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19 November, 2020

Bright future for golden fleeces

FOR DECADES, wild dogs and low commodity prices have savaged Western Queensland's prized sheep and wool industry, forcing entire districts, many better-suited to wool production, away from sheep and into cattle.


But with the introduction of predator-proof fencing, the industry is set for a resounding comeback. Now, a program run by the Remote Area Planning and Development Board and University of Queensland plans to increase education within the sector.

On Thursday of last week, 14 students gathered at Sandy and Amelia Williams’ Rosedale Station for Day 4 of RAPAD’s Novice Sheep and Wool Clinic.

The accredited training took place over five days in Longreach, and covered all aspects of animal welfare, handling and husbandry, shearing and wool handling and classing.

Australian Wool Network’s Greg Hunt, Longreach, was pleased to share his expertise on the day.

“It’s always exciting to see young people in the sheds,” Mr Hunt said. “We’ve got an acute shortage of shed hands, wool pressers, wool classers and shearers. As more sheep return to the area, we will need these people.”

RAPAD says cluster fencing will indeed bring wool back to wool country.

In the past 30 years, sheep numbers in the Central West have declined by more than 75 per cent, down from two million in 1991 to an estimated 450,000.

However, joint investment in RAPAD’s cluster fencing project by the State Government and local landholders is expected to deliver an extra 828,241 sheep to the region over five rounds of funding.

For Longreach shearing contractor, Rayleen Bowden, this signals a busy time ahead.

Ms Bowden said her team had already been flat out in the sheds of Western Queensland this year.

“Not too long ago, in 2014, I spent a total of six months working in Queensland,” she said.

“We had to travel across the border and right throughout New South Wales for work.

“Regardless of the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve now spent the past 12 months working at home. We’ve worked flat out to get the wool off.”

Ms Bowden said programs like the Novice Sheep and Wool Clinic created important pathways into the industry.

“This week, students were introduced to the sheep and wool sectors as a whole,” Ms Bowden said. “Shearing is an integral part of that, but so is livestock production, handling and husbandry, penning up for shearing, gear prep and woolclassing.

“Students will come away having attained five units of competency,” she said.

“Some have plans to be shearers or woolclassers, some to complete further study, and some to return to the family property simply with the know-how to jump in at shearing or give us a hand when they’ve got time off. Our youngest here is 14 years of age.”

Ms Bowden’s grandfather, iconic shearer and Shearer’s Hall of Fame inductee Ron “Tolly” Bowden, was thrilled to see strong support for the inaugural program.

“Once, shearing was the only job available to a young bloke in the West,” Mr Bowden said. “Although I believe I’ve seen the best of it.

“When I started out, there were 17 teams in the area. Nowadays you’d be lucky to scratch up two,” he said.

“I’ve gotten a lot out of shearing in my lifetime and it was important to give something back. 

“These men and women have done an excellent job this week.”

Greg Hunt said new agricultural training opportunities were especially important given the demise of the Longreach Pastoral College in 2019.

“The college was a great institution that turned out shearers, woolclassers, ringers and jackaroos who were very well trained,” Mr Hunt said. 

“Queensland, along with the entire nation, are really missing that institution, so this clinic is the start of a great thing.

“The sheep and wool industry is a great one to be a part of,” he said.

“You can travel across four or five different States, earn good money, meet new people and have a bit of fun, all while working your way around the country.”

Rayleen Bowden added that shearing was hard but satisfying work.

“I must say the working conditions in Western Queensland have improved out of sight,” she said. “I’ve spent my entire life in the sheds and shorn for the past 25 years, and that’s something I really pushed for.

“If graziers do not provide suitable conditions, we won’t be back. I’ve seen a lot of improvements, and Western Queensland has led the way,” Ms Bowden said.

“It is physically hard work, but everything I have now, I owe to shearing.

“You definitely earn your beer at cut-out.”

And that’s something all of the experts agreed on — “Only a shearer truly knows how good a beer tastes at the end of the day.”

The Novice Sheep and Wool Clinic was fully funded for eligible participants by the Queensland Government’s Department of Employment, Small Business and Training and also incorporated theory components at the former Longreach Pastoral College. RAPAD is now making plans for its next training event.

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