Offcuts #6: The shearing shed survival guide

A floor-level view of the shearing shed at 'Marble Range', located half an hour west of Port Lincoln on SA's Eyre Peninsula. Photo: Kane McKay.

COVERING the recent Quality Wool Cricket Cup in Port Lincoln also afforded the author of this column the opportunity to see live what he’s only seen before in photos – a working shearing shed in action. Here is his first-hand account of Quality Wool’s visit to ‘Marble Range’ in Wangary, South Australia.

On a scorching Friday morning on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula and armed with a camera to document proceedings, I along with my two colleagues loaded into the Quality Wool ute headed for Wangary, situated half an hour’s drive west of Port Lincoln.

Having not been in a shearing shed since I was a kid, and having had little face-to-face interaction with our client base at Quality so far, I was keen to make a good impression and started formulating a game plan in my head on the drive out to ‘Marble Range’.

With the wisdom of one of our most respected wool reps fresh in my mind – “always make an effort to remember people’s names” – part one of my plan was to do just that, so when we shook hands at the end of the visit I could address each person appropriately.

It might sound like such a simple thing and a common courtesy, but it’s also an important sign of respect.

It’s also easier said than done when you roll up to a loaded shearing shed of 6-8 people.

However when someone welcomes you with open arms into their busy workplace, and also allows you to take photos, it’s the least you can do!

After introductory greetings on arrival, which included the kind of firm-but-friendly handshakes you’d expect from blokes who shear sheep for a living, country hospitality came to the fore as we were immediately offered a ‘cuppa’ and a bite to eat.

It was then, as I looked over at the wonderful spread on offer for morning tea, that I realised shearing time is very much a joint effort – while the team was working in the shed, there was clearly a support crew working in the main residence to ensure they were fed, watered and looked after through the day.

After a brief chat where I discovered that Pat, Marble Ranges’s 80 year-old wool classing legend, was the brother-in-law of one of my former school teachers (small world), ‘smoko’ was finished and it was time to crank up shearing again.

Now it was time to execute the next part of my plan, which was not getting in anyone’s way as they worked.

Very appreciative of the access we were given, I was weary of not overstaying my welcome by intruding or being that annoying guy always in the wrong spot.

I needn’t have worried.

I was immediately approached by all and sundry and told where the best light was, who was the most photogenic, what makes for the coolest photos (general consensus was getting a shot from under the sorting table as the wool was thrown on) and basically told to roam around freely.

Here was a bunch of guys, in the middle of a hectic day of shearing, and all they were worried about was helping me get some cracking pictures.

They couldn’t have been any more accommodating.

In the lead-in to the visit, I also decided I was going to ask as many questions as possible to property owner Trevor and his team.

Given I don’t really know much, I figured there was no such thing as a dumb question and they would appreciate me taking an interest in their enterprise.

Of course, there was always the slight chance of irritating someone who’s probably been around shearing sheds longer than I’ve been alive with my beginner-level queries, but I was willing to risk it.

Not only did Trevor go above and beyond in answering my novice questions about the shed’s operation, I almost fell over when I discovered he clearly already knew things about me (no doubt passed on by our wool rep who looks after them) and started asking questions of his own about my background and how I came to be at the ‘Q’.

At Quality, as an independent, family-owned operator we pride ourselves on a personal touch and doing the little things that make a difference for our clients.

When the very people we’re representing are reciprocating that care and respect, I guess that’s the sign of a successful working relationship.

With the cricket beckoning back in Port Lincoln it was soon time to depart, leaving the ‘Marble Range’ team to finish up their shearing before the hottest part of the day hit.

It was great for me to get out and see with my own eyes what was previously to me only words on a page and photos on a screen, that being a working, thriving shearing shed in action.

And yes, I remembered all their names on the way out.