Where have all the bladies gone
Bladeshearing veteran Tony Dobbs, pictured representing New Zealand at Waimate in 2019. Having contemplated retirement when the board was last year the scene of his 100th win he's back this week to stick with the faith amid declining numbers of shearers with clippers.
Where have all the bladies gone ?
Shearing competition organisers have been wondering where have all the bladies gone as they struggle to make up the numbers for the first bladeshearing competition of the new New Zealand season this week.
While almost 140 have entered machine shearing and woolhandling at the Waimate Shears’ New Zealand Spring championships on Friday and Saturday, the Open Blades had by Monday night attracted just the six needed for a straight final.
There’s also an Intermediate Blades event which had four entries, and championships society president Warren White was hoping for a few “latecomers” and is planning a women’s match, while entries for other events had to be closed-off because of the pandemic Level 2 limit on public attendance and also so that it was known how many sheep would need to be prepared.
Among the blades entries Tony Dobbs, of Fairlie and who had been contemplating retirement amid a “flabbergasting” standing ovation at Waimate 12 months ago as he became the first, and possibly last, blade shearer to notch-up 100 wins, including 30 at Waimate where he first competed in 1979 and where bladeshearing has been a feature every year since the Shears were first held in 1968.
He shore one more competition a few weeks later, being beaten by just 0.09pts, by New Zealand teammate and 2019 World champion Allan Oldfield, of Geraldine, in the Canterbury Shears’ Golden Blades final.
Amid a battle for his health including more than one stint in hospital, ending 30 years of farming and keeping-on with a bit of farm maintenance and some digger-driving he shore just once more in the woolshed about Christmas last year.
That was until, having accepted the challenge to compete at Waimate because he would already be there as a competition judge, he shore six merinos for a neighbour on Monday, sating later: “That’s my practice.”
But missing will be Oldfield, with whom he won the World teams title in 2019 and who in June moved to the North Island, becoming possibly the only blades shearer based in the Wellington area in more than a century.
He’s living in Lower Hutt and keeps in trim travelling over the Remutaka Hill for machine shearing with Wairarapa contractors Paerata and Cushla Abraham when needed, but is also now targeting the small lifestyle block numbers on the rural fringes of the Wellington area – some of it with the novelty of doing it with the clippers.
“Machine shearing is plenty of fitness and really just shearing a couple on the blades each day on a show style is better than commercial blade shearing as competition practice,” he said. “Most farmers don’t have an issue with me bladeshearing a few for practice,” he said.
As for the lifestyle block shearing he said: “Normally it’s easier to blade shear than run power out to the yards.”
Still with an eye on defending the World title in Scotland in 2023, Oldfield said he couldn’t at present justify travelling to the shows on the blades circuit, which are all in the South Island, but he plans to defend the Golden Blades title next month, and take in some competitions in the south in the new year.
Worrying that the craft may lose some shows, he thinks about what can be done to save them, but said: “I think we are more likely to get more competition shearers out of hobby blade shearers than commercial in the future, especially as the amount of commercial blade shearing decreases. I don’t know how much we can do otherwise to get shearers to compete.”
Another reversing a decision not compete this year is Noel Handley, of Rangiora, who shore in World championships finals in 1996, 1998 and 2000, and who has only missed shearing at Waimate twice since 1980.
“I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing,” he said after his late decision.
The Waimate Shears is the second show of the new Shearing Sports New Zealand, following the New Zealand Merino Shears in Alexandra last Friday and Saturday, but which did not include bladeshearing.
As well as being competitor-only, other Level 2 conditions will be in place, including contact tracing, hand-sanitising, mask-wearing and social distancing.
It will be an early start on Friday with the national Winter Comb Senior and Open heats, from 7am (check-in at 6.30am), followed by Open, Senior and Junior woolhandling heats, all on merino sheep, finals, and the finals of the South Island woolhandling circuits.
A Speedshear and woolhandlers Quick Throw will be held from 6.30pm on Friday, and the Spring Shears shearing championships on crossbred longwool will be held on Saturday starting with Novice check-in and heats from 7.30am, followed by Junior, Intermediate, Senior and Open heats and the Blades events.
Shearing Sports New Zealand
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