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‘Shearer’, 93, takes the long way home

Woolshed Museum stalwart Laurie Keats with the 93-year-old sculpture, ‘The shearer who returned home.’ PHOTO/STEVE RENDLE

LUCAS ABBOTT
Rathkeale College Student

A 93-year-old shearer still at work in Masterton’s Woolshed Museum found his home only after a lengthy journey around the globe.

The “shearer” is a statue crafted by William. T. Trethewey for the 1925 Empire Exhibition in London. It represented New Zealand in an event designed to boost the Empire after the ravages of World War I.

The exhibition’s official aim was “to stimulate trade, strengthen bonds that bind Mother Country to her Sister States and Daughters, to bring into closer contact the one with each other, to enable all who owe allegiance to the British flag to meet on common ground and learn to know each other”.

It was accompanied by a life-sized cow and calf made entirely of butter.

As Woolshed stalwart Laurie Keats said, “Those weren’t coming home!”

Keats said Trethewey, who was well known for his World War I memorials, was paid £100 to make the statue, half the £200 he originally wanted but still a significant payment back in the 1920s.

Known by the museum as, ‘The shearer who came home’, the larger-than-life statue of a shearer with a sheep dominates the entrance to the museum’s displays.

It is not known if the figure is based on an actual person – “I don’t think I’d know anyone that big,” Keats said.

Its journey to Masterton was far from straightforward.

On its return to New Zealand, it was installed in the Dominion Farmers Institute Building in Wellington, a forerunner to Federated Farmers.

Over the years, the building changed hands, and when the Waitangi Tribunal took ownership, it was surplus to requirements.

It was put into storage at Te Papa where Richard Arlidge of Masterton’s Aratoi Museum spotted it and thought it would be ideal for the new Woolshed Museum.

“They sent it to Palmerston North for assessment, and then it was brought to Masterton, travelling on a flatbed truck with special suspension,” Keats said.

The sculpture is made of plaster, with a block of concrete at the base with the sculptor’s name engraved on it.

It weighs around 1.5 tonnes but sits on a turntable that allows it to rotate completely in two minutes, the average time it takes to shear a sheep – although competitive shearers do it much faster.

“It’s a symbol of something that really put New Zealand on the map,” Keats said.

“And it’s a piece of history in its own right.”

The statue is on “permanent loan” from the Waitangi Tribunal.

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