Fiftieth year for NZ innovation

Pagan Karauria, of Alexandra, will return to Balclutha for the combined Otago shearing and 50th...
Pagan Karauria, of Alexandra, will return to Balclutha for the combined Otago shearing and 50th anniversary woolhandling championships on Saturday. PHOTO: JOHN COSGROVE
Fifty years ago, the spirit of "fair go" led to a new branch of rural competition in Balclutha, that has since spread worldwide.

The Otago Shearing and Woolhandling Championships take place in the South Otago town once more tomorrow, but it is only thanks to the self-described stubbornness of former Clinton farmer Don Moffat that the woolhandlers will be celebrating 50 years of competition this time round.

Otago Shears chairman in 1969-70, Mr Moffat believed the efforts and skill of the South’s woolhandlers were such that they deserved their own branch of competition.

"Up till then [woolhandlers] only competed as part of a team with the shearers. I felt that wasn’t fair, so Ron Davis and I did an experiment in my shed with his woolhandling team competing separately to see if it worked."

The experiment proved successful, and the woolhandling championships were born.

"There was a bit of resistance locally at first but, as we persisted, enthusiasm picked up. Since then, it’s become widely accepted and spread worldwide."

Because it was a Kiwi first, domestic teams had enjoyed an advantage in international competition down the years, he said.

"New Zealand woolhandlers have been very dominant since the outset. I think it’s fair to say it’s an innovation that’s also helped push up the standards of woolhandling. The south continues to dominate with competitors like Pagan Karauria."

In July last year, Alexandra-based Karauria was part of New Zealand’s world championship-winning woolhandling team in France, alongside Sheree Alabaster, of Taihape.

The circuit veteran of 10 years returns to the table at Balclutha’s War Memorial Hall tomorrow, and says she is looking forward to facing off against old foe Joel Henare, of Gisborne.

"I enjoy competing with Joel, but there are probably 15 woolhandlers in New Zealand right now who are right up there in competition," Karauria said.

"The difference will be in people’s 24-hours’ preparation beforehand. Anyone could take the title, but it’ll be all about those small percentages."

Assessing her own chances this year against favourite Henare — who has won 11 of the past 12 Otago open individual titles — the perennial runner-up said she remained optimistic.

"I’m in good shape. We’ll just have to see what happens on the day."

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