Wool in­dus­try stal­warts truck on

Pilbara News - - News - Cally Dupe

They are the for­mer shear­ers, wool­classers and rouse­abouts who braved the heat, iso­la­tion and warm beer of the North West.

And more than 50 years on, they have still got a story to tell about an era known col­lo­qui­ally as “the truck days”.

Peter Letch was just a teenager from a sheep farm in Clack­line when he packed up his life and went north to Fitzroy River in the Kim­ber­ley.

It was the start of a 54-year ca­reer in the wool in­dus­try, of which al­most a decade was spent shear­ing across the Kim­ber­ley, Pil­bara, Gas­coyne and Murchi­son.

“We spent nine months trav­el­ling south, stop­ping in at var­i­ous sta­tions along the day,” he said.

“Rid­ing the trucks was rough, dusty, hot, some­times wet and cold.

“If it wasn’t any of those things, it meant you were bogged.”

Be­fore cat­tle dom­i­nated WA pas­toral sta­tions, mobs of up to 100,000 sheep were com­mon­place on big prop­er­ties through­out the Kim­ber­ley, Pil­bara and Gas­coyne. Each year, hun­dreds of men would board coastal steam­ers from Fre­man­tle to start what would have been one of the tough­est shear­ing runs in Aus­tralia.

Dock­ing at Port Hed­land, Broome and Derby be­tween the 1920s and 1960s, the shear­ing teams would pile on to the back of trucks and travel from shed to shed.

For some, the runs would last up to eight months, while oth­ers would be away from home for years at a time.

Terry Wilkin­son, 93, was one of 60 young men pulled out of the army and placed into a shear­ing team head­ing north in the early 1940s. He boarded a coal steamer from Fre­man­tle and spent two years work­ing in WA’s north.

“It was more or less like be­ing in camp . . . it was real sticky heat, the bugs in the wa­ter nearly killed me,” he said. “I wouldn’t drink my wa­ter bag un­til af­ter din­ner.

“I drank sweet black tea and it would be a half an hour be­fore I could pick up the comb again.”

Now, more than 30 years af­ter the last sheep was dragged over the north­ern boards, a new film has been re­leased to chronicle the his­tory of shear­ing in the North West.

Shear­ers: The Truck Days was com­mis­sioned by the Shear­ers and Pas­toral Work­ers So­cial Club.

It fea­tures in­ter­views with for­mer shear­ers and old pho­tos and footage from the time. Copies are avail­able at North West lo­cal gov­ern­ment li­braries and the Bat­tye Li­brary in Perth. The DVD can be bought through the SPWSC.

Pic­ture: Si­mon Santi

For­mer shear­ers Terry Wilkin­son, John Moore, Peter Letch, Doug Kennedy, Dar­ryl Grey, David Sears and Barry Main­war­ing with an old circa 1950s Bedford truck.

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