The ringer looks around and he's beaten by a girl

11 Mar, 2013 07:19 AM
Kat Syrch from Bourke shearing at Noorama Station in Queensland. Photo: James Brickwood
Kat Syrch from Bourke shearing at Noorama Station in Queensland. Photo: James Brickwood

UNDER a blisteringly hot corrugated iron roof among the red sands of Noorama Station, Kat Syrch is working her guts out.

The 39-year-old shearer has shorn the thick raggedy skeins of wool off 40 lambs, and it is barely morning tea-time.

Hunched over the sheep, with sweat dripping in the 45-degree heat, Ms Syrch has set a cracking pace as Bon Jovi and Stevie Wonder blare out over the buzz of clippers.

She will not shear quite as many sheep as her teammates - Mick Bruce, a veteran of 29 years in the job, will rip through 250 in a day - but the Bourke local is part of a vocal and growing group of female shearers who are shaking up the historically male-dominated industry.

Ms Syrch and five other women last year formed the first ever all-female shearing team - ''for a bit of fun'', she said.

They have since scattered around the country chasing available work, with Ms Syrch finding three weeks on Noorama Station in remote western Queensland before heading to a property at nearby Cunnamulla.

Many industry leaders believe women make great shearers and are an untapped resource that could save the dwindling industry.

''Without women coming into the industry now we'd be in a dire predicament,'' said the secretary of the Shearing Contractors Association of Australia, Jason Letchford.

''The industry's short of workers and anyone who wants to take on such an onerous task, we applaud.''

For the first time in 25 years, there was a women's only event at the International Golden Shears championships in New Zealand on March 2.

Jills Angus Burney, a Kiwi shearer who held the world record for 18 years and is now a lawyer based in Wellington, said Australia lags behind New Zealand for females in the industry.

''When I was shearing in the 1980s there was probably one woman shearer per 5000 in NZ and one per 15,000 in Australia,'' she said. ''There are so few women because it's so physically demanding. There aren't many jobs where you take a sweat towel to work and use it all day. A full day of shearing at an advanced pace is the same as running a marathon.''

She said women were often cleaner and more particular shearers, a view shared by Wayne Koop, the contractor who hired Ms Syrch to work at Noorama.

''They're more aware of what they're doing and they take more care with the sheep,'' he said.

Ms Syrch, who grew up next-door to shearers, said the lifestyle and money appealed to her. She travels the country working for contractors and earns $2.03 a sheep after tax and tucker.

''You meet new people and go new places,'' she said.

''It's good fun.''



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