Shearing champs "general dog's body" - for life
It’ll be all hands on deck at the New Zealand Merino Shears in Central Otago town Alexandra on Friday and Saturday as organisers strive to stage the 60th annual event in the confines of the pandemic Level 2 alert.
Almost all of the championships society’s 10 living life members will be actively involved in the event in the town’s Molyneaux Stadium, including Graeme Bell, who wagged school at the age of 10 to help-out at the first shears in 1961 “across the road from home” and then in the town’s War Memorial Hall.
He’s been there every year, except when the traditional shearing sports season-opener was cancelled because of the pandemic 12 months ago.
Amid a meeting today with president and fellow life member Greg Stuart, he said he can recall when he was 11-12 years old, his intermediate school deputy principal looking-in on the way to work, and seeing Bell as he helped with the sheep.
“Mark you absent today then Bell ?” the teacher would ask knowingly.
Now 70, Bell will be there when the championships are held on Friday and Saturday, when there will be no public entry – just officials, about 140 shearers and woolhandlers, and about 830 sheep.
“I’m not sure what my role will be,” he says. It’s clear he’s tried his hand at everything, including currently the important job of arranging sponsorship, and Stuart calls him “the general dog’s body.”
Everything has to be ready by the 8am reporting time for competitors, with competition from 8.30am, with 76 entered across the Open, Senior, Junior and Novice woolhandling grades being contested on Friday, and 65 in the Open and Senior shearing grades on Saturday.
The championships double as the start of the 50th season of the national all-breeds championships, the multiple-rounds ironman event of shearing and inaugurated in Alexandra as the McSkimming Memorial Triple Crown when the first heats were held in 1972.
Now known as the PGG Wrightson Vetmed National Shearing Circuit, it has 25 entries, from Northland to Southland, targeting qualifying rounds at Alexandra on Saturday, the New Zealand Spring Shears in Waimate on October 8-9, the New Zealand Corriedale Shears in Christchurch on November 11-12, the Rangitikei Shearing Sports in Marton on February 5, and the Pahiatua Shears on February 27.
The top 12 qualify for the circuit finals at the Golden Shears in Masterton on March 3-5, the winner or top New Zealander in both the Merino Shears Open shearing final and the Circuit being automatic selections in the New Zealand transtasman series team each season.
The woolhandling events are part of the South Island Open, Senior and Junior woolhandling circuits.
Organisers at Alexandra, who have been living in hope of a relaxation of the restrictions to Level 1 or even the all-clear, will be strictly enforcing the rules of the alert in place, with no late entries, admission only for officials, competitors and sponsors, contact tracing procedure, hand sanitising, social distancing and mask-wearing at all times indoors except while competing.
The Merino Shears is the first of what was to have been 59 shearing sports shows throughout the 2021-2022 season, as stand-alone competitions or at A and P shows or country sports days.
For a third season, the pandemic has again flexed its muscle, with so far the cancellation of four A and P shows in October, taking to more than 20 the number of cancellations since the start of the first lockdown in mid-March 2020. The Northern show in Rangiora and the Wairarapa show at Clareville, near Carterton, will have been cancelled in both 2020 and 2021.
Shearing Sports New Zealand chairman and former multiple circuit winner Sir David Fagan breathes “a sigh of relief’ to see the season getting under way, especially with the finewooled Merino championships back after last year’s cancellation.
“It’s good to see the committee being proactive, ticking all the boxes, and dealing with all the protocols,” he said. “And it’s great to see the many life members and other very long servants, some have 40 or 50 years, some as we see even 60 years behind them. It does help the shows evolve, because they can show young committee members and supporters how the show is run.”
The pandemic prevents West Australian shearer Damian Boyle from defending the title Merino Shears Open shearing title he won for an 8th time in 2019, but among the 40 chasing the title will be four of the five finalists from that victory, in Cheviot-based former Southland shearer Troy Pyper, Invercargill gun Nathan Stratford, Brett Roberts, of Mataura, and merino-shearing record holder Stacey Te Huia, now based in Central Otago.
Also competing will be Invercargill shearer Leon Samuels who won the finals of the PGG Wrightson and New Zealand Shears circuits when both were held in Te Kuiti last April, following the cancellation of the Golden Shears.
Missing for the first time in about 35 years will be 2019 fifth placegetter and former shears president Dion Morrell, who said he would have been at the “local show” again but for being out of the area at the weekend.
His daughter, No 1-ranked 2020-2021 season Open woolhandler Pagan Karauria, will be back to defend her local Open woolhandling title, the field on 25 also including fellow 2019 finalists Amy Lee Ferguson, of Invercargill, Candy Hiri, of Mataura, and Chelsea Collier, from Gore, and top North Island hopes Joel Henare, of Gisborne, and Keryn Herbert, of Te Kuiti.
For further info: Doug Laing, Media Officer, Shearing Sports New Zealand, mobile 0274-690644;
Greg Stuart, president, New Zealand Merino Shears, 0274 364061