New Straits Times
‘SHEAR’ VICTORY FOR WOMEN
Female sheep shearer inspires others in male-dominated industry Down Under
IN a sweltering shed on an Australian farm near the rural town of Trangie, Emma Billet, 28, drags a nervous sheep from a waiting pen to her shearing station.
She is the only female in her crew of five shearers, but attitudes on Australian farms are changing and training approaches are encouraging a gender rethink, with more women entering the profession Down Under.
“It is a physical job which I enjoy. I like to work hard,” Billet, who can fleece 130 sheep daily, said during her break.
“It is like a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.”
The number of skilled women working with farm animals — including animal trainers, veterinary nurses and shearers and shearing hands — has grown from close to 11,700 in 2006 to almost 19,200 a decade later, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
“It comes back to women being on the land as well,” Billet said of the rise of women in the industry.
“It has become more and more common now just to see women owning farms and running businesses, and I guess times have just changed. It is good to see.”
Although there are fewer than 100 female shearers, experts say there has been significant growth in the past few years.
“There have been women in the shed for a long time, who have just been roustabouts (shed hands that collect the wool from the ground),” Glenn Haynes, a shearing programme coordinator at TAFE South Australia, a leading vocational training school, said.
There was resistance in the past, however, with a “pretty negative attitude towards women” from the older generation when it came to their ability to shear, Haynes added.
But this was changing and new approaches to training were being introduced, including femaleonly programmes, as demand among women grew, he said.
Haynes held a workshop in 2016 targeting women, in which just a few pursued a shearing career, but the annual event has recently seen close to 25 entering the trade.
Australia is one of the world’s largest wool exporters, producing around 25 per cent of greasy wool sold on the global market, in a multi-billion dollar industry. More than 70 million sheep are shorn each year.