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Here’s to another wild and woolly Shears success

Today marks the anniversary of the start of the very first Golden Shears competition – 63 years ago on March 9, 1961.

The genesis of that inaugural three-day event – which attracted nearly 300 shearers from New Zealand and Australia – was thanks to the bright idea of members of the Wairarapa Young Farmers’ Club to hold a shearing competition at the annual Agricultural and Pastoral Show in 1958.

The competition was such a success, drawing shearers from all over the country to compete, that the organisers decided to ramp things up a notch or three.

After the Wairarapa branch of Federated Farmers was approached to help run the ambitious new competition, a bigger venue was secured in the form of the Masterton War Memorial Stadium, and the ‘Golden Shears’ name was agreed on.

Over the next two decades, it became a hugely popular event, featuring fierce rivalry between some of New Zealand’s – and the world’s – great shearers.

It underwent another progression in the late 1970s, with competitive shearing going professional. Thanks to more competitions, and more prize money and sponsorships up for grabs, shearers have increasingly taken a leaf out of the book of professional athletes when it comes to their training regimes.

After the iconic shearing and wool-handling industry event was disrupted – like so much of our day-to-day lives – by the Covid-19 pandemic [and the response to it] following a clear 59-year run, it was great to see it roaring back for the second year on the trot last week.

A total of 2357 tickets were issued, and competitors from 14 countries – including Mongolia – flocked to the competition.

“This year was exceptional, with record entries and spectators,” Golden Shears president Trish Stevens told the Times-Age.

“We are the Wimbledon of shearing, and overseas visitors left the stadium in awe of these athletes.”

We can only wish the organisers of the event strength to their arms for many years to come, and not just because of the economic boon it represents for the region.

As Stevens noted, it’s provided a very welcome financial boost to Wairarapa, with hospitality and accommodation businesses doing a roaring trade – and “moteliers already have reservations for 2025 and for when we host the World Golden Shears Championships in 2026”.

We can also only hope the Golden Shears isn’t put off its stroke, and its future longevity undermined, by the parlous state of our wool industry, which sees farmers of coarse wool sheep actually taking a loss – getting fleeced, if you will – in the process of producing their product.

Clearly, the industry missed a beat – and the boat – decades ago by treating it as a bulk commodity and outsourcing manufacturing offshore, leading to the collapse of local processing capacity and the skills associated with it.

Perhaps now’s the time for a government that’s not inclined to demonise the rural sector to put some thought into reversing that?

It’d be nice to think our wool industry can count on increasingly climate-conscious consumers to, ahem, bale it out – after all, it’s got a great story to tell about the intrinsically sustainable nature of wool versus the petroleum-based synthetics that make up the bulk of global fibre consumption.

But unfortunately, that expectation looks a little woolly-headed – for the time being, in any case – in the face of a worldwide cost of living crisis that understandably encourages people to prioritise price over other considerations.

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