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Beyond the Bale : September 2017
In the far northwest of NSW, in the sleepy town of Brewarrina, lies the Merriman Shearing School. Established in 2010 and sitting on a 16,000ha property, the school provides training for Indigenous Australians and has changed the lives of more than 150 students, generally aged between 15 and 30. Owned by the Indigenous Land Corporation – which receives funding from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet for the school’s operation – and supported by AWI, the school runs two 16-week courses each year, offering a Certificate Two in Rural Operations and aims to find jobs for young Indigenous Australians within the wool industry. With more than 50 years’ shearing experience, Ian Bateman – or ‘Boof ’ as he is known in the industry – is the school’s head trainer. An Indigenous man himself, he knows just how important it is for young Indigenous Australians to be offered training that can lead to employment opportunities. “More than half our students have gained full-time employment after graduating,” says a proud Ian. “In addition to shearing, the students are taught everything that’s done on a sheep property: fencing, fixing troughs, building yards, wool handling, pressing and stock management. Not all of them want to continue as a shearer, but by the time they finish they have so many other skills.” In addition, valuable life skills are offered as trainees also learn about the benefits of health and nutrition. Every morning starts with a 9-kilometre run, walk or jog and every meal is nutritiously prepared onsite by the school’s live-in cook. Each fortnight, an exercise scientist from Bourke & Brewarrina Aboriginal Health Services visits the school for gym classes and measures the students’ progress across the 16 weeks for strength and endurance. And with a zero-tolerance to illegal substances, Ian and his team take the issue of substance abuse very seriously: “It’s not three strikes and you’re out, it’s zero strikes.” Attracting young Indigenous Australians into the wool harvesting industry and making them job ready for shed work will not only benefit the young people and their local community, it will also benefit the wool industry by building the number of trained people available to work in the sheds. “AWI has been so supportive of what we do as they know what this means. There’s only a few of us putting out kids to go in this industry and Australian woolgrowers benefit from us because we’re putting people out there to go to work and enhance the wool industry. This is the only shearer training facility in Australia that takes youth off the street and turns them into good, young responsible people, who can go out and earn meaningful employment and live by themselves.” For the school’s trainees, it’s not only a ticket to full-time employment and the chance to earn a significant wage, it also an opportunity to travel the world and shear internationally. For the duration of the 16-week course the trainees are expected to work industry SHEARING SCHOOL PROVIDES A BRIGHT FUTURE Merriman Shearing School at Brewarrina, east of Bourke in the far north of NSW. PHOTOS: Kate Ballis The Merriman Shearing School’s head trainer, Ian Bateman. A shearing school for young Ingenious Australians is making them job ready for shed work and helping build the wool harvesting workforce, benefiting local communities and the wool industry. 58 ON FARM
In the Shops - September 2017