First shears remembered

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If there is one man who should be front and centre at the 60th anniversary celebrations of the New Zealand Merino Shears it is Ted Dreckow.

The Alexandra man puts it bluntly.

‘‘I started the bloody thing.’’

He had, in part, been inspired by the exploits of Godfrey Bowen, whom a British newspaper poetically described as ‘‘shearing with the grace of [Rudolph] Nureyev’s dancing’’.

Now aged 94, Mr Dreckow remembers being less impressed.

In 1953 Bowen broke the world record by shearing 456 full-wool ewes in nine hours.

‘‘He was shearing these big tallies and claimed the world’s fastest shearer title but it was only one type of sheep,’’ Mr Dreckow said.

‘‘And they were tarted up — they had been washed.’’

Shearing merinos required a completely different skillset, he said.

‘‘I just had this idea we should have a competition shearing merinos. It’s easy to shear a romney sheep, but it’s not easy to shear a merino.’’

His experience with the fine-wool breed was honed in Bramfield, South Australia, a community linked to Bramfield Station, 12km from the coast, with a school, hotel, and police station with 16 officers due to ongoing unrest with the aboriginal population.

He had continued to shear merinos upon coming to New Zealand in 1948.

Mr Dreckow said the competition was an initiative he set up with the Moa Creek Young Farmers’ Club.

Reeling off the names of various shearers from throughout Central Otago with ease, he said they were slow to lend their support.

‘‘It was their bloody competition.’’

Undaunted, he forged ahead with plans to get the competition off the ground.

First, the sheep.
‘‘The first and only ideal place was Earnscleugh Station, because it was all merinos and the owners agreed to supply the sheep.’’

Sponsors had to be found and support for the competition came from an unlikely quarter, he said.

‘‘The biggest supporter was the chemist. I went to see him on a Friday night and told him what we were going to do . . . he opened his drawer and gave me 40 pounds.’’

Stock and station agency Wright Stephenson also supported the event, while Mr Dreckow himself paid for the programme to be printed.

A big competition needed a big trophy and a Dunedin stock agency stumped up a ‘‘big cup’’.

‘‘I don’t know where that cup is now.’’

Gold, silver, and bronze medals for competitors were also found.

Use of the venue — the Alexandra Memorial Hall — was to cause a scandal.
‘‘There were endless letters.’’

This was despite taking precautions to protect the hall and floors with tarpaulins sourced from the railway.

Mr Dreckow also admits he made a mistake in the selection of the stock for the first competition, something Bowen, then working for the New Zealand Wool Board as its chief shearing instructor, was quick to point out.

‘‘That first competition in the hall we had big wethers from Earnscleugh Station.

He said ‘where you’ve buggered up, Ted, is you’ve got to make this competition a thriller, you’ve got to have the crowds roaring’.’’

The folded necks of merino wethers would slow the action.

That, plus the hall debacle, were things Mr Dreckow would learn from the 1961 competition.

Tweaks were made such as moving the competition to Alexandra’s Molyneux Stadium.

Mr Dreckow’s interest quickly waned.
‘‘I started it and saw it through, but they [organisers] have done a good job since.’’

It has gone on to become the only national merino shearing and wool handling championship and the first held each season.

– The New Zealand Merino Shears will mark its diamond anniversary with the NZ Merino Golden Fleece on October 1 and 2.