Old and young go head-to-head

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

It was shaping up to be a battle between the old dog and the young pup in Woolorama’s open wool handling classes, not that competitor Wayne Laird minded.

As the Cunderdin Ag College teacher, who has worked in wool sheds for 43 years, stepped onto the boards to face his former student Jessica Hayes, 20, he admitted he might never be able to beat her.

And for this year at least, Wayne was right.

The former Quairading farm girl beat Wayne in the first heat and then finished second overall to Wayne’s fourth.

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After graduating from Cunderdin in 2007, Jess progressed to full-time wool handling, working a cockies’ run in Boyup Brook and competing for fun.

Jess was not alone — former student Tom Reed, 21, competed in the shearing and wool handing competitions at Woolorama, while current Year 12 student Fraser Wittwer signed up for shearing.

Tom, who is based in York, works as a full-time shearer, while Fraser is keeping his options open until after graduation. They are part of the next generation stepping into the shearing industry, but there are not enough of them.

“Easy money like mining has a huge impact — it takes a heck of a lot of young people out of the agricultural industry, which sometimes leaves it battling for young players,” Wayne said.

Even Tom, who has wanted to shear since childhood, admitted there were few of his age who wanted take on shearing as a profession.

“A lot of kids don’t have that work ethic; they think it’s too hard,” he said.

“But you can’t make the kind of money we make, work 38 hours a week and have the atmosphere of working with your friends.”

Agricultural schools like Cunderdin have played a role in exposing students to the skills needed for the industry, but Wayne said the price of sheepmeat and wool may be the biggest incentive.

“I don’t know what the answer is. All we can do is keep encouraging, continue teaching and hopefully something will come of it,” he said.

“With sheep and wool prices the way they are at the moment, it should encourage farmers to run more sheep than they have done.

“This might be an opportunity for young people to come in, because there will be a lot more work.

“The longer the shearing season, the easier it is to keep people in the industry.”

As for Wayne, in what he said should be the twilight of his career, he’s hit his straps competition-wise.

For the past three years, he’s been part of the WA State team as a wool handler and travelled to New Zealand last year to represent Australia in the Golden Shears.

“I love it. That’s why I’m here,” he said. “People at this age probably shouldn’t be representing Australia at a young man’s sport, but I’ve got plenty of years left.”

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