Setting benchmark for female shearers

Shearer Emma Martin, 28, of Gore, talks to reporter Shawn McAvinue after last month’s Ashburton A&P Show.

Gore shearer Emma Martin celebrates becoming the third woman to win a New Zealand Shears title...
Gore shearer Emma Martin celebrates becoming the third woman to win a New Zealand Shears title after taking out the junior competition at the New Zealand Shears shearing and woolhandling championships at Te Kuiti earlier this year. PHOTO: SHEARING SPORTS NEW ZEALAND
Q. When did you start shearing as an occupation?

I started shearing full-time in December 2021. I was a shed hand before that. I did a bit of pressing for a season and an odd day shearing and did woolhandling for a couple of seasons before that. When the opportunity to shear full-time came up, I jumped on that. I was looking for my next challenge in the shearing industry and shearing is a lot more physically and mentally demanding than woolhandling, in my opinion. It is a lot more personal as well; you are working more as an individual than as a team, so you can set your own goals and expectations and you are solely responsible for meeting those. If I work hard for a day, my pay reflects that — that’s a big driving factor for me, the sense of achievement and satisfaction of being rewarded for hard work.

Q. When did you start shearing as a sport?

I was competing as a woolhandler for about four years and if a show had a novice shearing grade, I’d have a go. As I got better at shearing, I started competing regularly, but my first season we only had four shows and the rest were cancelled due to Covid. I had my first full competitive season last year and I’m ramping into my third one in the intermediate grade now.

Q. How far through this season are you?

The season opened in Alexandra and I competed as a woolhandler because it is a merinos shearing competition and they only have a senior and an open grade. Waimate was my opening show for shearing and then Ellesmere, Rangiora and Ashburton for the past four weekends.

Q. How have you gone so far?

I won them all. I don’t know of a more humble way to say it.

Q. Were you expecting such a strong start to the season considering you were competing in a higher grade?

I didn’t know how I was going to fit into the grade, so it has been a bit of a surprise to come through as strong as I have but I was hoping for a good start.

Q. How many shearers usually compete in your grade?

It fluctuates, but up to 10 so far. The Canterbury show will attract more people as it is an A-grade show and the new year could bring some more competitors when some shearers return from Australia. Hopefully it does, because it would be good to see some more entries and have more people working in the industry.

Q. What is the mix of men and women competing in your grade?

Down here there are two female shearers competing, myself and Lydia Thomson. I can’t speak for the North Island.

Q. Excuse me if this comes across as sexist, but is it unusual for a woman to be leading the grade after four rounds?

That’s a hard one to answer. Women are definitely the minority in the sport and the shearing industry, but I think that is slowly changing. It is not common for someone to do four-in-a-row at the start of the season, regardless of gender. Myself and Lydia were the token female shearers in the junior grade last season and I made every final last year and Lydia made most of them, so we don’t stick out as much as we might have a couple of years ago, but we certainly are still the minority.

Q. In Ashburton, you were part of the Southland shearing team which defended the Colin King Shield in the first challenge of the season, beating the local team by having the best time and quality points. When did you win the shield?

I was the junior shearer in the team that won it from Marlborough at the Canterbury show last year.

Q. Each team competing for the shield has one shearer from each of the four main grades. All of the four members of Southland team in Ashburton were yourself (intermediate), Brett Roberts (open), Dre Roberts (senior) and Jet Schimanski (junior), who all work for the same contractor, Platinum Shearing. Does that working relationship give your team an advantage?

From a team perspective, not so much, as you are still shearing individually for points, but it might help for a bit of team morale and confidence.

Q. Are you are a sure thing to secure a spot in the team for future shield defences?

No, you earn your spot from heat results on the day. We’ve got Cody Waihape jun shearing in the intermediate grade and we are obviously from the same area [their boss is Cody Waihape sen], but the reason I got to shear over him was I got the higher result in the heats, but it could have just as likely been Cody in for myself.

Q. So at the moment you are keeping the boss’ son out of the shield team?

Yeah, but Cody has got as much chance of being in there as me. He is another really good up and coming shearer — he is one to keep an eye on. He is making some good moves.

Q. What makes you a good shearer? Are you quick or do you collect quality points, or both?

I’m typically a quality girl. I’ve been first off the field once in any of my shears. I’m working on my speed and I’m getting better. I’m definitely a quality girl.

Q. Have you shorn sheep overseas?

Not yet. I’m hoping to get over to the United Kingdom next year and I want to tick Aussie off the list as well. At the moment, I’m doing tailing locally. I’m taking some down time from shearing and getting outside to get some sun and fresh air for a change, which has been a good break, mentally and physically, from shearing. It has been nice being home and being able to play sports, go to the gym and spend time with family and pets because I want to spend a big portion of next year travelling. I’m making a plan for after our main shear down here, which will take us through to April.

Q. What is your long term goal in the sport?

The Goldies [The Golden Shears] and Te Kuiti [New Zealand Shears] are your big titles you would like to be involved in. The Goldies is a bigger event, but Te Kuiti is just as prestigious in terms of title.