Photography project connects shearers from Wheatbelt to Uruguay

Headshot of Liam Croy
Liam CroyThe West Australian
Shearer Peter Rhind.
Camera IconShearer Peter Rhind. Credit: Astrid Volzke

“Pistol” Pete is a straight shooter.

He is rarely the biggest shearer in the shed — nor the youngest — but Peter Rhind has a lifetime of experience to his name.

And he tells it like it is.

“It is a good life, but it’s very hard,” Mr Rhind said.

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Shearer Peter Rhind.
Camera IconShearer Peter Rhind. Credit: Astrid Volzke

If you have spent a day in a shearing shed, even as an observer, you would know not to argue with that.

Mr Rhind has made plenty of friends and earned plenty of respect in his time in the Shire of West Arthur in the Wheatbelt.

But last week, he made some new fans in Uruguay.

Mr Rhind’s passion for shearing was shared by WA photojournalist Astrid Volzke as part of a project she calls Our Photo Stories.

A shearer’s hands.
Camera IconA shearer’s hands. Credit: Astrid Volzke

Volzke, formerly a photographer at The West Australian, is on a mission to document life in country WA and bring communities closer together.

She is trying to do that by running workshops where she teaches community members how to take better photographs and tell their stories using images and sounds.

Those stories can then be shared online throughout WA and beyond.

Their photo story might focus on a person, a place or an event — anything that provides an insight into life in the country.

Shearing contractor George Gray in the shearing shed.
Camera IconShearing contractor George Gray in the shearing shed. Credit: Astrid Volzke

By empowering people with those skills, Volzke hopes to foster a sense of connection and companionship which will endure after the workshops have finished.

She said she was struck by the honesty of Mr Rhind, a man who has spent decades earning honest dollars.

In shearing, to a degree seen in few other professions, the amount of cash you take home depends on how hard you are willing to work.

Some people think of it as a young man’s game because of the strain it puts on knees and backs.

With fewer young men picking up the shears, local legends like Pistol Pete are as valuable as ever.

Wool classers.
Camera IconWool classers. Credit: Astrid Volzke

“Pete’s lovely,” Volzke said.

“Just sitting with him, I liked how he was so honest.

“I said to him, ‘Can you describe shearing for someone who’s never been in a shed before?’

“He looked at me and he said he couldn’t really because that’s all he’s done. That’s all he knows.

“He’s a hard worker, but he thought the interview was quite good because it saved him shearing a few sheep.”

Farmer Karyn Buller.
Camera IconFarmer Karyn Buller. Credit: Astrid Volzke

Volzke put together a photo story featuring Mr Rhind and posted it on the Our Photo Stories Facebook page.

On Thursday morning, it was shared by a shearer in Uruguay.

“We’ve been chatting all morning to this guy,” Volzke said.

“He doesn’t speak English but Facebook has a translator.

“That’s exactly my big vision of it all — to connect rural communities and it doesn’t just have to be in Australia.”

A working kelpie clears the fence.
Camera IconA working kelpie clears the fence. Credit: Astrid Volzke

The Uruguayan shearer told Volzke he dreamed of going to the World Shearing Championships.

She was planning to put him in touch with a local shearing contractor, in case he decided to ply his trade in WA.

One day, he might even catch up with Pistol Pete.

Volzke has completed two projects this year in Broome and Hopetoun, where she worked with locals from the age of nine to 77.

“You can’t pick who’s going to create something really special,” she said.

“There was a girl in Broome who chose to photograph the ‘rainbow of Broome’.

Wool classer Nerissa Smith.
Camera IconWool classer Nerissa Smith. Credit: Astrid Volzke

“She took one photo for each colour of the rainbow which was a really abstract idea.”

Volzke contacted community resource centres across the State to gauge interest before travelling to Hopetoun and Broome — and she has done that again ahead of her next round of workshops.

Early next year, she hopes to run workshops across the Wheatbelt.

She had a great response from towns including Wyalkatchem, Kondinin and Quairading.

Volzke said she would like to get the end products of the workshops projected on to the digital tower in Yagan Square.

As a former Perth woman who now lives in Moodiarrup, 200km south-east of Perth, she would love to bring regional stories into the heart of the city.

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