The Shearers' Hall of Fame

Hay Travel Blog

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"A sniff of urine"
We woke up early in Narrandera and drove for hours across the featureless Hay plains (although we did stop to take photos of a Wedgetail Eagle) to Hay. Normally I've just driven past Hay, but this time we stoped to visit the Shearers' Hall of Fame, which was a surprisingly good museum.

We learnt about wool production in Australia, which has been steadily declining since its peak of 180 million sheep and 900 million kilos of wool in 1969. The exhibit was interactive, allowing us to try shearing a dummy sheep and to sniff sheep urine. They also gave us a glossary, to learn the lingo. Here are some examples of shearers' talk:

  • Crutching - removal of wool from the sheep's crutch
  • Dag - wool around a sheep's bum
  • Jackie Howe - sleevless singlet
  • Lambing down - when a pub owner cheated a drunk shearer out of his pay check
  • Pink'em - very close, high quality shearing.
    Lydia, the gun shearer
    "I've pinked 'em with the Wolseleys"
  • Pizzle - the penis of a sheep
  • Snagger, snob or tomahawker - a rough untalented shearer
  • Sweat extractor - contractor (rhyming slange)
  • Sweatlocks - frizzy ends of a fleece around the shoulder and crutch, carrying a lot of grease and lanolin
  • Gun - an extremely fast, competent shearer

We learnt about the heroes of the shearing world, such as Kevin Sarre (1935-1995), who won 67 shearing titles and was Australian champion in 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957 and 1961. He also developed a standard method of shearing for the Australian Wool Corporation in 1963, the "Tally-hi" technique, which reduced shearing times by up to 30 seconds. On the 26th of October 1965, Kevin set an Australian record tally of 346 sheep. Another hero was Julian Stuart (1866-1929), not so much for his ability to shear, but for being a union activist after a series of harsh new contracts were forced on the workers.
He was imprisoned for leading a strike - guilty on the charge of "conspiracy", and given three years hard labour in goal. And, of course, the greatest hero of them all - Jackie Howe (1861-1920). Jackie Howe not only set a blade shearing record of 321 sheep in seven hours 40 minutes on the 10th of October 1892 (which still stands today), but he also invented the shearers' uniform. By removing the sleeves from his flannel shirt (they impeded his biceps) he created the "Jackie Howe" blue singlet. Of course good shearering takes energy - the average shearers had to eat 6000 Calories a day just to keep up with expenditure.

And Lydia's favourite part was getting a watch a sheep being clipped, she couldn't stop giggling and grinning as the sheep calmly got its full-body haircut, got a pat on its bare bottom and ran back to the other sheep.
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A sniff of urine
"A sniff of urine"
Lydia, the gun shearer
Lydia, the gun shearer
Wedgetail Eagle
Wedgetail Eagle
Jackie Howe
Jackie Howe
photo by: Adrian_Liston