A critical shortage of shearers in today’s sheds has sparked a call by NSW Farmers for more young people to take up the age-old profession.
NSW Farmers’ Wool Committee chair Helen Carrigan said the click of shears was part of our proud agricultural history.
She said it was hard work but young people could earn a good living from it and take pride in the knowledge they were continuing a tradition that once made this country great.
“Australia has a long tradition of producing the world’s finest wool and a key part of that success has been the hard-working shearers who have become such a great part of our character,” Mrs Carrigan said.
Jo Treasure, 24, a fifth generation farmer from Cowra, is one of the small percentage of women working as shearers in Australia today.
After finishing Year 12, her plan was to study ancient history and become an academic. Her gap year on the family’s mixed farm put paid to that idea, as did the advice of her neighbour in Cowra, Mike Pora, who was also to become her mentor. He had been one of the trainers in the shearing course she did at Australian Wool Innovation.
“I started doing some shearing for him and sort of fell in love with the mastery of the craft,” she said. “There is always something new to learn, people are always looking at new techniques to make it easier.
“But I have to say, it’s the most difficult work I’ve ever done, physically and mentally.
“In some ways I was motivated by the fact it was a male-dominated industry. I enjoy the challenge of pushing through the pain barrier to be with the other blokes.”
Jo said her experience in the shearing sheds – she’s just going into her second year – had been overwhelmingly positive … “and I didn’t expect it to be”.
“All the male shearers I know have been supportive,” she said. “I’ve learned it’s more about character than whether you’re male or female. It’s about how you conduct yourself in the shed.”
Jo said shearers had been in short supply for at least the past two years. She said many of the learners decided not to continue in the industry, some because they found the work too hard, others because of cultural issues – specifically the transient nature of many in the profession.
So what advice would she give to a young person considering a shearing career?
“Use adversity as your motivation,” she said. “See the difficulties of the job as a challenge to exceed your own expectations and those of others.”
The best skills a young shearer can have, she says, are resilience and patience.
“Yes, it’s hard work but I’m a 60kg female and I can do it. It’s all about technique.”
NSW Farmers’ Helen Carrigan said with the Certificate III in shearing course available free for all NSW residents and a keen shortage of qualified shearers in the sheds, there was no better time to learn the age-old skill.
“If we can encourage people to get into the sheds to be trained and mentored, we can not only set them up for success but also help solve this worker shortage,” she said.