Chantel Renae Photography

The Truth About Wool

MY FIRST SHED

Growing up in the north west suburbs of Brisbane, a life in the wool industry was never something that I considered. Like most young girls I fantasised about becoming a vet, zoo keeper or even just a pet owner. My compassion for my furred and feathered friends started at a young age, but the motivation for university never came to me. My career in animal care never even got a look in.

Nothing really sparked my interest in the concrete jungle, after high school I bounced around jobs, usually only staying at them for a year. Customer service, hospitality, receptionist, aspiring real estate agent, I spent 7 years floating through life, wandering when I would find the thing that I am suppose to do in life. I was clutching at straws for my purpose.

Enter Jason. The son of a woolgrower, aspiring shearer,  18 year old dreamboat. The day he asked me to move to his parents farm at Meandarra, he didn’t even finish the question before I had my Toyota Camry and dog packed up, raring to start our life in the bush.

My first working woolshed experience was at his family’s farm. I remember walking into it and being smacked in the face with a sensory overload. The smell of lanolin, dirt and sweat. The hum of the handpieces, dogs barking, the wool team trying to carry on a conversation over the beat of the music. That electricity in the air. The excitement. I was hooked from my very first step in the woolshed and the only thing I could hear over the buzz of the shed was my inner voice, ‘How do I get a job in here?’

(PHOTO CREDIT: WWW.THEREALDEALPHOTOGRAPHY.COM)

You ring your partners shearing contractor and convince him to take on a city girl with no experience and her bull mastiff. That’s how you get the job.

‘Mona’, near Bollon Qld was my first employment as a woolhandler. I was so nervous that I accidentally got drunk the night before, in a desperate attempt to calm my nerves about meeting the team and throwing myself into a job I knew nothing about. The first morning was messy. Looking back on the train wreck that was my first attempt at being a woolhandler, I am surprised I wasn’t sent packing that night. My fleeces threw out on the table like vomit. All wool looked the same – I had hiding spots set up all over the shed for bits of wool that I had no idea where they came from and where they were suppose to go. I dropped brooms, ran into shearers, ate my feelings at lunch and smoko (which equated to my own weight in cake and bikkies). I cried in the shower that night. I wanted my mum.

I woke up the next morning fully aware of every single muscle in my body. It hurt to sit, stand, lay down, move, breathe. The thought of another full work day in the shed caused my eyes to sweat. If I just quit, just packed up and walked away, I could pretend that none of this happened. That I was never this big fake trying to convince everyone else that I was tough enough to be a country girl. That would be so easy. Mum would welcome me back home with a open arms and a tray of my favourite apple and sour cream slice. We would never speak of it again and I could just float about the city once more.

I didn’t walk away. I laced up my runners and showed up for work again. And again. And again. Despite what I had initially thought, the end of my working week did arrive. That ice cold beer at the end of that week seemed to soothe my physical pain (after Jason took the lid off my stubby, the sting of galvanised burr in the end of my fingers was excruciating). I soon forgot all the awkward and intimidating moments that were shared between myself and the woolclasser, all the times I got in the way, the tears that spilled out of me in the shower at night, the overwhelming feeling of defeat every morning.

(PHOTO CREDIT: WWW.THEREALDEALPHOTOGRAPHY.COM)

I spent that weekend in hiding. I picked at my burrs, I bathed in Epsom salts and covered every inch of my body in deep heat. I lied when people asked me how my first week at work went, I never showed them my soft underbelly. I copped it in on the chin when I was told that I wasn’t good enough, fit enough, smart enough to ever make in the industry. I forgot my pain and accepted the challenge of those who doubted me.

I showed up for work that next Monday. I still made a mess of it, but I had found my thing. This was where I belong.

(PHOTO CREDIT: WWW.THEREALDEALPHOTOGRAPHY.COM)

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