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Beyond the Bale : September 2012
Part-time fire fighter, Kaye Bradtke, Grenfell, NSW. 25 ON-FARM September 2012 BEYOND THE BALE MEGAN PERRIN When Megan Perrin, Reid's Flat, near Cowra, was 16 years old and making her career choice, it was little wonder that she chose wool handling. As the youngest of four, her two sisters had already made their careers as wool handlers, her brother was a shearer, as was her brother-in-law. "It was good money for a 16-year-old and it was easy," Megan said. "You didn't need to have any training -- all you had to dowaswork.BythetimeIwas20or21,I began to realise the ability to travel as part of being in the industry and I worked as a wool handler around Ivanhoe, Hay, Booligal, and then headed to Queensland. I went up there for every season, February to May/ June, over a period of six years." For many women, becoming a single mother at 25 would spell the end of such a physically demanding career, but not Megan. "I started cooking after I had Jack and would drag him out to the sheds with me, while his father was shearing, and he would curl up and sleep on a fleece at the end of a spare wool table." Jack is now 13 and had a full appreciation of just how much his mum loved her career. "I've always wanted to be able to shear since I was in my early 20s but I was shy and no one would show me so it is now something that I really want to do, and I love it," Megan said. "I also want to get more financially secure, so now's the right time to get the training and get into it." The industry-wide shortage of roustabouts meant that up until March, Megan had been too valuable to her boss as a 'rousie' to be transferred to a learner shearer's pen. KAYE BRADTKE Kaye Bradtke, 32, was raised on her family's 810-hectare Merino sheep/wheat property at Grenfell, in Central West NSW, and despite always carrying a deep-seated love of the land, she now resides part-time in Canberra where she works as a fire fighter. "From the time I could talk, Dad couldn't walk out the door without me," she said. "I just loved being out on the farm at every opportunity. My heart's always been back at the farm but the money's just not there to support me." Even so, Kaye went off to university at Bathurst after high school to study for a Human Movement degree, and later found out about the "firies". "I liked the mental and physical challenge of being a fire fighter, where you can do all the training but no two situations are the same." Eleven years later, and Kaye's love of the land continued to haunt her -- prompting her to attend the TAFE Western shearing course in May. "I've dabbled in shearing since I was about 18 years old," she said. "Dad used to shear and is very good but he uses the old-school technique that's very hard on your body. I wanted to learn the modern technique, which is about balancing the sheep more so it's carrying more of its own weight, positioning the sheep so you don't have to reach as far and twist your body as much, and better footwork to get into those positions." The same love of a physical and mental challenge that attracted Kaye to become a fire fighter 11 years ago has her now captivated by the craft of shearing. "I think it's great that so many women are getting into shearing. I work all the time with men so it doesn't make any difference to me that shearing is male-dominated." Kaye said her family occasionally had the odd small mob of sheep for her to shear, and now she would attack those jobs with a whole new perspective on technique. Megan Perrin, Reid's Flat, via Cowra, NSW. "I WANTED TO LEARN THE MODERN TECHNIQUE, WHICH IS ABOUT BALANCING THE SHEEP MORE SO IT'S CARRYING MORE OF ITS OWN WEIGHT" KAYE BRADTKE Shearing technique being demonstrated to the class of captivated female students. Continued overleaf...