One of the longest-running shearing sheds in Kentucky, northern New South Wales, is abuzz with the bustle that surrounds 12,000 sheep that need to be shorn. 

The station is just outside Uralla on the Northern Tablelands, about 540 kilometres north of Sydney, and provides the biggest shearing job a 21-strong team will complete this year.

Inside the shearing shed’s timber walls is a team with a mix of experience — young and old, women and men. 

Ash Smith, one of about half a dozen women in this team, works here each year and says it gives her a chance to get back to basics.

A woman handles wool in a shearing shed

Ash Smith loves working in the wool industry and encourages more women to try it.(ABC New England North West: Cassandra Power)

These days, Ms Smith is a wool classer, one of the most important roles in a shed, but for the eight days of the year she’s at Kentucky station she’s a rouseabout, or general hand, the role she had when she started in shearing more than a decade ago. 

“This is probably one of the only sheds that I do rouseabout at but I do quite enjoy rouseabouting here,” Ms Smith said.

But it is the skill, knowledge and responsibility of wool classing and it challenges that she is most passionate about.

“I love being able to mentally challenge myself with the wool,” she said.

Young and old together

Local shearing contractor of 35 years Dave Garrahy is the man charged with gathering the Kentucky team.

It’s the biggest of Mr Garrahy’s yearly contracts in and around Uralla and, he said, with the hardships faced by the industry, finding workers “took a bit of doing”.

A man in a blue shirt looks at the camera

Contractor David Garrahy runs the team, which includes his 17-year-old son.(ABC New England North West: Cassandra Power)

“It’s a battle,” he said.

“It seems to get a bit harder every year but we always get there and everybody in the industry would be having the same issues.

“They’re starting to slowly increase again now, but people have to run their lives. They couldn’t sit around waiting for something to happen.”

But while Mr Garrahy might rue the lost experience, he said he had some new young kids on the Kentucky roster this year.

A young man shearing a sheep

Ned Garrahy’s an enthusiastic newcomer to the shed.(ABC New England North West: Cassandra Power)

In fact his son Ned Garrahy, 17, is one of the new brood of shearers at Kentucky Station.

He hated school life and decided to leave and give shearing a go.

“Dad was shearer so I thought, why not?” Ned said.

A shearing sling hangs from a wall in a wool shed.

At Kentucky Station, a team of 21 is pulled together to shear close to 12,000 sheep.(ABC New England North West: Cassandra Power)

Twelve months on, he’s enjoying himself and plans on staying around.

Shearing is in the blood

Ben Layton is one of the team’s more experienced shearers and cheekily said he was born to be in the game.

He is a third generation shearer, so it is safe to say shearing is in his blood.

A man shears a sheep

Ben Layton is a third generation shearer.(ABC New England North West: Lara Webster)

He has seen plenty of change in his three decades in the sheds, the biggest of which is not just the diversification of staff but their habits.

“Well, there didn’t used to be any women when I started, now there is a lot more girls, which is good,” he said.

“And mobiles phones! We used to sit around and talk, now they just sit around on their phones.”

Decades in the woolshed

The man classing the wool in this shed is local Michael Sloman.

It’s a job he began 30 years ago and has never left. 

“I started on my uncle’s sheep to begin with and he said, ‘It’s time to have a go’ and that’s where I began,” Mr Sloman said.

A man in a blue shirt stands with some wool in his hands

Michael Sloman is a wool classer and loves his job.(ABC New England North West: Cassandra Power)

Over three decades, he’s classed more fleeces than he can count.

“I wouldn’t mind a dollar for each fleece I’ve done!” he laughed.

Faces of diversity on show in the woolshed as shearing evolves to meet its challenges
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