‘There are still no toilets’: Calls for farmers to improve shearing shed amenities

Headshot of Shannon Verhagen
The group shearing in McAlinden.
Camera IconThe group shearing in McAlinden. Credit: Supplied

Farmers need to invest in suitable amenities for shearing teams, not just sheds and saleyards, according to an industry icon.

It could help slow the high turnover rates in the industry, which has been plagued by labour shortages for the past two years after the COVID pandemic halted the international travel of pro-shearers on the global circuit.

Despite progress being made, Merino industry stalwart Stephanie Brooker-Jones said shearers and shed staff were still being forced to work in “second and third world conditions” on some properties.

Speaking at the Women In Wool event on Friday, the first female president of Sports Shear Australia recalled her battle to find suitable accommodation and amenities for women when she got her start as a classer in the mid 1970s.

It was a time when males dominated the shearing sheds.

But today, there are many more females working on teams and Mrs Brooker-Jones said many sheds needed to be of a higher standard to cater for not only female staff, but all staff.

“I still think a lot of conditions are almost second and third world for women in shearing sheds and for people in general,” she said. “We’ve all had the old long drop and bucket showers.

“We can go to a modern day shearing shed and there’s still no toilets.

“No one minds walking to a house, but facilities are pretty basic at a lot of properties, while others are exceptional.”

While progress was being made, she said there was still further to go.

“I think people are working towards (better conditions),” she said.

“The last 10 years we’ve seen a lot of investment on-property — some fantastic shearing sheds going in, sheep yards and handling facilities.

“But we also need to think about the amenities for a lot of the staff out there.”

Merino industry stalwart and Elders district wool manager Stephanie Brooker-Jones.
Camera IconMerino industry stalwart and Elders district wool manager Stephanie Brooker-Jones. Credit: Supplied

Retaining staff, who could go on to mentor younger workers and uphold knowledge and respect in the sheds would go a long way to returning sheds to what they used to be, she said.

“I would like things to go back a little bit like they were — I think that we’ve lost a bit of the joy of the shearing sheds,” Mrs Brooker-Jones said.

“I really think that I had the best years with the camaraderie and teamwork — I think the industry’s fragmented a bit.

“I do still come across some really well-gelled shearing teams . . . but the generational change is that people change jobs every three to five years.”

She said jobs in the shed could lead to other careers in the industry, from shearing to classing, brokering and agricultural science, and it was important to educate people on the pathways available.

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