While wool prices may be up there with the best seen for years, and cuts boosted by winter rain, the outlook in the shearing industry isn’t so rosy.
Both Eromanga grazier Stuart Mackenzie and shearing contractor Karl Goodman are sounding the alarm on how few young people are attracted to the industry these days.
In the last dozen or more years, ongoing drought, interspersed with too few good years, took away the constancy of work, meaning people have had to travel more and be away from their families in order to stay in employment, sending more people in search of permanent work in country towns or in cities.
Even New Zealand, once the source of plenty of shearing teams in Australia, has been decimated by the shift out of sheep to dairy.
Stu sees the lack of workers as the main barrier deterring people from getting back into sheep.
“As the industry’s declined, as people have got out of it, obviously there hasn’t been a demand so there hasn’t been that critical level to keep a workforce going.
“There is in NSW, but to actually expand that will be difficult.
“I personally think it’s quite difficult these days to get new people into those sorts of jobs.
“It’s something we have to be aware of – it’s not just shearing, it’s any manual labour.”
His contractor, Karl Goodman, has the same fear.
Originally from Charleville, he had to move to Inverell to follow the work, and now has a five week run in this part of the south west, taking in Cottesmore and Boran as well as Plevna Downs.
“There’s work all the time for me down south – I’ve only had two days off since February – but there hasn’t been a new shearing contractor in Queensland for I don’t know how long,” he said.
“I think Queensland’s in trouble – it’s a generational thing.
“There’s no local shearers anymore – there’s one in Thargomindah, three in Cunnamulla, maybe four or five in Charleville.
“ We’re lucky it’s dry and numbers are down but if we get a wet season, if we get fly, we’re in trouble.”
His main concern is that there’s no way back now that people have left the industry.
As a trainer, he’s done work for Queensland Agricultural Training Colleges and run other shearing courses, but said very few apply to take part.
“Kids out here know about it and don’t want to do it – they’re more interested in town jobs.
“Not enough young people know what you can achieve in the shearing industry.
“A bloke here has been going five years, he’s making $90 grand a year. If you can’t make money now, you never will.
“It’s better money than it ever was.”
He sees the cities as where the workforce of the future will be located.
He said he enjoys the physicality of shearing, of doing an honest day’s work.
As for Stu, he likes that you can still have a great life and make a great living out of doing the jobs that have always have to be done.