The hardworking people behind the scenes of the country’s wool industry were thrown in to the spotlight in Alexandra last weekend.
The 62nd New Zealand Merino Shearing and Woolhandling Championships were held over the course of two full days at Molyneux Stadium with the industry’s elite putting on a show for excited spectators.
Woolhandlers ranging from novice through to experienced showed their skills on the boards, throwing, skirting and sorting fleeces, while shearers demonstrated strength, speed and precision with the sheep — all under the watchful eye of judges and timekeepers.
The Teddy Bear Shears saw young children take to the boards to ‘‘shear’’ a soft toy.
A crowd favourite, the competition was as unpredictable as the young shearers themselves, but laughs (and tears) were guaranteed.
More than 150 competitors across both shearing and wool handling took part in the championships, up from last year, NZ Merino Shears president Lane McSkimming said.
‘‘The numbers are great, entries are up on last year and we had to sadly turn some competitors away today because we would have run out of sheep.’’
Competitors shore about 1000 merino wethers from Northburn Station over the course of the two day event. Running for more than six decades, Mr McSkimming said the secret of the Shears’ longevity was the appeal and the challenge of working with merino fibre.
‘‘It’s the one and only true fine wool merino shearing and wool handling championship in the world . . . merino wool being the ultimate fibre of the world, the shearers and woolhandlers from throughout the country want to prove themselves on this type of wool.’’
It was the skills young woolhandlers and shearers could learn working with the fibre that, in part, drew Australia-based Kiwi shearing legend Samson Te Whata home to Central Otago for the shears.
For the second time, Te Whata led an Australian Regional Enterprise Development Institute First Nation indigenous contingent to Alexandra, hoping they would pick up some local know-how.
‘‘The wool harvested here [in Central Otago], the people are attentive to detail in a natural way . . .if we can capture this and take some of the skills in amongst our people with our children here now, that can only be good for us for our clip in Australia.’’
The weekend culminated in a stacked lineup of industry elite going head to head for the open shearing final, including former teams world champion and three times Merino Shears winner Nathan Stratford, world record-holder Stacey Te Huia and national open full wool shearing champion Brett ‘‘Kornie’’ Roberts.
However it was Central Otago shearer Leon Samuels who came out on top, adding another national title to his impressive resume.
The win cemented his place in the New Zealand transtasman team, and adds to his growing list of national titles — in April he became the first South Island shearer to win the New Zealand Shears open title in three decades.
Shearing was in the blood for Samuels — both parents were in the industry — and he had been around it since he was born, he said.
While he has been shearing for more than 25 years, he has only been competing for the past four or five.
‘‘I think [shearing is] just a real good buzz,’’ he said.
‘‘Quietly I’m a competitive person, I like competing with other people — Itry not to show it but there’s a competitiveness . . .
‘‘I don’t know what it is about the shearing industry but it’s a passion of mine now, I just love it.’’
South Otago woolhandler Tia Potae will join Samuels in the New Zealand transtasman team after winning the open woolhandling title.