TONY ABRA'S forebears were associated in someway with sheep, his great-grandfather four times back, Thomas Abra, was sent to this colony convicted of sheep stealing.
He later became a shepherd on the large Bective Station between Tamworth and Gunnedah for more than 13 years.
On his mother's side, Johannes Steiger was contracted by the Australian Agriculture Company (AACo) to accompany stud rams and ewes from Mecklenburg, Germany, to Goonoo Goonoo Station, Tamworth.
Born at Barraba, Tony Abra said his forebears mostly were shepherds, however, both his grandfathers were shearers and his father was a shearer as well.
With this background it's possibly no wonder he started his hobby of collecting shearing handpieces, now boasting a collection of a little more than 250 pieces.
"It's no wonder to me that no other animal, anywhere in the world, can lay claim to the development and wealth of a country like the Australian Merino has done for Australia," Tony said.
"It opened all the country out west."
Mr Abra admits he was not good at shearing, and was quickly relegated to rouseabout and pressing duties from a young age.
"I did a bit a shearing but it was pretty rough," he said.
"Dad said when I shore a sheep it looked like a dog after a fox had been at it.
Although crazily enough, there are still some turning up, very rare handpieces, but not at the same frequency as they used to be.
"I never got the knack."
On November 1, 1965, Tony Abra graduated from the NSW Police Training Centre, Bourke Street, Redfern, as a mounted policeman and remained in the "Force" eight years including a stint in a one-man station at Nowendoc.
In due course he settled in Wellington purchasing the Riverside Caravan Park and about that time began his hobby collecting shearing handpieces.
"I started off collecting stationary engines, but early in the piece I realised I was getting older and the engines were getting heavier, so I swapped some for handpieces and that's how it started in 2002," he said.
"I picked the first one up in a paddock at Warren, cleaned it up and it went from there."
Since then Tony has cannily collected more than 250 handpieces from America, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.
"Where ever you can find something you haven't got," he said.
Always on the lookout, Tony says he likes searching for the unusual ones that are just a bit different.
"And like all collectors, I'd like to have one of everything, but that's impossible as there are too many of them," he said.
There are so many makes and models.
"Just about every year the different companies would bring out a new model with each having a slight variation," he said.
"But the handpiece you buy today, like Heiniger, who leads the world in technology and sales, is basically an updated version of the first ones in 1888, only they now have bearings and a lot more refinements."
There have been people who have tried to produce rotary handpieces with rotary combs and cutters, however, Tony said none had ever worked well.
"And they have come up with air-driven machines. Some worked for a while but they never caught on."
Among his favourites in the collection Tony says is possibly the "smoko", made in England and highly sought after by all collectors.
"I have seen them sell for $8000 while other handpieces even more rare would now be worth $10,000 to $12,000 each," he said.
"Luckily they haven't cost me that. I've been lucky.
"I'd be horrified of the prices I'd have to pay if I started collecting today, and what I have already got. You'd might have to wait until a collector died to be able to gain them, they're just not about.
"Although crazily enough, there are still some turning up, very rare handpieces, but not at the same frequency as they used to be."
One recently sold at a Wellington clearing sale to Western Australia for $3600.
Tony says he's in the throes of organising a shearing collectors' get-together on March 28 and 29 next year.
"A collector in New Zealand phoned last night saying he was keen to come and would bring a display. Hopefully we can get 40 to 50, or even more collectors here with all their pieces," Tony said.
He and a friend, Tracey Brown, formerly of Lue, held the first get-together in Wellington in 2005 and attracted 35 collectors, two from New Zealand.
Tony can be contacted on 0438 237 921.