Former Kiwi shearing champion takes first REDI.E team to NZ

Doug Laing, Shearing Sports New Zealand, September 28, 2022

The Australian REDI.E youth team members from left, wool handlers Jolie Orcher and Alley Rose, and shearer Duane Kennedy, with instructor and New Zealand shearing legend Samson Te Whata. Image – supplied.


AUSTRALIA-BASED New Zealand shearing legend Samson Te Whata returns to the New Zealand Merino Shears in Alexandra on Friday and Saturday on a journey of nostalgia and hope.

The 67-year-old veteran is a four-times 1980s winner of the event’s major title, the New Zealand fine wool shearing championship, returns leading a contingent based on an Australian Aboriginal wool industry training program.

With him are four young indigenous representatives from the New South-Wales-based Regional Enterprise Development Institute’s REDI.E program, who have been in the industry just a few months and are billed as the first indigenous shearing sports team to compete abroad.

They are among more than 150 shearers and wool handlers competing over the two days that kicked off a 2022-2023 Shearing Sports New Zealand calendar of 59 shows throughout the country through to Easter, including stand-alone shows, A and P shows and rural sports days.

The numbers have excited society chairman Lane McSkimming and his committee, being close to 30 more than the 126 who competed when the championships belatedly marked its 60 years 12 months ago, after the disappointment of having to cancel the previous year because of the Covid-19 crisis.

Entries are up in almost all of the grades of the Shears, comprising open and senior shearing and open, senior, junior and novice wool handling.

More than 50 have entered the open shearing championship, the heats of which comprise the first round of the season’s PGG Wrightson Vetmed National Shearing Circuit, incorporating the McSkimming Memorial Triple Crown and marking 50 years since trophy’s first qualifying round, at Alexandra in 1972.

The winners of the open shearing and wool handling finals will each claim a berth in the New Zealand team for the resumption of the trans-Tasman series in Bendigo, Victoria, on October 21.

The new Australian initiative is one of the steps aiming to address the global shortage of skilled workers to meet the demands of the shearing seasons around the World, including the outback of Australia, where vast distances add to issues.

Te Whata, from Kaikohe in the far north, but based in Australia for many years, says there are plenty of people living on the outback towns and communities who could be shearing the sheep, without relying on shearers and wool handlers needing to travel sometimes thousands of kilometres.

But, with distance a big issue, it also aims to address shortages in the outback of Australia, with Te Whata saying there are plenty of people living in the outback who could be shearing its sheep.

Now he’s living a dream by being part of it, in the “REDI footprint”, under the auspices of the Regional Enterprise Development Institute, based in Dubbo, NSW, and serving the hopes and ambitions of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait peoples of Murdi Paaki across western New South Wales.

Two shearers and two wool handlers will be in one team competing in the traditional teams event in Alexandra on Friday, the opening day of the 2022-2023 Shearing Sports New Zealand season. A more experienced team including Australian national shearing champion Daniel McIntyre, with Te Whata in the wings as a reserve – will also compete in the teams event, as well as in a trans-Tasman fine wool match on Saturday. The team members will also have a chance to compete in the championship classes.

Te Whata says it’s “only the start”, and the Golden Shears in Masterton is in his sights as the development programme progresses.

It’s 50 years since Te Whata first hit the headlines, becoming at the time the youngest champion at the Golden Shears in Masterton, by winning the 1972 junior shearing final, aged just 16.

It was in Central Otago town Alexandra in 1974, after winning that year’s Golden Shears Senior title, that he set out on the path that would make him one of New Zealand greatest shearers of finewool, the merino staple of the shearing industry of the south but a wide berth from the strongwool crossbreds with which he’d grown-up in a shearing family in Northland.

The Senior title in Masterton had won him a development-type role as the travelling reserve with the first New Zealand trans-Tasman series team to Euroa, Victoria, with Golden Shears Open champion Norm Blackwell, second McSkimming Memorial Triple Crown circuit winner Eddie Reidy and eventual four-times New Zealand Merino champion Don Morrison.

While Te Whata wasn’t in the test, acting as the reserve, he did, at the age of 19, place fourth among Australia’s top Merino shearers in supporting event the Forlonge Invitation.

Becoming a world record shearer on crossbred lambs along the way, and eventually acclaimed a Master Shearer, he won the New Zealand Merino Shearing Championship in 1980-1982 and 1985, and in 1982 also won the McSkimming Memorial Triple Crown. This made him the champion all-breeds shearer in New Zealand.

Te Whata was a crowd favourite at the Golden Shears well into the 1980s, but while he never did win the supreme title of Golden Shears Open champion he did reach its final six times, with a best result in his last appearance in shearing’s most-famed half-hour in 1988, when runner-up to left-hander Colin King.

Te Whata, whose brother Vic, a fellow former record-breaking shearer, will travel from Kaikohe to take the role of kaumatua and cultural advisor with the team, to liaise with local iwi, says he is honoured to be working with the REDI.E program and the groundbreaking team.

The Merino Shears have had a long-standing reciprocal arrangement with the Royal Perth A and P Show in West Australia, including international shearing matches, and West Australian shearer Damien Boyle’s winning of Alexandra’s Open title eight time between 2010 and 2019.

But in the continuing outfall from the Covd-19 crisis, the Royal Perth team is not travelling this year.


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