Shearing school a cut above

Dorothy HendersonCountryman
The shearing school group.
Camera IconThe shearing school group. Credit: Dorothy Henderson

For two weeks from July 1, handpieces whirred and brooms swished on boards in a shearing shed near Condingup.

Instead of the usual hive of activity that is a busy shed during time-sensitive shearing, it was a gentler pace in this Epasco Farm shed, where the focus was on the quality of the work being done, not the speed at which the sheep were entering counting-out pens.

The shearers, roustabouts and wool classers were all taking part in an Australian Wool Innovation Limited–sponsored shearing school, co-ordinated by Esperance grower group ASHEEP and its executive officer Basil Parker.

Participant Dolly Wallace and AWI wool handling instructor Amanda Davis check out a Merino fleece with AWI shearing instructor Todd Wegner.
Camera IconParticipant Dolly Wallace and AWI wool handling instructor Amanda Davis check out a Merino fleece with AWI shearing instructor Todd Wegner. Credit: Pictures: Dorothy Henderson, Dorothy Henderson

The two-week school provided participants with free training, which included daily transport between Esperance and Condingup.

Mr Parker said the school was intended to provide an introduction into the industry for younger people considering their future employment options.

Matthew Reid, of Esperance, enjoyed the hard work and team spirit of the shearing shed.
Camera IconMatthew Reid, of Esperance, enjoyed the hard work and team spirit of the shearing shed. Credit: Pictures: Dorothy Henderson, Dorothy Henderson

He said while young people were seeking work, the shearing industry was in a phase when current workers were close to retirement and the pressure was on to find those who could handle the wool being produced by farmers.

During the school, AWI wool-handling trainer Amanda Davis and shearing instructors Kevin Gellatly and Todd Wegner worked with up to 10 trainees as they learnt the art of taking off a fleece and all aspects of wool handling.

Participant Dolly Wallace with AWI wool handling instructor Amanda Davis.
Camera IconParticipant Dolly Wallace with AWI wool handling instructor Amanda Davis. Credit: Dorothy Henderson

Ms Davis said some of the students had experience working in shearing sheds but wanted to improve and broaden their skill sets.

Others had no experience, while some were still at school, and some were unemployed and eager for work.

Ms Davis said the shearing industry was a great one to work in and that the problems it faced were the same ones that dogged other sectors in society.

Esperance-based trainee Edward Mumford said that while he was still at school, he was keen to follow in his parents’ footsteps and pursue a career in the shearing industry.

“My dad used to shear, and my mum is a wool classer,” he said.

“It’s hard work but the money is good.”

Dolly Wallace works on her fleece-handling skills at the Esperance shearing school.
Camera IconDolly Wallace works on her fleece-handling skills at the Esperance shearing school. Credit: Dorothy Henderson

Time spent in sheds during his childhood had not deterred Mr Mumford from entering the shearing shed scene.

He said he enjoyed the team spirit characteristic of the working environment, and had found that same camaraderie in the shearing school.

“I came here knowing only one person: now I know everyone,” Mr Mumford said. He said that during the school, he had worked on improving his shearing stroke.

Mr Gellatly said that by training shearers and shedhands well, quality standards in the industry could be maintained.

Mr Parker said ASHEEP had been keen to establish a shearing school for some time but the AWI support had enabled that idea to become a reality.

Aidan Armstrong, of Esperance, Raymond Edgar, of Broome, and Edward Mumford, of Esperance, at the school.
Camera IconAidan Armstrong, of Esperance, Raymond Edgar, of Broome, and Edward Mumford, of Esperance, at the school. Credit: Dorothy Henderson

He said the shearing school had been well supported by locals, with Bay of Isles Shearing allowing the participants the use of two of its buses for transport to and from Esperance, while Epasco Farms had provided the shed and the sheep that made it possible.

The training had involved more than just shearing sheep and handling wool. Financial consultant Tamara Virgo provided some advice to participants on how to handle the financial rewards of hard work, and members of the industry gave them an insight into how they might be able to carve a worthwhile future for themselves.

Mr Parker said that the aim was to encourage people into the industry and provide them with knowledge and skills that would retain them.

“A good shearing technique is important for animal welfare and also for the health and wellbeing of the shearer,” he said.

“We are trying to encourage people who enter the industry to look after themselves so that they stay healthy for longer and stay in the industry for longer.” Mr Parker and local shearing identity Stuart Matthews will be working on providing follow-up support and mentoring for graduates of the 2019 Epasco shearing shed school.

Efforts would also be made to provide an entry into the industry for those keen to take their interest into professional territory.

“We are planning to hold a follow-up training day, and hope to hold a similar school in the north, possibly near Geraldton,” Mr Parker said.

Mr Wegner said moves were afoot to provide school graduates entering the industry with an introductory shearer’s starter kit, worth about $1200, but heavily discounted for participants.

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