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Women making their mark in male-dominated Australian shearing sheds

Samantha Townsend, March 7, 2017 5:45PM Herald Sun

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IT USED to be click go the shears boys, but the number of women now working in shearing sheds has almost doubled in the past 10 years.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics* there were 698 women in shearing sheds 10 years ago and now there are 1260.

Of those only 96 are shearers, including 27-year-old Emma Billett, who has been shearing for eight years.

In the sheds of Egelabra — Australia’s oldest closed sheep stud* — Billet flies through the first sheep’s thick wool with ease.

The seasoned* shearer usually shears 120 sheep a day, which is equal to many male shearers.

But she says nothing is easy about shearing and it was not a job for the faint hearted*.

“You get $2.90 per sheep, you can work as hard as you want,” Billett said.

Female shearer Emma Billett, who lives in Warren, has been shearing for nine years. Photo: Dylan Robinson
media_cameraFemale shearer Emma Billett, who lives in Warren, has been shearing for nine years. Photo: Dylan Robinson

“But if you are lazy you won’t be a good shearer as you won’t make any money.”

She began shearing at the age of 19, four years after she started working as a roustabout. A roustabout is a shed hand who picks up fleeces*, sweeps wool and moves sheep around the shed.

“One of the shearers asked if I wanted to have a go as there were not many female shearers,” she said.

She shore 96 sheep that first day.

“I felt good the first day but when I work up the next morning I was sore in places I didn’t know I had, it hurt like hell,” Billett cringes as she remembers.

“The first six to ten months was torture, I was so physically sore I couldn’t work hard and you are paid on the amount of sheep you shear.”

Shearing sheds are still male dominated, even though more women are shearing and working in sheds. Photo: Dylan Robinson
media_cameraShearing sheds are still male dominated, even though more women are shearing and working in sheds. Photo: Dylan Robinson

The physical nature of the job means she has to stay fit.

She heads to the gym every afternoon and when she is not in the sheds, Billett is helping out on the family farm or working with her horses.

When asked why she did it, Billett replied: “It’s my job and I love it and I do the best I can at it.”

Australian Wool Innovation shearing industry development co-ordinator Jim Murray said while it was male dominated* there were more women coming into the sheds because the technique and equipment had changed compared to 30 years ago.

He said due to the increasing interest from women who are attracted to the industry, AWI had started female-only shearing schools.

“It’s still very male dominated but if girls want to have a crack they are well supported,” Mr Murray said.

GLOSSARY

Australian Bureau of Statistics: government organisation that collects information about people in Australia. It runs the census.

stud: a farm that breeds livestock such as sheep or cattle for other farms to buy

seasoned: used to it

faint-hearted: weak

fleece: the wool shorn from a sheep, which comes off in one big fleece

dominated: be in charge of or there are more of

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CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES

Activity 1. Click go the Shears

After reading the Kids News article on the increase of female shearers in the industry, write one paragraph on why you think shearing has been a male-dominated industry for so long and if you think it is a good career for women. See if you can use a quote or statistic from the article to back-up your statements.

Extension: Outline the career path to become a female shearer.

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this task.

Curriculum links: English

Activity 2. Dollars and Cents

If shearers earn $2.90 per sheep, add up how much a shearer like Emma would make in a five-day working week using the figures below.

Monday: 120 sheep

Tuesday: 110 sheep

Wednesday: 95 sheep

Thursday: 118 sheep

Friday: 101 sheep

Total money earned for the week = (show your workings out)

Extension: Outline at least three ways how a shearer like Emma could improve their weekly wage.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this task

Curriculum links: Mathematics

VCOP Activity:

(Vocabulary, Connectives, Openers and Punctuation)

Activity 1:

Being a shearer is ‘not a job for the faint hearted.’ Can you brainstorm other jobs that require you to be bold and brave. Discuss with a partner why.

Extension Activity:

Write a cinquain poem about being a shearer.

Noun (title)

2 adjectives

3 verbs

4 word phrase

Noun (synonym of line one)

Approximate time frame: (30 minutes)

Curriculum Links: English, Big Write and VCOP

Activity provided by Andrell Education — www.andrelleducation.com

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