There’s not many things in the world as mesmerising as a good shearing team in action.
Watching the rhythmic blows, the creamy fleece flowing from the handpiece, all accompanied by the hum of an electric motor and the doof doof beat from a loudspeaker – it’s an atmosphere Chantel McAlister is addicted to.
The Meandarra-based master woolclasser believes the truth of the perfection of a team attuned to each other and the satisfaction of a job well done is one the world is ready to hear, and she’s getting ready to tell it.
“Rural Australia is trending online,” she said. “People are really wanting to connect with that farm to fibre message.
“It’s the best time for the wool industry to come out of the shadows.”
Those shadows were largely cast by animal activists suggesting that shearing is cruel to lambs, or that shearers have a drug problem, which Chantel, also a photographer, has begun addressing.
One activist campaign inspired her to compile three short videos depicting crutching, shearing and wool-handling and upload them to her webpage, with outstanding results.
The wool-handling one has attracted over 300,000 views so far, and the shearing one is not far behind.
The huge interest, and the transfer of knowledge – people have been mistaking crutching for mulesing for instance – has prompted Chantel to swap her woolclassing stencil for six months touring Australia to document our woolsheds, sheep properties and farming families, beginning in February.
Titled The Truth about Wool, she’s aiming to showcase the “beautiful raw glory” of Australian wool to the world, firstly with blogs and livestreams as she travels from place to place, then with a book, and culminating with an experiential touring show and video documentaries to take her message around Australia and the world.
“I want to show people the generations and care that go into what we do,” she said. “it was only last year I realised how I could connect emotionally with people.
“It was such a big part of our past – people are really wanting to connect with it.”
She hopes the project will support thousands in the industry for generations to come.
Chantel describes her photographic style as a “gritty” photojournalistic one that often zeros in on her subject.
“I’ve always been snap-happy,” she said. “With my first pay cheque I went out and bought a Canon point and shoot.
She’s become a member of the AIPP and says she’s spent a lot of hours getting her technique right.
“What I love is being there in the shed and seeing its moments in an artful way, that I can stop.
“It’s calming, like therapy. It’s the complete opposite of the busy shed.”
Labour of love crowdfunding call
Passion has fuelled Chantel McAlister’s vision to share Australia’s rich wool heritage, the sustainable fibre that it is, the shearing process, and the dedication of wool-growing families that keep it alive.
However, putting the stencil and ink to rest for a number of months, starting in February and ending in June, means Chantel is giving up her main form of income.
In order to put fuel in her ute, to have enough money for a bed at night, to put food in her mouth and help publish the resulting book and videos, she has begun a crowd-funding project.
She says that as Australia's only masterclasser and professional photographer, she has a unique perspective as well as a decade of experience in the wool industry, that will inform her work in a unique way.
“Wool has played such an important part in Australia's past and it is my mission to make sure that it is part of our future,” she said.
Since putting the call out around the shearing industry network she’s begun hearing of interesting stories right around rural Australia.
Small family wool operations are a particular focus.
“The big pastoral companies were important to the industry for sure, but those family stories are important too,” she said.
Chantel sees her book as being able to reach overseas wool consumers who take up the majority of Australia’s output.
“I hope it will transport them right into the shed,” she said.
A touring show to Australia’s major cities is also on the cards, setting up galleries like a shearing shed so people can experience all the different elements.
“I want to show the industry, the producers, and the garment makers,” she said. “I don’t think people realise how many are involved in making a wool suit happen.”
Chantel also believes its important to document the industry in the modern day.
“You see a lot of old photos and then, nothing. Today we live in a digital age and everything is shared online.”
At the time of writing, she is halfway to her $10,000 crowdfunding goal.
People can help make her dream a reality by contributing at www.gofundme.com/thetruthaboutwool
Chantel has more information about her life’s passion and her aim to launch wool into the future at her photography website, where her three videos are also located.