The economy of Hay in New South Wales, Australia runs on the sweat of shearers. It’s more than a job, it’s a lifestyle. Shearers live in bunkhouses together – they wake early, shear sheep for eight to ten hours, eat dinner, and then sharpen their tools before bed. And as you’ll see in this video from Plumpton College in England, the world will always need shearers: it’s a specialized skill that cannot be mechanized.
The job is highly competitive, which may be why there have been recent calls in New Zealand, where sheep outnumber people about 4 to 1, to make sheep shearing an Olympic sport.
Shearers are paid for the amount of wool they shear, not for the hours they work. So in the shearing shed, everyone is trying to keep up with the most skilled shearer.
But long days and an itinerant lifestyle can lead to boredom, drugs and alcohol. Donna Gurney, editor of The Ringer, a shearing magazine with about 16,000 subscribers, tells ABC Radio, “Because shearers work hard, they play hard, too.” She hopes her magazine counters what she sees as shearers being cast as second-class citizens in Australia.
The introduction to this story (which you’ll hear if you click on the link below) may be telling of Australia’s cultural view of shearers. The host warns, “This story is about shearers, so it probably won’t surprise you to hear there’s a lot of coarse language, which some listeners may find offensive.”
Shearers aren’t sheep-like, apparently.
When initially published, this article mistakenly implied that Hay, New South Wales was in New Zealand. It is, of course, in Australia.