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A class of their own

Rachel Kropp says a shearing shed team works effectively when everyone understand they are there to do a job … but a bit of fun along the way doesn't hurt.

It’s mid-morning, a willie wagtail has perched on a weathered wooden rafter and sunbeams glisten through the cracks of an old corrugated-iron shearing shed in Belvidere.

Nineteen-year-old Rachel Kropp is enjoying a rare moment of peace and quiet, while her trusted Kelpie, Boots, keeps an eye on things.

It’s a stark contrast to the normal hustle and bustle of the working shed, an environment in which Rachel feels most at home.

But it didn’t always feel like that.

Before beginning her training as a wool classer, her first memories of a shearing shed were at a time when women weren’t supposed to be there.

“I was probably 11 or 12 when I started coming into the shed, we had maybe one or two female rouseys (someone employed to do odd jobs) and no female shearers were even heard of around this area at that point,” she recalls.

“It was very intimidating going into a shed with 50 to 60 year old men, who were all quite old and cranky.”

Now, the 5am starts and long days are a normal part of Rachel’s routine, and her role in the shearing shed team is representative of an industry-wide trend towards a more diverse wool industry.

In fact, seven out of 10 wool classing trainees are now women.

But this isn’t about ticking boxes.

Rachel and others like her are filling important labour gaps in an ageing workforce.

“If there’s a farmer who doesn’t want females in the shed, you kind of just sit there and laugh,” she says.

“They won’t be able to find staff, you’ll go into an eight stand shed and have a female shearer and all female rouseys – you won’t find any males in the wool handling team, quite often.”

A deep love of working on the land permeates through every part of her life and when she’s not throwing fleeces, she is riding horses, taking Boots for walks, or mustering…

A wool classer’s role is to classify wool to industry standards and market requirements.

Once the sheep are sheared, Rachel will sort the wool into groups according to length, fibre thickness, breed and colour, as well completing an array of other jobs centred around delivering the highest-quality fleece possible.

Despite a few irritable shearers, Rachel says she has been fully supported by colleagues – both male and female – during her wool classing journey, and gives credit to them for pushing her all the way.

“If it wasn’t down to a few really incredible, lovely rouseys and wool classers, I wouldn’t have gone into the industry,” she says.

“But I went in and I met some really awesome people who have some incredible life stories and just want to share their knowledge.”

Her broad interest in agriculture and desire to be able to help out on her family farm were what inspired her to begin her Cert IV in Wool Classing earlier this year.

A deep love of working on the land permeates through every part of her life and when she’s not throwing fleeces, she is riding horses, taking Boots for walks, or mustering on her family’s property in Belvidere.

“Just being able to class wool and understand the processing that’s going into it and why we need to make the fleece the best we possibly can – it makes everything make sense,” she says.

To Rachel, wool classing is just like any other job – you have good days and you have bad days.

One day in particular stands out as her hardest.

With a relentless workload, she was mentally exhausted and questioning the path she was on.

“It was a few months back that I just reached the point where I was just like, I don’t know why I’m working this hard and chasing this so hard,” she said.

“Then I found an incredible team to work in and I figured I can stick it out.

“It is a hard industry and there are going to be days when your body does not want to do it, there are going to be days that your head doesn’t want to do it – it’s really about having a good team.”

…she has been fully supported by colleagues during her wool classing journey, and gives credit to them for pushing her all the way.

Rachel says a shearing shed team works effectively when staff understand they are there to do a job … but a little fun never hurts either.

“You can’t do a physical labour job if you’re miserable,” she says.

“You have your jokes, you stir each other up and you have a good time.”

With her own journey in mind, Rachel encourages other young women to take their talents into the wool industry.

“There’s a job for every female,” she says.

“If sheds at all interest you, get in contact with your local shearer or wool handling training organisation and do their one-week introduction course.

“Just get in and give it a go, it’s an industry that needs workers, pays well and you get to travel across the entire country if you want to.”

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