AUSTRALIAN wool handling champion Sophie Huf is hoping to build on what has been a year of firsts at the World Shearing and Woolhandling Championships in Invercargill in February next year.
The 25-year-old Victorian won her first Australian national title in early October, gained her debut selection in the Australian team and will be making her maiden trip to a world championship in 2017.
It’s also worth adding the arrival of her first child at the start of the year to that list.
Baby Axel is a calming influence at competitions for the proud new mother and both he and husband Paul will be making the trip across the Tasman in the New Year.
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Sophie has shearing in her genes. Her father was a shearer for 25 years and mother was a wool-classer for 22. She grew up around a woolshed so it’s little surprise that she was in the Huf family shed on the day Baby Axel decided it was time to enter the world.
“I went home around 4 o’clock because I wasn’t feeling that well. I was absolutely buggered and my labour started at 10 o’clock that night, so I was glad I went home when I did,” she said.
Husband Paul is also a shearer so there’s every chance baby Axel will follow the family tradition into the industry. “He’ll probably end up hating it,” mother Sophie said with a laugh.
Mind you, the shearing industry could do with him. Sophie is a wool handling instructor working for training provider RIST at Hamilton in south west Victoria, where she teaches at shearing schools and coaches in sheds.
“There’s not as many coming in to the industry as wool handlers as there should be,” she said.
“It’s really hard to get and keep highly-skilled people in our district. Every week we have people ringing up asking if we have a woolhandler or shearer because they are short-staffed.”
“In days gone by, every kid that grew up on a farm stayed on the farm, or at least in the agriculture industry,” she said.
“Now they are encouraged to leave the farm, go off to university and move away.
“It’s a real shame, because if you can’t keep locals involved, you’ve got no hope of getting someone out of the city; someone doesn’t suddenly decide they want to leave the city and start shearing or become a wool classer.”
There’s no easy fix for the situation, but education is a key and Sophie is doing her part.
“The majority of my role is getting students started.
“They may never have been in a woolshed before and you’re getting them started right from scratch in our learner school,” she said.
“Then, I go out into the shed and visit people who are working in the industry fulltime and then giving them some pointers to make their job a bit easier or to help step up the quality which hopefully makes the grower a bit more money at the end of the day.”
Sophie’s passion for the industry that has been her life, is clear. so too is her excitement for her upcoming world championship campaign.
“I’m really looking forward to the experience and the atmosphere. I have absolutely no expectations whatsoever.
“We are mainly working with fine wools here and it’s all long wool so I’ll feel much more comfortable on them than the second shear that’s for sure,” she said.
“I’m lucky with Mel Morris (Tasmania) as my team mate.
“She’s a good friend and a very good competitor,” Sophie said.
“She’s got good experience behind her and will teach me a lot too.”
Due to husband Paul’s New Year workload in the sheds, the Hufs won’t get the opportunity to travel early to acclimatise to Southland’s wool types but she does have a clear plan between now and February.
“I’m hoping to get a few weeks back in the shed, just to get back in the rhythm.
“That’s all you can do really, a bit of shed work and try and prepare yourself mentally which is half the battle.”
With family by her side, Sophie Huf would love nothing more than to add one more first to her year in Invercargill.
The 2017 World Shearing and Woolhandling Championships will be held in the South Island of New Zealand for the first time in its 40-year history at ILT Stadium Southland in Invercargill from 8 to 11 February. Tickets and event information can be found at www.worldshearingchamps.com.
Source: World Shearing and Woolhandling Championships.