AUSTRALIA’S wool industry made its mental health and suicide support network that much bigger last weekend, when blade shearers, rousabouts and farmers from across the nation and overseas swapped stories and shearing blows at the Blades of Glencoe Shearathon.
Despite non-stop rain, about 1200 people came to the National Trust’s Glencoe wool shed near Mount Gambier on Sunday to see about 60 blade shearers and nine wool handlers take the wool off 1000 crossbred lambs and bale it for sale.
The event was held to raise money for beyondblue, but co-organiser, Western Australian shearer and Ducks on The Pond co-ordinator Janine Midgley said she wanted to create a network of people that could help each other.
“This will grow, it will just keep snowballing.
“I wanted to create a network of people that when there is no help – counselling, phones or hotlines – we can all talk to each other when we are at work,” she said.
“I’m overwhelmed, it was exactly how I envisaged it – it was amazing, everyone just really happy and we would have had a lot more people if not for the rain it was non-stop.”
She said through events like the Shearathon the wool industry and regional communities are creating their own informal mental health referral networks.
“We have forged friendships for life and I will be keeping in touch with all the girls and the men – we are all in touch now and we won’t drop out of touch either – we will all constantly stay in touch with each other.
“I’ve got people contacting me now to make sure I’m alright – it took 18 months to put this together and there have been a lot of emotions and stuff over the last two weeks for me to put it all together,” she said.
“I’ve been thinking about what we’ve created, but I think it is going to become clearer over the next two weeks.”
She said some farmer friends from Western Australia flew over for the event, although they didn’t speak because they felt it wasn’t their area.
“But actually it was for them as well, we’re all connected – I really want for us to feel that we are all one community – the farmers, all the workers, the shearers, the wool industry, the people in the towns, everyone.”
Apsley blade shearer and trainer Richie Foster organised the male shearers for Glencoe and said the event helped to lessen the stigma around mental health issues and had united people.
“They came all for the cause, not to find salvation, but hoping to get some support I suppose.”
Event media manager Lance Degenhardt said the 25 female blade shearers and 25 men at the shearathon came from throughout Australia and overseas. They included shearers from throughout Australia, including two women from England, one from Germany and several from New Zealand, including NZ champion Allan Oldfield and his father Phil.
Young Charlie Dunn racing with one-armed shearer Josh Talbot for at The Blades Of Glencoe raising awareness for mental health and suicide prevention.
One-armed South Australian shearer Josh Talbot gave a shearing demonstration and diminutive shearer of Little Big Shots fame Charlie Dunn, 7, was the youngest shearer on the board. The oldest shearer was 78 year-old Rodger Borgmeyer OAM from Kangaroo Island.
Even the politicians – Federal Liberal MP for Barker Tony Pasin and State Liberal for MacKillop Nick McBride — turned up to shear a sheep.
Mr Degenhardt said the amount of funds raised had not been tallied, but he said the day was very, very successful. He said several people related their life stories in the Tails from Tailgate session on Saturday night.
“This is something that we’ve got to get through to the younger generation, that hey, if you’ve got a mental health problem, start talking about it.”
English blade shearer Angela ‘Muttley’ Pearson was on her second visit to Australia and said “Glencoe was brilliant.”
“It was a huge amount of people all coming together with a like-mindedness of raising awareness of mental health and suicide prevention.
“Some people have met before and there others they’ve never seen before and everybody worked together as a team and we shore 1000 sheep before afternoon smoko.”
She has been blade shearing for only two years and previously worked in the printing trade.
Glencoe wool handler and former Australian representative Dianne Mills, 62, from Young in New South Wales said as well as the all-Aussie wool handlers, two shed hands kept the pens full.
“We finished up pressing eight bales of wool for the day – it was good,” she said.
“The atmosphere was unreal – we had an absolute ball and it was for a good cause.”
She said one of the wool handlers, 70 year-old Larry Bruce from Mildura, has been on the job for 50 years. The wool handlers also included ‘Fluff’ Tonkin from South Australia, and Brian Press, a shearer of 42 years, from Bathurst in New South Wales.