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Plaudit for shearing industry passion

Rueben HaleCountryman
Valerie Hobson.
Camera IconValerie Hobson. Credit: Danella Bevis/Couintryman

A woman who developed a passion for the shearing industry while living in the Kimberley has been awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia.

Shearing historian and author Valerie Hobson was lauded for her service to the community through the preservation of the history of the WA shearing industry.

Ms Hobson said nothing in her life had compared to her involvement with the industry.

"Shearing was the most exciting thing as far as I was concerned," she said.

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Ms Hobson said she became involved in the industry by chance, after meeting her future husband Peter Hobson when she left school.

"He was a trainee wool classer, so he had to spend a certain amount of time learning to class the wool," she said.

"He got a job with a number of shearing contractors who worked in the Kimberley and that's when I learnt how shearing was conducted."

Ms Hobson said life for a shearer in the Kimberley was very hard, with temperatures regularly reaching 40C.

"It was very hot and muggy and the shearers' quarters were just one big dormitory," she said.

"They had gauze up everywhere to keep the bugs out."

After learning the ropes up north, Ms Hobson and her husband started a contract shearing business away from the region.

"We only did the sheep in the agricultural areas because there were a lot more sheep there then and so they obviously needed more shearers," Ms Hobson said.

"I decided to write a book about my shearing experiences after studying local history at Edith Cowan University."

Ms Hobson said university study brought home to her how important it was to preserve sheep-shearing history, because there were very few sheep left in the Kimberley because of the mining industry.

"I just feel the men and women up there worked so hard and developed a very strong camaraderie and respect for each other," she said.

"In the 1950s our woolclip was 50 per cent of WA income and we were 2 per cent of Australia's income."

Ms Hobson said her book Across the Board details the many aspects of shearing from its history and people, to how it was conducted by the various team members.

"A couple of chapters are about the history of the shearing in WA," she said.

"Then I outlined what each person in the shearing team did, i.e. shearer, roustabout, classer, presser and cook."

Ms Hobson said by interviewing 62 people involved in the industry at the time, including five women, she could tell their stories.

"Those people's experience tells the story of the WA shearing industry," she said.

"People need to know about how shearers always wanted to be the top shearer in the day and the men wanted to make reputations."

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