When Sam Coulton decided to diversify his family’s cotton growing business in 1992 he assembled a tight-knit team of designers, marketers, and managers to operate the business.
Goondiwindi Cotton fashion house was born – but as Sam later discovered, there was one member of staff he hadn’t counted on.
Official cat duties
When I arrived at their headquarters and flagship store just off the Goondiwindi main street I was greeted by Dana and the staff.
He Kind of just wandered in and made himself at home one day, Dana tells me.
She’s referring to Ginger, the friendly tom cat that became an unlikely addition to their team one day when he walked in off the street and decided that Goondiwindi Cotton was to be his home.
Dana takes me through to the main office room where shelves of stock towered over a large table which held patterns and sketches of soon-to-be fashion pieces. To the side was a small office and asleep on a chair in the corner was Ginger. A chair that had been placed there long ago for Ginger’s sole use.
The exact date of Ginger’s commencement seems to be up for debate, and though his tenure out-spans many of the current members of staff, it is generally agreed that he arrived in either Christmas 2010 or ’11.
Disturbed by our discussions, Ginger awoke with a stretch and his toe beans parted as he finished a yawn. His missing teeth showing his age.
He jumped down from his chair and did a lap of the shop before asking to be let out of the front door.
Outside, Ginger sniffs around one of the ornamental cotton bushes before disappearing into the hedge.
If cats have a sixth sense then first and foremost – in my experience – that sense is knowing exactly when I want to take a nice photo of them, and proceeding to deny me of the privilege of taking it.
It was time for my secret weapon – a squeezable chicken treat in a tube.
Ginger’s interest piqued – just long enough to get a shot of him before he backed into the bush once more. It was clear that whatever official duties Ginger was performing from within the hedge were beyond my comprehension.
The day that never came
Ginger’s life now at Goondiwindi Cotton is one of utmost nurture and adoration, but the question remains – where did he come from?
Sam found us outside and introduced himself. A man in his 70’s wearing a long sleeved shirt and a cap with 4390 embroidered on the front – the postcode for Goondiwindi.
I’m here to photograph ol’ Ginge, I said.
That bastard of a cat, where is he? Sam exclaimed with an endearing Australian drawl and a smirk.
Dana assured me that despite the bravado, Sam’s affections for Ginger do indeed run deep.
Sam lamented on the choice of name for the cat upon his arrival nearly a decade ago.
The name ginger.. we thought someone would come and claim him. Otherwise we would have named him something proper, Sam.. or Richard.
But that day never came.
Every car that pulled up for years, or a caravan, he would be out the front to smell it.. so we thought he came out of a caravan.
Why they didn’t come back for him, we don’t know.
Sam and the staff put it out over the local radio station to see if anyone knew of a ‘missing cat’. They called the local vets and everyone they could think of.
No one replied.
We will never know with certainty the full story, but as for the caravan that may or may not have left him here, it’s a distant memory for Ginger who has now made the shop his home and the staff his doting carers.
Sam offered to take me on a quick tour of the farm just outside of town, so we left Ginger to be under the hedge.
Waiting for rain
The fields were bare as we drove into Alcheringa farm, a 3000 acre pesticide-free property that was the first to product cotton in the area back in the 70s. In 1978 they harvested their first cotton crop which Sam describes as white gold.
Harvesting had been completed earlier in the year and they were getting the fields ready for sowing and improving the efficiency of their irrigation system.
We’re not going to plant this year, unless we get water in the dams, Sam told me.
Like all the other farmers in the Murray-Darling Basin, Sam is waiting for rain.
We stopped at a shed in the middle of the fields where visitors can learn about the process of growing cotton. Sam shows me a harvester – hundreds of spindles remove the cotton from the plant before it is bailed and dropped at the back.
The bails are then taken to be ‘ginned’ where a machine separates the seed from the cotton fibre. The fibres are then used to make textiles while the seed is used to make cottonseed oil.
Some of this cotton will make its way to the 200 boutique clothing stores that stock Goondiwindi Cotton garments.
Back at the shop
We arrived back at the shop as Ginger exited the hedge with his dirtied front paws and sat down outside the shop. It was now 4:30pm and he was approaching his dinner time – this meant that he was much more agreeable to having his photo taken.
Ginger worked on his power-poses as I worked the camera.
Dana tells me that he’s the boss of the dogs.
Boomer, Sam’s dog will hang out at the back of his wagon enjoying the breeze. Ginger will sit underneath the tailgate dissuading Boomer from getting out of the vehicle.
She is absolutely terrified of him.
Ginger enters the shop and does a quick inspection to ensure that garments are folded correctly and stock levels are maintained.
Although it is unclear exactly how integral he is to the running of the business, he can often be found on the photocopier or someone’s desk. However, when I pressed him as to the exact nature of his duties within the company I was ignored.
A common office prank involves Deb yelling out, There’s a problem with my computer, only for Lee to rush in to find Ginger sprawled out on top of the keyboard.
During stock dispatch there will be boxes stacked high and you can count that Ginger will be sitting on the top looking down at everyone.
Ginger’s residency in the shop is well known.
When coach tours arrive he will walk out into the middle of the shop and set himself down while customers gather around to admire him.
Some of them will pat him rather than shop which is a bit of a problem, Deb tells me.
It was now 5pm and the end of the work day. Ginger jumped down from the sales counter and made it known that it was his dinner time.
Dana followed him through to the office kitchen where she put his food in a bowl and placed it down. As many career cats will tell you, nutrition is critical to perform in these environments, and Ginger certainly will be pushing himself for 6, or even a 7th nap tomorrow.
So, to the cat that will soon be eligible for long service leave, I said goodbye, and goodbye too to Goondiwindi Cotton. For tomorrow is another busy day and Ginger had a lot of paperwork to sit on.
* * *
I want to quickly thank Sam, Dana, and the rest of the team for having me for the afternoon. It was such a joy to hear Ginger’s story and to see the farm.
If you are next in Goondiwindi be sure to add a Goondiwindi Cotton tour to your trip, and maybe you’ll get to meet Ginger for yourself.
We are nearing the end of our Springtime Road Trip with just days to go.