IT was a tale of oddments on the way to glory for new Australian wool handling champion Mark Purcell at the national titles in Bendigo on Saturday.
After 23 years trying for a berth on the Australian team, the popular 50-year-old wool handler and farmer from Macarthur in Victoria’s south-west put it all together to edge out reigning national champion Racheal Hutchison from New South Wales.
Mark excited the crowd with his trademark fleece-throwing flair, but it was his board work and oddment sorting from six Merino fleeces that helped him accrue just 53.09 overall penalty points, less than a point ahead of Hutchison on 53.63 points.
New South Wales wool handler Tina Rimene was third on 62.04 points, followed by Jayne Giffin, Victoria, 65.13; Alexander Schoff, Queensland, 80.79, and; Josie Post, South Australia, 121.80.
Mark accrued the lowest board, oddment and work skills points – 92, 96 and 41.83 – of the six finalists at the Bendigo showgrounds. His attention to detail on the board made the difference against faster younger finalists, despite him accruing 63 fleece points and finishing second last in his final fleece clean-up.
The reigning back-to-back Victorian wool handling champion and father of two teenage boys said he has had two thirds and a fourth place in previous national titles. He also had to fight off Q Fever for several years.
“This is the first time I’ve come through and taken it out – I’m just stoked, yeah.”
Mark said over the last two months he had spent more time in the sheds to improve oddment sorting.
“It was the oddments, trying to get everything all right.
“That’s what has been doing me in over the last few years.”
This included keeping his shanks separate from the stain and ensuring the locks were white and bright, he said.
“That’s what got me across the line.
“I know I can get the fleeces up on the table and keep my pieces to a bare minimum, and then the main thing is the oddments that can really do you – and I’ve got that under control.”
Two days after the Saturday evening final after many calls from well-wishers, Mark said he was “still up in the clouds, it’s taking a bit of sinking in – it was great.”
“I think everybody is more stoked than me, it’s unbelievable.”
Mark started handling wool on his father Frank’s property at Bessiebelle as a boy and now works as a trainer with RIST at Hamilton. He gets to compete with Racheal Hutchison at the New Zealand Golden Shears next March and the world championships in Scotland later in the year.
Congratulations for Mark flow in
Sports Shear Australia secretary Raelene Laidlaw said up to this morning Mark had received more than 80 ‘likes or loves’ on the SSA Facebook page, plus congratulations from world champion New Zealand wool handler Joel Henare, past and current competitors, and shearers.
“A lot of very top people within the industry are very very excited for him.”
Ms Laidlaw said the competition was tough for wool handlers and shearers this year because of the weather-affected wool on the sheep.
“They were tough for the shearers, but they were really tough for the wool handlers because there was a lot of work and lot of preparation that they often don’t get in competitions because the sheep are selected for the event.
“Whereas these sheep were meant to have been shorn five weeks ago and the conditions have been so tough this year that there was a lot of work in them for the competitors,” she said.
This meant extra work in sorting stain, colour, shanks, second cuts and skin, Ms Laidlaw said.
“These were huge fleeces that needed particular care taken when skirting to sort the oddments correctly.
“It actually replicated more of what happens in a shearing shed than what some of our other events do, it was real sheading shed conditions,” she said.
She said many of the sheep that were shorn for the wool handling events were those that had been rejected by the shearers for the shearing events.