Fifty years on the boards: one shearer's life

Trevor Kearns has been shearing in the Ballarat region and beyond since 1969


Life & Style
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When Trevor Kearns began his career as a shearer, Australia still measured the woolclip in pounds and ounces and Holden's Monaro was a year old.

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Fifty years: Trevor Kearns tackles yet another sheep. He's shorn well over a million. Picture: Lachlan Bence.

Fifty years: Trevor Kearns tackles yet another sheep. He's shorn well over a million. Picture: Lachlan Bence.

It's hard to describe the smell of a shearing shed to someone who's never stepped inside one: the prominent sweet tang of lanolin mixed with the rich pungency of sheep manure and sweat; the odour of ground metal from sharpened combs and cutters and the waft of oil from hydraulic presses and overhead gear.

For 50 years Trevor Kearns has lived in this world, performing what was regarded as one of the two hardest jobs in the country.

The first of those jobs was wharf work. Now largely mechanised, hardened wharfies lugging rope cargo nets over the lethal yawning maws of ship's holds have disappeared from our docks.

The other was shearing. The back-breaking work of taking the fleece from a sheep is still done by hand, by men and women travelling from shed to shed across the country. As much as we love to romanticise the shearer, anyone who's ever tried to put a handpiece through the wool of a 75-kilogram ram that's taken an objection to the experience will gladly disabuse you of your reverie.

Classing: Stuart McKenry and Ken Smith throwing a fleece for skirting. Picture: Lachlan Bence.

Classing: Stuart McKenry and Ken Smith throwing a fleece for skirting. Picture: Lachlan Bence.

Trevor Kearns has done that single job as much as any person: over a million times. He passed that milestone some five years ago, he says, and has knocked over another 85,000 since then.

At 69, Trevor is a very fit, lean man. He moves with a bit of stiffness when we talk, but puts it down to over half a day already shearing when we talk.

His first professional shed was at historic Greystones station, near Bacchus Marsh. He shore 55 sheep at his first go.

"I've got a little bit better since that day," Trevor says wryly.

The son of a soldier-settler who farmed at Mt Mercer, Trevor and his twin brother were taught shearing by their father at 14.

"Right you two, we're gonna shear a sheep," Trevors recalls his father saying, hauling them up to the shed.

Trevor Kearns talks about 50 years of shearing life.

"We shore a sheep each; it took about half an hour to do," he says.

"I progressed to rouseabouting, then shearing the last few sheep... that's how it started."

A close watch: Tom Lane watches the shearers on the boards. Picture: Lachlan Bence.

A close watch: Tom Lane watches the shearers on the boards. Picture: Lachlan Bence.

Trevor Kearns says the greatest changes to the job in 50 years have been the increase in the size of sheep and the introduction of the wide comb, which made shearing greater numbers of sheep per run (session) possible, but split the industry when the Australian Worker's Union called a strike over the issue in the early 1980s.

"Seven weeks on strike, of nothing, for nothing," Trevor says ruefully.

A million plus: Trevor Kearns still relishes the job of shearing after 50 years. Picture: Lachlan Bence.

A million plus: Trevor Kearns still relishes the job of shearing after 50 years. Picture: Lachlan Bence.

But Trevor Kearns's regrets are few. He's had the experience of travelling to New Zealand to work; spent some of his early years working for Grazcos in the lush Riverina.

"I always travelled on my own," Trevor says.

"If you travelled with another bloke, and you relied on him or him on you, and there were problems... well it was better to rely on yourself."

Preparing a fleece: Belinda 'Blinky' Reardon skirts a fleece. Picture: Lachlan Bence.

Preparing a fleece: Belinda 'Blinky' Reardon skirts a fleece. Picture: Lachlan Bence.

And in those times the grazier was king; never seen in the shed unless he was in his tweed jacket, collar, tie and hat, says Trevor.

"The boss never interacted with you much; if there were any problems, he'd go to the overseer. The boss'd make the bullets, and the overseer would have to fire them.

"They're both gone now; people are much nicer."

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