Mid West wool camp is such a shear thing

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Mhunga Whalla camp participants include Brentley Comeagain, veteran shearer Bobby Pepper, Robert Ronan, Edward Ponta, Lesson Flanagan and Clinton Narrier in the back row, with Jamaine Narrier, Robbie Speight, Kahsan Stack and Taharna Mitchell, 16, in the front row.
Camera IconMhunga Whalla camp participants include Brentley Comeagain, veteran shearer Bobby Pepper, Robert Ronan, Edward Ponta, Lesson Flanagan and Clinton Narrier in the back row, with Jamaine Narrier, Robbie Speight, Kahsan Stack and Taharna Mitchell, 16, in the front row. Credit: Picture: Bob Garnant

A group of Mid West Aboriginal youths have taken to the shearing boards at a Northampton wool shed beaming with natural talent and a positive career outlook.

Countryman reporter Bob Garnant reports.

The Mhunga Whalla Shearing and Woolhandling training camp is aiming to discover new shearing talent to combat the shearing industry’s ageing workforce.

The camp, which started on January 6 and finishes today, will open up new opportunities for Mid West youngsters to pursue a career in wool.

Nine camp participants aged between 16 and 29 were all from Geraldton and had no prior wool experience.

Taharna Mitchell, who was among the camp’s participants, was eager to learn more about the greasy commodity, because her grandfather was a shearer.

Taharna Mitchell, 16, showed talent on the shearing boards.
Camera IconTaharna Mitchell, 16, showed talent on the shearing boards. Credit: Bob Garnant

The 16-year-old said she learned how to skirt a fleece and look for stains and any contamination.

“I had great support at the camp, learning how to shear a sheep and class the wool, which I would consider as a career option,” she said.

“We were also informed that China buys the majority of our wool and that it is highly valued, which I didn’t know.”

Ms Mitchell said if she was not at the camp, she would have been going to the beach, visiting her grandmother or walking her dog.

“I was thinking about taking some course in social work, as I have had good support from the social network in the past,” she said.

Robert Ronan excelled in shearing at the camp, led by Mhunga Whalla — a Geraldton-based Aboriginal not-for-profit organisation.

Mr Ronan said he would be keen to take up the handpiece in a full-time role.

Taharna Mitchell, 16, and Robert Ronan stepped out of their Geraldton town life to embrace a golden fleece opportunity.
Camera IconTaharna Mitchell, 16, and Robert Ronan stepped out of their Geraldton town life to embrace a golden fleece opportunity. Credit: Bob Garnant

“The past three years I have been training as a boxer, which has kept me in good physical shape,” he said.

“I am very competitive and would miss my boxing, but I understand there is competitive shearing, which would interest me.”

Mr Ronan said he learned that a shearer must minimise injury to maintain a steady work flow.

“Shearing is a respected trade and I would definitely take up a full-time position,” he said.

Kahsan Stack, 21, relied on her netball experience to throw a fleece on to the table.

“I competed on the WA under 15s State team and found the camp of a similar physical nature,” she said.

“I would be interested in taking a wool-classing course.”

Kahsan Stack found the physical nature of woolhandling similar to her netball training.
Camera IconKahsan Stack found the physical nature of woolhandling similar to her netball training. Credit: Bob Garnant

The project is in collaboration with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development’s Aboriginal Economic Development.

It was also boosted by Australian Wool Innovation funding.

Mhunga Whalla committee member Simone Mahoney said social and cultural values were incorporated into the camp.

Northampton farmer Greg Teakle described the students as “gifted” with shearing talents.

“The students have good eye to hand co-ordination, which makes for a good shearer or woolhandler,” he said.

Mr Teakle volunteered his Ingavale shed for the camp, with Merino sheep supplied by Charles and Dianne Hulme and their son Brendon, of Ajana.

Mr Hulme said it was imperative the wool industry secured new shearing and woolhandling entrants.

AWI shearing trainer Kevin Gellatly said it was important to bring the camp to where it was needed in country WA.

“We set tasks that the students could achieve and a few were able to shear a sheep on their own, on the first day,” he said.

Camp participant Robert Ronan traded his boxing gloves for shears.
Camera IconCamp participant Robert Ronan traded his boxing gloves for shears. Credit: Bob Garnant

“These students are very co-ordinated and have proven they can be very good with animals.”

DPIRD principle business development officer Ashley Talbot said the camp was created to encourage new entrants into the shearing industry and support training in the Mid West.

“It is beneficial to the shearing industry that the camp takes place to work with Aboriginal youth who have natural talent and are excellent with animals,” he said.

“The shearing industry is an ageing workforce and needs to bring through new talent.”

Also participating was Nhunda Aboriginal Bobby Pepper, who has been a shearer for 55 years.

Edward Ponta, who has cerebral palsy, shears a Merino under the watchful eye of AWI trainer Kevin Gellatly.
Camera IconEdward Ponta, who has cerebral palsy, shears a Merino under the watchful eye of AWI trainer Kevin Gellatly. Credit: Bob Garnant

“The opportunities in the Mid West are amazing for these young students,” he said.

“It is our hope that we can have three camps every year open to both indigenous and non-indigenous participants.”

WA Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan said she hoped the camp would be the first of many throughout the State.

“Many young Aboriginal people today had grandparents in the industry and they live in sheep growing regions,” she said.

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