SHEEP'S BACK: Bill Glover for 50 years has been living off the sheep's back and loving it.
SHEEP'S BACK: Bill Glover for 50 years has been living off the sheep's back and loving it. Peter Gardiner

Bill's future still all fleecy-lined

HIS punchline is as deceptively simple and effective as the Aussie-made wares he first sold on the bitterly cold roadsides of Europe.

"I've been in the sheep skin game for 50 years and never fleeced anyone.”

Peregian Beach's Bill Glover, who has literally made his living off the back of Australian sheep, turns 73 in May and is reflecting back on how as a 23-year-old he gave up a real estate career to set sail on what turned out to be a lifelong selling adventure.

Bill has run Sheep Skin & Opal World at Peregian for 18 years, but grew up in Sydney and when he was about 18, spotted a likely opportunity.

"I used to go up to Gosford on the old windy road and every time there was a guy selling sheep skins on the roadside. And every time I went past there seemed to be somebody pulled up.

"So I thought, geez that's an easy way to make a living, but I never did anything about it.”

Bill instead found good work as a property manager, then suddenly had the urge to go travelling, but not in the usual Aussie backpacker way via a long flight to London.

"One of my clients was the Australian agent for a big German shipping company and I said to him, 'If I wanted to go to Germany could you get me a job on one of your ships'.

"One month later I was heading out of Sydney Harbour on a big German cargo ship as a cleaner in the engine room.”

Bill sweated the voyage out for seven weeks and after a short stay in Germany travelled to Sweden to "check out the blonde girls” and married one.

"I worked in the Volvo car factory for a few months and then I remembered that guy who used to sell sheepskins on the roadside.”

Bill thought they would sell like hot cakes in this cold climate so he arranged for a sheep skin shipment of beautiful but pricey hides.

He gave himself four hours by the roadside to make some sales.

"I sat there for two hours and people went past looking at me like I was something unusual, and then bang, bang, bang, there were three sales.”

A Swedish friend arranged for a steady supply of cheaper, quality Aussie sheep skin hides and Bill was on the road to building a colourful business.

For three months he set up without asking any authority permission "because I knew they'd say no”.

"I put a rope back to the (VW) car and put the sheep skins on it and being and Australian and selling Australian sheep skins was something novel in Sweden.

"In the winter, the river (by the road) was all frozen and I'd have to get back into the car to warm up, but I was selling.

"I arrived in Sweden broke and when I left I had enough money to pay my passage home and bring the little car with me too. And I've been selling sheep skins since.”

Bill started up a small sheep skin shop in Sydney, but it was later when he moved to Hobart that his business really took off, first selling alongside a roadside fence near the airport.

"I stopped there for years and became very well known in Hobart.”

He lived the life selling on weekends and travelling Tasmania with his Swedish wife in between.

During the week he sometimes sold sheep skins to the crews of the apple cargo ships docking at Hobart. It was there he spotted a Japanese long line fishing boat.

"I thought I'd give it a go ... I didn't speak any Japanese, they didn't speak any English, but on I'd go with the skins.”

"This was the start of something - Hobart became the designated port of the Japanese tuna fleet - they had 160 tuna boats fishing in the Southern Ocean.

Bill now had regular buyers rolling in by the shipload out of a local shed and the would often give them "a cup of coffee and a cook's tour of the way (back to the dock)”.

"That business went beserk.”

His biggest setback was when a ship collided with the Tasman Bridge in 1975 bringing it down and cutting him off from his customers. He moved to an rundown old shop on Constitution Dock on the doorstep of his customers and there one of his best assets has been the humble Aussie ugg boot, which snapped up by the Japanese sailors.

"I was one of the first in Australia to start selling ugg boots for $14 - they were very simple, they didn't have a heel support or a left or right boot, but they felt wonderful and looked awful.”

After a marriage break-up Bill moved to his father's place in Buderim and eventually sold his Tassie business. Bill spotted an "run-down old nursery” at Peregian while on the way to Noosa for a swim.

He stopped into see if the couple running the business were interested in selling and bought it a month later - taking over a business site right on a major tourist route. He cleaned it up, built a house and eventually this developed into Sheep Skin & Opal World.

The opals became part of the business in Tasmania as a good sideline with his Japanese customers.

Bill still loves meeting and greeting all the many overseas tourists who drop in and tells his staff they must at least try to greet these visitors and then say "thank you” in their own language.

"I enjoy people, I often end up instead of selling things to people have a great in depth discussion on life.

"I tell them where to visit, to go down have a walk on the beautiful boardwalk at Coolum and visit Point Perry.

"They really appreciate that.

"I have no ambition to get bigger... I've done well,” Bill said.

And best of all - he's still by the road.

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