National prize for WA wool legend
Legendary shearer Kevin Gellatly believes the hard yakka occupation is as much about mental fitness as it is about the physical equivalent.
And after 55 years in the industry, you’d believe him.
Gellatly was awarded the industry’s greatest accolade — the Australian Wool Industry Medal — on Saturday.
The annual medal recognises men and women who have made an exceptional and sustained contribution to the Australian wool industry.
A formidable figure at nearly six foot tall, Gellatly couldn’t hold back tears when he accepted the award at the WA Shearing Industry Association’s annual general meeting.
The tears were not a sign of weakness, but of just how much the career shearer and shearer trainer loves the industry.
Gathering his thoughts, Gellatly grinned as he told the crowd he always had “sheep s... on the brain” and believed shearing had given him the best life he could have had.
The shearer and Australian Shearers’ Hall of Fame inductee later told Countryman what he valued most of 40 years on the handpiece was the time spent in sheds across WA.
“I love walking into a shed, smelling lanolin and enjoying the atmosphere ... it feels like home,” he said.
“I have spent most of my life in the shed. It is amazing catching up with old shearers that have continued to contribute to the industry.”
Gellatly was raised at Perenjori and started his working life as a shearer at the age of 17 — joining Peter and Val Hobson’s run after completing a two-week shearing school.
He boarded at Aquinas College, but his mind was on the boards of WA’s Mid West.
I have spent most of my life in the shed. It is amazing catching up with old shearers that have continued to contribute to the JU industry.
Shearing 80 a day in his first week on the job, Gellatly realised he was “pretty good” at shearing and quickly decided a life at the stand was for him.
After two years working with the Hobsons, he headed home and started to shear for his brother — quickly taking the reins of the business and running it.
In 1984, he sold his run and joined the shearing team of legend Brian “Boro” Beresford, who died at the age of 78 last year. The pair became great mates and travelled the country and across the ditch together for about 10 years.
Gellatly was driven to do more than his fellow shearers and became a gun shearer, becoming a master shearer in 1997 by winning more than 10 open shearing titles.
He established himself as one of the fastest shearers in WA and proved it when he shore 276 “huge” wethers at Pinnacle Station near Paynes Find around 1983.
Gellatly later shore 255 rams at Shackleton flanked by his mate, fellow gun shearer, David Lawrence — who beat him by one ram at 256. The pair are the only two WA shearers in the Australian Shearer’s Hall of Fame.
He likens every day in a shed to competing in gun shearer competitions.
“Shearing is very competitive,” Gellatly said.
“Your head might say, ‘I will take it easy and shear 150 today’, but then your mate says, ‘I will shear 200’, and suddenly you are in a race.
“It is very competitive and just a unique industry to be in. Your tally is something you can talk about, it is always a fun place to be.”
In 1991, he landed a job with Heiniger and travelled to farms across the country repairing the company’s handpieces and other gear.
After a 20-year career at Heiniger, he left aged 64 but was determined to keep a foot in in the door of the industry he loves most.
These days, Gellatly helps to run similar shearing schools to the one that shaped his own shearing techniques at the age of 17.
He has been employed as a shearer trainer with Australian Wool Innovation for the past 15 years, travelling the State and teaching youngsters to shear.
Some of his most successful students — for example Mark Buscumb of Crackers Contracting — have started their own businesses.
“You learn discipline shearing, you know it is going to be hard,” he said.
“But if you have the mental power to get through the first two hours, you will be OK.
It is very competitive and just a unique industry to be in. Your tally is something you can talk about, it is always a fun place to be.
“Shearing is like riding a bike, you don’t forget. But it is also a mental game... it is about mental toughness.”
Not one to spruik his talents, Gellatly believes he has been “gifted” with the ability to “get the best out of people”.
His face glows as he talks about the satisfaction of seeing a student achieve something they may have thought impossible.
“When you watch someone progress to being able to shear a full sheep, it is so nice to stand back and watch them achieve that,” he said.
“It is so rewarding to watch them think ‘hell, I have achieved something I thought I’d never be able to do.
“I would say my technique is unique, I am very hard on those learning and want them to be shearing well.
“I was always a good talker and knew how to motivate people.”
One of Gellatly’s favourite adages is that a “farmer wants all of their wool and a sheep wants always its skin”.
Gellatly was nominated by his partner Amanda Davis and WA Shearing Industry Association.
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