News item

Women shearers join the flock

By Crystal D’Souza
2 July 2013

NSW shearer Emma Billet has been shearing for two years and currently shears about 120 head a day. (Photo credit: Stock & Land)
Another NSW shearer, Emma Billet, has been
shearing for two years and currently shears
about 120 head a day.
Photo credit: Stock & Land.

For the best part of 150 years shearing has been a male dominated industry. When a woman entered a shearing shed, the blokes would call out, ‘Ducks on the pond’. It was a cryptic warning to the other shearers that they should clean up their act and watch their language.

How times have changed. A major shortage of workers in the industry in the 1980s has attracted women like Rianne Miles into its sheds.

Rianne, a city girl, had never set foot inside a shearing shed before a trip to a relative’s sheep station in 2013. But there was no pulling the wool over her eyes. She could smell the fleece and hear the buzz of the clippers long before heading into the shed.

Rianne soon showed her male counterparts that girls can make it in the shearing sheds too.

Five days a week, Rianne and a team of shearers and woolhandlers work long hours in shearing sheds across NSW. Describing the role as ‘hot sweaty work’, she enjoys the challenge working with burly blokes.

"No doubt about it, this is one of the toughest jobs around," she said. "At the end of the day I just fall into bed and my muscles ache no end, but I absolutely love shearing and I want to keep getting better and prove that I can do it too."

There is no stopping Rianne who is carving out a career with shears and winning prizes for her woolhandling skills.

In 2006, there were 3204 shearers across Australia and of those, just 96 were women. The industry believes there are now about 150 women working as shearers.

TAFE Western’s Dubbo College Rural Skills Centre runs six, two-week novice shearing and wool handling schools annually. The courses cover the basics needed to get a start working in the industry. The Centre, which is part of TAFE NSW’s Western Institute, is considered one of the best facilities in Australia to train shearers.

According to TAFE shearing trainer, Michael Pora, it’s been hard to find shearers since the drought. “Lots of shearers got out of the industry when work was inconsistent and the national flock had dipped to historic lows, so training young shearers is a priority," he said.

Michael was one of three shearing trainers who recently delivered a Certificate II in Shearing to an all-female class.

TAFE Western’s Dubbo rural campus hosted 16 women aged 15–43 who learnt the many different skills required to be a shearer. This included wool handling, board work, skirting, wool pressing and shearing, including sheep handling techniques, correct blow placement, safe and efficient work practices, comb and cutter grinding and gear maintenance.

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