Taking some time out from demonstrating the art of skillful shearing to onlookers during the 2018 Henty Farm Machinery Field Days, Bill Kimber reflected upon his long experience in the shearing sheds across the state, and his current occupation passing on that hard-earned knowledge.
After a lifetime in the wool industry, it is understandable Bill finds it difficult to draw himself away from a career during which he formed many strong friendships and developed a deep understanding of the skill involved in shearing sheep with pleasure and ease.
He is now employed on part-time basis as a shearing trainer for TAFE Riverina Institute based in North Wagga Wagga where he instructs those keen for a career in wool sheds the basic skills needed.
With the sheep and wool industry enjoying a period of tremendous returns, it is obvious Bill has a very important position in teaching those who are ready and willing to fill the employment gaps in the bush.
“We do a basic program of introduction to shearing,” he said when explaining the two-week course.
“We teach the basic elements of shearing, shed skills, sheep handling skills along with maintenance of their hand pieces, grinding with care their combs and cutters.”
He said there is a lot of interest in the two-week course conducted by TAFE Riverina and perhaps that reflects the shearing industry has overcome the misconception, common with many agricultural industries, that it is a career in decline with no longterm prospects.
The general feeling, across the board and in spite of current extended dry period, is that young people with a keen interest in working outdoors and a skill level are keenly sought by employers within the varied scope of agricultural enterprises.
“Enrollments do fluctuate, it comes and goes but we have had up to 15 people taking part in the course,” Bill said.
“And other times we are battling to get seven or eight, but is still a worthwhile program and obviously there is a need.”
He emphasized the focus of the course is on teaching the trainee shearers a good and easy way of handling the sheep.
“Our aim is to teach them the way to shear most efficiently as we can … try to shear without busting yourself,” Bill explained.
Participants in the course graduate with a Certificate II in Shearing.
I’ve enjoyed it … people say it is a boring job but you are in a different location week to week so you meet a lot of interesting people
Besides learning about crutching and shearing techniques and equipment maintenance students are further taught environmental work practices and working safely.
This qualification is part of the Agriculture, Horticulture and Conservation and Land Management Training Package.
Providing an entry into the shearing industry which expects this qualification to be achieved, working effectively in the industry and participating in environmentally sustainable work practices: and shearing to an acceptable industry standard.
The course can be studied full-time or part-time, and Certificate II graduates can progress through the Certificate III in Shearing or the Certificate III in Agriculture courses.
In his fiftieth year of wielding the ‘bog-eye’, Bill never tires of talking about the great enjoyment he still gets in passing on his knowledge.
“I was a full-time shearer for forty of those years,” he said.
“The biggest shed I worked in was a shed hand at Wingadee [north of Coonamble and owned by the New Zealand and Australian Land Company] in 1966/67 when it was 26 stands.”
During the mid-1960’s, Wingadee Station was one the signature pastoral properties with a renowned Merino flock, and Bill recalls the tremendous thrill he felt, as a young person, working within that shed among a fairly large team of shearers and roustabouts.
“It was exciting, there was so much going on and we were kept pretty busy,” he said.
“After that shed I worked all over NSW but really started shearing in a shed near Bombala.”
Following that experience, Bill started shearing at Bombala before moving near Canberra which was his base from which he traveled to sheds in the southern tablelands.
“I then bought a caravan and traveled around NSW, Victoria and Queensland where I was always able to pick up work with a shearing team,” he said.
“I’ve enjoyed it … people say it is a boring job but you are in a different location week to week so you meet a lot of interesting people.
“There was always a bit of challenge and competitiveness wherever you went.”