearing goats were re-introduced in 1897 to New South Wales with animals from Tasmania, which were descendants of the importation by the Acclimatisation Society of Victoria in 1870. Some of these animals were finally sent to Mr. Knox's property near Wyalong. Could they have been Cashmeres and the direct direct forebears of the present day Cashmeres? There is so much confusion and so few records to say 'yea' or 'nay'.
Now we have to leave Cashmere in Australia for a hundred years until 1973.
In Western New South Wales, mobs of feral goats have been collected for use as foundation does to build up the number of Angoras by crossing with purebred Angora bucks.
The surprise discovery was made by Dr Ian Smith, of the University of Sydney, while inspecting a small mob of these feral goats. He noticed that a number of these animals had undercoats of soft, fine fibre. Beneath their heavy outer coats. He took a fleece sample to Mr. Val Clark of the CSRIO in Sydney, who measured the 'down' and the hair.
The 'down' made up 87% ( by count) of the total fibre, had a mean diameter of 13.5 microns and measured about 6 cm in average length. This suggested that the down was cashmere. The hair fiber's where about 60 microns and 5.5 cm in length.
Pure cashmere for commercial purposes is obtained by separating the 'down' from the courser hair. Samples of pure Asiatic cashmere where compared with the local down. The diameter of the Asiatic Cashmere averaged from 14.3 to 22 micron and the length from 3.2 to 6.1 cm with which the newly discovered 'down' compared favorably.