The re-birth of the Wiltshire Horn breed in Australia can be greatly credited to the Harwood family and in particular, to the late Mr. Leo Harwood. A man of vision, Leo Harwood played a major role in establishing the Wiltshire Horn as a unique, easy care breed well suited to the climatic conditions of this country.
In the late 1950’s, Leo established a small farm at Lilydale – 'Bara-Simbil', named in memory of a mountain range he flew over regularly during the war.
In 1968, Leo was reading an article on British Breeds of Sheep where the Wiltshire Horn was mentioned. He considered the wool loss and potential for lamb production worthy of further enquiries. He was soon to discover that only one flock of this breed had ever been registered in Australia and this had since vanished from the Flock Book. Further enquiries led him to Gordon Crosthwaite at East Belka near Merredin in Western Australia.
Photography by Tamara Cadd
The next challenge was to convince authorities to allow classes at country and then major shows. The first sheep that were exhibited were tall and spindly with very little depth in the body. As numbers increased, more critical selection took place with the breed making its major show debut at the Royal Melbourne Show in 1976.
In 1978, Leo Harwood died suddenly leaving his wife, Marli, son Robin and his family to carry on where he had left off. Robin, through careful selection continued to improve and develop the breed. In 2012, he passed this responsibility onto his daughter Fiona and her family.
In the following months, many government departments became involved in a variety of breeding programs. It was fast becoming apparent that the novelty was wearing off and the breed was going to have an impact on the prime lamb industry in this country.
It took some 18 months after the sheep arrived in Victoria, for the breed to be accepted for re-registration by the Australian Society of Breeders of British Sheep.
In 1971, The Australian Wiltshire Horn Sheepbreeders Association was formed.
Early 1969, the first shipment – one ram (Adam) and one ewe (Eve) arrived to the Harwood property (‘Bara-Simbil’) at Lilydale. The arrival of these sheep in the eastern State created a lot of interest with the press. However, at this time it was more of a novelty interest rather than being accepted as a sheep breed with a future.
Twelve months later, the second shipment (all remaining Wiltshire horns in Australia) arrived: 14 ewes, 5 ewe lambs and two ram lambs. Prior to their arrival, contact was made with a Nuffield Scholar from Wales, Iolo Owen – a name synonymous with the Wiltshire Horn breed in the United Kingdom.
Today, the ‘Bara-Simbil’ Stud at Congupna near Shepparton in Northern Victoria, Australia, continues to be operated by Leo’s granddaughter Fiona and her family including husband and veterinarian Brett Davis. They continue the tradition of supplying sheep to a variety of landholders across Australia. These people vary from farmers with large holdings, wanting numbers of easy care sheep and quality prime lambs through to people wanting stock for small farms or recreation blocks. The breed has come a long way since 1969.
Sheep from the ‘Bara-Simbil’ stud have been sent to many parts of the world. Countries include the USA, Cuba, Fiji, Kingdom of Tonga, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Indonesia, The Philippines and Zimbabwe. Many of these countries have had several exports from ‘Bara-Simbil’.
The Wiltshire Horn breed today is a testament to the foresight of Leo Harwood. After nearly slipping into oblivion almost 50 years ago, it is now one of the most popular British Breeds of Sheep in Australia.
Bara-Simbil: What's in a name?
The name 'Bara-Simbil' was one to which Leo Harwood felt a strong connection. During his time with the RAF in the Middle East (1941-1943), he flew more than 50 operations over enemy territory and was involved in the El Alamein conflict. He was shot down twice – lucky to return to Australia alive. He flew Lancaster Bombers across Egypt and when the Bara-Simbil Mountain range (Jabal Barah Sunbul) located south of Egypt, in Sudan, came into sight, he knew he was safe once more. He knew if he made it back to Australia, he would name his property 'Bara-Simbil'. When ill health in the late 1950’s forced Leo to retire to a small farm at Lilydale, Victoria he named the property 'Bara-Simbil' in memory of the mountain range he flew over regularly during the war.