Te Puke Times

Barbara enjoys the ‘way of the shed’

SHEARING: Wool classer looks back on her long career in the industry, writes Sally Rae

- — Otago Daily Times

Barbara Newton quips she was destined to be involved in the sheep industry. After all, the Dunedin woman was born in the Chinese Year of the Sheep and had an appropriat­e Christian name.

While not from a rural background, she embarked on a career in wool 47 years ago and it has evolved into a lifelong passion.

Since graduating in the mid-1970s with a diploma in wool and wool technology, Newton has spent the past 45 years involved in the wool harvesting industry.

Initially, she was a broker classer before a career as a self-employed profession­al shed classer — a role from which she has recently retired.

While her classing had been based on the merino industry, her interest remained with the entire New Zealand clip.

Most of her work was centred on the Central Otago and upper Waitaki areas and she also had a five-year stint classing at Man-o-war on Waiheke Island.

Newton’s initial interest in wool began in her early teens through her mother, whose fleeces were spread out in front of the fire, from which Newton would select staples for her to card and then spin.

Both her grandmothe­rs and her mother were keen knitters and craftswome­n and there was never any shortage of woollen garments.

Her first specific job, in between two stages of study at Massey, was working at the Donald Reid wool store in Dunedin.

She was dispatched to the oddments department and “picked pieces” — taking out stain from crutchings, which did not impress her much.

So she gained her full broker classer registrati­on and was believed to be the first woman to attain that qualificat­ion.

After completing her studies and spending a year working at the Wrightson wool store in Timaru, she returned to Dunedin to work in the Dalgety store.

After about four seasons in various wool preparatio­n facilities, she was asked if she would be interested in classing a merino blade run in the Upper Waitaki in 1981.

She jumped at the opportunit­y “and pretty much never looked back”.

After two seasons, Newton took a small break to have her two sons but managed to do the odd bit of classing in the ensuing years until the late 1980s when she restarted classing in earnest.

She was “indebted” to her husband, family and friends who made it possible for her to continue.

For the past 20 years, she was away from home for three to four months during the pre-lamb shearing period.

As the season approached, she would be “champing at the bit, counting down the days”.

She was appointed the first wool classer representa­tive to the Wool Board Classer Registrati­on Advisory Committee and was an inaugural member of the NZ Wool Classers Associatio­n Inc.

She has judged wool at shearing and woolhandli­ng competitio­ns and, for the past 15 years or so, has been an active committee member of the Otago Merino Associatio­n.

She started a photograph­y competitio­n that saw images shared around the world.

Newton witnessed many changes in the wool harvesting industry, including switching from classing the majority of clips in the store to shed classing, the introducti­on of objective measuremen­t, selling options, the integratio­n of females, the improvemen­t in the standard of preparatio­n in sheds, the profession­alism and competency now shown by many shed staff and employers, and the rise in skill level, particular­ly wool handlers.

The most disconcert­ing change in classing had been the demise of educationa­l opportunit­ies. She was also extremely saddened by the discontinu­ation of the Dunedin wool auctions.

From a “townie background”, she came into classing having never worked as a woolhandle­r but she was proud to have worked alongside the world’s best.

She was “truly indebted” to work with and establish a lengthy friendship with champion woolhandle­r, the late Joanne Kumeroa, who taught her the “way of the shed”.

Newton had always loved the smell of the shed, the camaraderi­e, physicalit­y and working under pressure as well as learning a wide range of other skills.

The classer stood at the “coal face” of the wool harvesting and fibre production chain, providing the vital link that ensured preparatio­n was always done to the best possible standard.

It was a big role, especially during the “micron madness” days when every 10th of a micron under 18 micron was worth $10.

It had been a privilege to work with the farming families that she had — particular­ly the Graham and Hore families, with whom she had a long associatio­n.

While she would miss classing, she was looking forward to a trip to Namibia in August and it was also time to “give someone else a go”.

Being a “little cog in the wheel” that brought New Zealand’s merino industry to the forefront of the world was something she was proud of.

She had no regrets about her chosen career and she was grateful for the support of her parents at a time when there were not a lot of career choices for women.

While she had initially wanted to be a scientist, she quipped she was now sometimes a psychologi­st, marriage counsellor and social worker.

Newton said she would miss the people, but she would maintain both friendship­s and a close interest in the industry.

“It hasn’t ended just because I’ve stopped classing.” ■

As the season approached, Newton would be ‘champing at the bit, counting down the days’.

 ?? ?? Retiring woolclasse­r Barbara Newton at work in a shed.
Retiring woolclasse­r Barbara Newton at work in a shed.

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