A photo exhibition in WA is aiming to raise the profile of the long, hot days and memorable characters who work in one of country Australia’s most understated industries.

Wheatbelt photographer Leith Alexander travelled around regional Western Australia capturing about 20,000 photos to showcase the work of sheep shearers, wool pressers and roustabouts.

The result is Shear — a 21 photo exhibition currently showing in Perth and Narrogin, about two hours south-east of Perth.

“It is a bit of an invisible industry,” Ms Alexander said.

“I lived in Sydney for eight years and all my friends there had never seen shearing.”

A group of sheep shearers in a van

Ms Alexander says sheep shearers are almost like the ‘punks of the country’.(

Supplied: Leith Alexander

)

Ms Alexander said the shearers in the exhibition were memorable characters.

In a nod to the quality of Ms Alexander’s work, the 34-year-old photographer has been selected as one of the 80 finalists by the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra.

The Living Memory: National Photographic Portrait Prize showcases photos capturing the upheaval caused by COVID-19 with the winner to be announced on July 30, this year.

Training a new generation

Paul Hicks is a training officer with Australian Wool Innovation — a taxpayer and farmer-funded body providing research, development and marketing for Australian wool. 

He shows the ropes to upcoming shearers at Rylington Park in Boyup Brook in WA’s South-West region.

A mullet-haired shearer holding a dog against the back drop of a clear blue sky

Photographer Leith Alexander has been selected as one of the 80 finalists at Canberra’s National Portrait Gallery.(

Supplied: Leith Alexander

)

The farm was left to the local shire for the training of young people in the agricultural industry with the training program running for the past 30 years. 

He said sheep shearing hopefuls should be prepared.

“You got to have a fair bit of go about you,” Mr Hicks said.

He said while some young people are not willing to work physically demanding jobs, others are contrary to stereotypical images of millennial workers.

Three people standing, looking down at the camera, one has a camera

Photographer Leith Alexander, with shearers Josh Irvin, left and Kurt Lacy on the right.(

Supplied: Leith Alexander

)

New Zealand travel bubble a good boost

Australia usually attracts about 500 New Zealand shearers for the spring shearing season, but they have not been able to come because of border restrictions.

However, Mr Hicks welcomed the recently announced Trans-Tasman bubble saying it will help ease the load on Australian workers.

He said with WA farmers selling their sheep to eastern state buyers due to water shortages, more Kiwi shearers will help spread the workload.

“It’s going to be a really good thing because they’re [the eastern states] going to be in a bit of strife this year with the amount of sheep to be shorn.”

The Shear exhibition is on until May 8 at the Narrogin Exhibition Space and June 20 at Nyisztor Studio in Perth. 

A sheep shearer in front of the shearing shed

Photographer Leith Alexander spent time in WA wool sheds. Wool producers are keen to see the Trans-Tasman travel bubble bring in New Zealand shearers. (

Supplied: Leith Alexander

)

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‘Memorable characters’: Shearers inspire photo exhibition
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