Shearing sports are back on the calendar and, along with them, international competitors and spectators.
The nation’s best woolhandlers and shearers converged on Alexandra at the weekend for the 61st New Zealand Merino Shearing and Woolhandling Championships.
More than 150 competitors from throughout New Zealand and Australia, ranging from novice and junior levels through to national and world champions, put their skills on display, much to the delight of the spectators.
Covid protocols last year meant event’s 60th celebrations went ahead without international competitors or spectators, but the lifting of restrictions allowed a return to the original format.
New Zealand Merino Shears president Lane McSkimming said it was ‘‘amazing to have everyone back.’’
‘‘Last year was tough running it under Covid protocol — it was actually quite special because we were the guinea pig for the next 60 shows on the national circuit.’’
‘‘This year is just vibrant. The stadium’s packed.’’
The open woolhandling final was stacked with national and world champions, including four-time winner and 2019 world team champion Pagan Rimene; 2013 winner Amy Ferguson; and four-time winner, 2012 and 2017 world champion Joel Henare; the only three competitors to have won the Shearing Sports New Zealand season’s opening major title in the past decade.
But in a surprise win, Cushla Abraham, of Masterton, came away with the national title and a place in the New Zealand transtasman team.
Abraham had only won two open class competitions previously, and said to walk away with the title was ‘‘amazing.’’
‘‘I’m very privileged. It’s very humbling to be in the final with them, they’re such amazing woolhandlers — very experienced, very knowledgeable.’’
Australian champion Daniel McIntyre claimed the open shearing title, beating record-holder Stacey Te Huia and three-time winner Nathan Stratford.
A 24-year industry veteran, McIntyre said the competition was tough.
‘‘It was tough. The sheep didn’t shear anything like Australian merinos, they were quite different and did take a bit of adjustment, but I worked it out in the end.’’
McIntyre also spurred a team from Australia’s REDI-E First Nation Australia contingent, to a shearing and woolhandling win over a NZ Merino Shears team, comprising top qualifiers from the open and senior grades.
It was the first time an Australian indigenous team had competed in New Zealand.
‘‘It’s been a great initiative from the REDI-E team, and the young guys and girls we bought over with us have got a lot of potential, they’re the future,’’ McIntyre said.